Problematizing the South

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posted on 11/18/2015
Event at Galpão VB discusses the notion of a global South, the role of art in this geopolitical context, identity, and knowledge production from local realities

What is the South? A symbolic or a geographical space? Was it conceived in opposition to the North or based on its own set of references? Working with the publication Southern Panoramas | Readings | Perspectives for other geographies of thought, released during the 19th Contemporary Art Festival Sesc_Videobrasil, a panel featuring the anthropologist Pedro Cesarino, the researcher Maria Iñigo Clavo and Sabrina Moura, the publication’s editor and Seminar curator for this edition of the Festival. The meeting covered the origins and different definitions of the global South, the role of art in this context, the nature-culture connection, and the production of knowledge from local traditions and realities. The role of academia in approaching postcolonial issues was one of the topics at hand.

The meeting, whose moderator was Ruy Luduvice, a researcher from Associação Cultural Videobrasil’s Collection and Research Team, revisited the Lebanese artist Akram Zaatari’s provocation during the 18th Festival (2013). At a Public Programs panel, he said he no longer sees any sense in discussing the South, since he believes barriers and borders are becoming blurred. “It’s not about passports anymore.” The answer to this provocation came in the form of the radicalization of the entire 19th Festival program, which revolves around the South, and the publication of this book by the Associação Cultural Videobrasil/Edições Sesc São Paulo partnership. In keeping with Videobrasil’s tradition of enabling encounters, exchange, and reflection — more so than reaching consensuses — , the book compiles essays and art manifestos that introduce, champion or challenge the notion of a geopolitical South, as a means of keeping alive the debate and discussion surrounding this complex and dynamic topic.

Sabrina Moura gave the audience at Galpão VB an overview of the book’s editing process and the changes to the geopolitical South concept since the 1970s, when geographer Milton Santos published “Time-space relations in the underdeveloped world.” “In his article, Santos conjured a vision of space from the place he was in,” says Moura. “It was the Cold War era, and part of the world was marked by a strong anti-imperialistic sentiment.”

She stresses that the anti-imperialism of that time — at a point when Brazil and other “Third World” countries, as they were called, were ruled by dictatorship regimes — also had relevant repercussions in those countries’ art and customs. “You had both the arts and cinema movements and that of feminists and blacks in so-called Third World countries, producing and denouncing hegemonic systems.”

The artist, curator and researcher Maria Iñigo Clavo espoused art as a knowledge production field which, in the geopolitical South, takes up spaces that are left vacant, for instance, by academia. “There is no room for postcolonial theory in Brazilian academia, and the same holds true of other countries. These are barriers that are not unique to Brazil,” she says. “I don’t mean to condone art, but to champion a place of knowledge-production,” says Clavo, who is also a professor at the University of São Paulo.

One exception she mentioned is the Federal University of Southern Bahia (UFSB), which takes an interdisciplinary approach to post-colonialism, cross-referencing different fields of knowledge, including physical and social sciences. “But even though it has achieved this, that university is facing another challenge, which is to reconcile local pools of knowledge and academic production.” She asserts: “the most important thing is to redefine our epistemology by tapping into folk knowledge; to overcome the separation of sciences.”

Based on Achille Mbembe’s article “Afropolitism,which is featured in the publication, and according to which there was a modernity that predated the European colonization of Africa and was disregarded by the West, the anthropologist Pedro Cesarino says he sees the axes of the South in the issue of identity and epistemology. “In evoking African modernity, Mbembe evokes another possibility of existence,” said the USP Anthropology professor, who defines “global” as “the smothering proliferation of a one single way of life around the world.”

According to him, the path to conceiving an identity in the countries of the South would be to transform national identity, merging non-human aspects with “near-subjects” such as rivers and woods. At this point, the researcher mentioned the catastrophic bursting of the dams in Mariana, Minas Gerais. “The Krenak Indigenous people have known for a long time that one of the most important near-subjects in our country is the Rio Doce river, one of the biggest basins in our territory. We must reformulate anthological categories, not because we recognize the autonomy of the subordinate subject, as many of the texts in this book propound, but to learn from them these other forms of knowledge, since ours has failed. Finding ways to proliferate other ties and alliances, such as magic, simplicity, sensitivity, and other forms of interweaving the real and conflating nature and culture,” he concludes.

Upcoming events
Next Saturday (Nov. 25) at Sesc Pompeia will see the launch of the book Southern Panoramas | Selected Works and Commissioned Projects, featuring the performance Fancy em Pyetà_terceiro ato, by the artist Rodolpho Parigi. The event will take place at 9:30pm and admission is free.