Wednesday, October 12, 2022

“Like Ivy Climbing the Walls”: “Giro gráfico” in Madrid

A review of the “Giro gráfico” exhibition at the Reina Sofia museum. (Closed in Madrid; next venue Mexico, D.F.)

The long dark deep pain is unimaginable, near-geological in its duration, the loss of lives, lands, knowledges and futures produced by the colonization of the Americas. Indigenous American civilizations were erased and their existence later denied. All of this we now must recognize and answer for.
Columbus, who started in slaving and massacring as soon as he arrived is the anti-hero of October 12th. A new children’s book features him accurately as an ogre. The unmaking of this hero of Italian-Americans began in earnest during the quincentennial year of 1992. See this pedagogical guide “HOW to '92” produced by the Alliance for Cultural Democracy and posted in full at Gregory Sholette’s “Dark Matter Archives”. The work of de-education continues.
Columbus killed for gold. His crimes, and those of other early colonists, were famously called out in the first decades of colonization of the Americas by the 16th century priest Bartolomé de las Casas.
Today Native Americans are being killed for land, and for fighting to conserve its resources. Over the last ten years, it’s been at the rate of one every two days according to Global Witness. Columbus’ crimes live on in a repetition compulsion of inhuman greed.
In response to that report, Carolina Caycedo writes of these crimes, and their remembrance:
La siembra, or ‘the sowing,’ is an expression used by communities in Latin America when one of their members, leaders, or elders is killed for their activism in defense of territory, water, or life. They refer to the violent act of killing as the sowing, in order to turn around their loss and understand it through the abundance of the legacy it leaves. The murder of an activist sows a legacy, because the person who is buried—planted, in a manner of speaking—becomes a seed for the ongoing political and organizational processes of the community.”
On the last day of the exhibition “Giro gráfico” at Reina Sofia museum – (“Graphic Turn: Like the Ivy on the Wall”) – I returned with the intention of writing about it. I’d been a few times before to this massive display of political art curated collectively by the Red Conceptualismos del Sur, in which André Mesquita played an important role. I was out of town when first Andre, and then Caleb Duarte (more of him and them later) arrived to work on the show in May.
The show is overwhelming, as are so many of the Reina Sofia shows. I honestly couldn’t handle it the first times I went. The cumulative effect on me was so sad and desperate it frightened me. It was a ‘walk among the tombstones’. But this must be observed and reported. Such a depth of pain, such endless unrequited struggle. Sure, progress has been made, but long, long and so very hard, and it doesn’t end, as figures like Bolsonaro recur and insist. The ruthless greedy “fever of Columbus” continues to rage and consume indigenous lands. Nothing seems to stop the plague of killings.

Plan drawn up by Andre Mesquita of the "Gira" exhibition

To think of all this artistic memorial work climbing, as the title has it, like ivy on the walls, ivy a plant that never quits but always climbs – and to think of the dead as seeds planted which grow new generations of resistors is the only comfort available. But comfort isn’t what is needed. Resolution – determination – a firm promise that this struggle be kept always in mind and not forgotten.
For those who fight, it is “ ‘namakasia’ [meaning] both ‘ever strong’ as well as ‘ever forward’ in the Yaqui language,” writes Caycedo (cited above). “It is a tribal cry of encouragement, a collective call to never give up” which she learned from Tomás Rojo Valencia, a Yaqui leader “sown” in Sonora, Mexico, in 2021. He was murdered for demanding the tribe's legal rights to half the water which the governments of Sonora state and federal Mexico were diverting for the needs of corporate clients.
“Giro gráfico” winds through gallery after gallery, in a plan of display that André Mesquita images with a central form of a dragon. The crew from Red Conceptualismos del Sur have been developing this show for years.

[I note here a text that describes the show and that collective process from the inside – Cristina Híjar González, "Giro Grafico: Como en el Muro la Hiedra", 6 junio, 2022, “Breve e incompleta crónica de la exposición internacional de acciones gráficas y visualidades de la RedCSur en el Museo Reina Sofía”. ENG readers can put it into machine translation as I did and it comes out pretty good.]

I entered the Madrid show from the back, past the giant "Mapamundi" made by the mapping collective Iconoclasistas (2019), in which multi-armed god-like peasants illustrate a map of global land ownership.

