Ticio Escobar and I are embarking together on this curatorial adventure for Atlántica with the purpose of inviting indigenous artists and thinkers operating from a fundamentally anti-essentialist position.
As I begin to write these lines I am reminded that someone once said to me that rejecting the idea of essentialism was a privilege that dominated peoples do not have. Therefore, from this reflection we could claim that the notions of authenticity and essentialism are coterminous.
With the purpose of trying to clarify the point, I will take the liberty of sharing professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s analysis, taken from her indispensable book Decolonizing Methodologies, in which she addresses the question of the viewpoint from a decolonial position, particularly focused on the problem of the Western interpretation of (other) systems of knowledge inasmuch as they are not recognized as such in the framework of the Euro-centrist canon. Her position contrasts with the European logical essentialism that defines non-western conceptions of reality as superstitions, or simply as anachronisms—the other lives in a remote past, given that the present belongs to those who promote progress—typically associated with underdeveloped peoples.
In this sense, the temporal location of indigenous peoples in a mythical past is not only misguided, but is the instrument and excuse for the colonial-imperial project to plunder land, dominate peoples and discredit ways of life in benefit of the indiscriminate exploitation of natural resources.
Professor Smith argues: “The concept of essentialism is also discussed in different ways within the indigenous world. It is accepted as a term which is related to humanism and is seen therefore in the same way as the idea of authenticity. In this use of the word, claiming essential characteristics is as much strategic as anything else, because it has been about claiming human rights and indigenous rights. But the essence of a persons is also discussed in relation to indigenous concepts of spirituality. In these views, the essence of a persona has a genealogy which can be traced back to an earth parent, usually glossed as an Earth Mother. A human person does not stand alone, but shares with other animate and, in the Western sense, ‘inanimate’ beings, a relationship based on a shared ‘essence’ of life. The significance of place, of land, of landscape, of other things in the universe, in defining the very essence of a people, makes for a very different rendering of the term essentialism as used by indigenous peoples.” 1Tuhiwai Smith, Linda, ‘Decolonising Methodologies. Research and Indigenous peoples’, Otago University Press, Dunedin, New Zealand, second edition 2012, p.77.
In these two collaborative issues of the journal, we have included perspectives from artists and thinkers from Aotearoa New Zealand and the island of Tonga in the vast region of the Pacific who address crucial issues such as genealogy (or whakapapa in the Maori language), non-linear notions of time and Polynesian epistemology. These are twinned with other contributions coming from the Diné peoples from the south-western states of the USA and theTlingit people from Alaska in North America as well as two Mapuche artists from the south of the continent. Their visual and poetic projects are articulated around the right to ancestral land by means of conceptual strategies, and transversal questions like spirituality, non-binary conceptions of gender and environmental degradation.
Finally, given that we are undertaking a task that unfortunately coexists with the current fetishization and marketing of questions of ethnicity and gender for ideological capitalism, it is critical to focus the gaze and to listen carefully in order to give the floor to our collaborators so that we stop speaking for others in infinite echo chambers.
Londres, September 2021
Gabriela Salgado – Editorial Coordinator
Gabriela Salgado is an Argentina-born, London-based contemporary art curator. Specialized in Latin-American artists, she has also developed her freelance work researching the art scenes of the UK and Africa. She is a former artistic director of Te Tuhi, a contemporary art space in Auckland, New Zealand (2017-2020) where she organized exhibitions with Maori and Pacific Region artists in ongoing dialogue with international art practitioners. Her writings from that period are compiled in the digital publication Under the Southern Stars, Te Tuhi, 2020.
Salgado has an MA in curatorial studies from the Royal College of Art, London.
She was curator of the University of Essex Collection of Latin-American Art, UECLAA (1999-2005), and curator of public programmes at Tate Modern (2006-2011), where she created an interdisciplinary programme of theory, art and long-term projects with the artists Cildo Meireles and Humberto Vélez.
She co-curated the 2nd Thessaloniki Biennale PRAXIS: Art in Times of Uncertainty (2009) and the La Otra Bienal in Bogotá, Colombia (2013).
- 1Tuhiwai Smith, Linda, ‘Decolonising Methodologies. Research and Indigenous peoples’, Otago University Press, Dunedin, New Zealand, second edition 2012, p.77.