Detail of the Iconoclasistas "Mapamundi"

The next room is crammed with graphic reminders of the Argentinian dictatorship’s infamous crimes (1974-84). Exiled leftists organized resistance abroad, especially the Paris campaign of AIDA for the “100 Argentine artists disappeared”. That was indeed the ‘tip of the iceberg’, since the killing is estimated to have caught up some 30,000 unfortunates. The demonstrations in Paris went on weekly for 320 weeks, over six years. Since 1996 there has been an annual March of Silence in Argentina for the dead/disappeared.
A great stack of signs dominated the room, each a photo of a murdered person. A documentary film, “Where Are They?” from the archives of Simone de Beuvoir played on a monitor. That is an eternal cry, since, as with the Mexican Ayotzinapa 43, the bodies of the dead are rarely given back. The post office of official death makes no returns, and has no dead letter office.

Ana Longoni explains the show in a brief museum video with ENG subtitles

I discussed all this with a friend who is closely involved with what is called “historic memory” in Spain, i.e., the exhumation of mass graves of people killed during the fascist dictatorship. Like the Ayotzinapa 43, quite a number of them were teachers.
For its colonialism, and later support of dictators, Spain has a lot to answer for, and doesn’t want to face up to this, I said.
“No, no,” she said. “That’s the Black Legend.” The “black legend” of Spain originated among Protestant propagandists in the 17th century to defame the Catholic colonists.

Image by Protestant artist DeBrys illustrating the "Black Legend"

Don’t fret, I replied. The English have plenty to answer for in their own colonial times, since their Royal African Company, chartered and owned by the crown, imported more slaves to the Americas than any other enterprise.

Logo of the English Royal African Company

I pass through that grim gallery to one hung with t-shirts. There’s a video of a woman putting on one after another of them – it’s a bit of comic relief. “Graphic bodies”, it’s called, “matrices for a street choreography”. I love radical movement t-shirts and collect them for Interference Archive in Brooklyn.
They’re important in Spain. They cohere and mark out masses of demonstrators. And in other contexts t-shirts make individual statements amongst the throngs of ‘normals’ dressed as corporate billboards. During the 15M encampment in May of 2011, there was a guy who photographed everyone’s he could find.
“Giro” shows also the street stencils of artists like the Chilean Luz Donoso. Often these are just faces, or pared-down abstract images which furtively convey a message everyone understands. (Similar brief crypto-significations are happening today in Russia and Iran.)
Uruguayan photographer Juan Angel Urruzola’s wide murals recall those who should be seniors now walking the streets of their cities, but instead are merely ghosts.

An installation titled “Malvenido Rockefeller” (not “welcome”, bienvenido, but its opposite) documents posters and paintings from 1969. They were put up on the streets to greet the VP’s tour of South America. During that same year, the Art Workers Coalition in NYC was protesting Nelson’s family control of the MoMA, a tiny issue compared to the partnership of the US government and Standard Oil in exploiting Latin American countries.

Change has happened over the intervening 50 years. Still, today, can you imagine this exhibition at any NYC museum?
Large parts of “Giro” are given over to LGBTQ groups and movements, like the humorous Lesbianos Fugitivos map of the “coño Iberoamericano”. And, like the massive “Perder la Forma” show (2012) before it, “Giro” features archival zines which show the long struggle of LGBTQ peopls in America Sur.
“Cuir Library” is a pink-walled reading room with two giant tit-like cushions to recline on, and dozens upon dozens of fanzines to browse. (“Cuir” is where the zine energy is these days, as the recent Pichi Fest at the ESLA Eko in Madrid showed.)

An installation of vintage queer publications complemented the library.
On one wall is Chilean artist César Valencia’s painting, Producción Gráfica Medicina Emocional (2018-22), an attempt to come to grips with all of this history. It’s like a mechanical metaphor for the “Giro” show itself. Valencia’s diagrammatic reflection on the pasts of Chile and Argentina is part of the show’s “In Secret” ensemble.

Reason breaks down in the room of relics of the Ayotzinapa massacre of 43 teachers in training in Guerrero, Mexico in 2014. The agitation behind these killings has rocked the country since then with the slogan, “Alive they took them, alive we want them”.
43 needlework remembrances of each of these young men, stitched with iamges of turtles, corn, and childhood things are hung across the space in a room the curators call “The Delay”.

Parading embroideries in Mexico

These are “actions performed in slow time over a long duration”. Besides the Ayotzinapa 43, embroideries from Brazil recall Marielle Franco, the assassinated trans legislator.
Stitchings by the Fuentes Rojas collective (2011-19) recall the murdered of Mexico, most of them femicides. “Una victima, una panuela”; there were curtains of these kerchiefs that were also carried in the streets.
Imagining a whole string of these murders is the hard work Chilean novelist Roberto Bolaño undertook in his great book 2666.

These embroideries by collectives of women are “an interpellation that passes more through the senses than the reason, by marking the loving manual work that builds a visuality that informs, denounces and shares. Love as a political concept in action” (“Gira” catalogue, p. 107).
My artist friend said that when he saw them he cried.
Things get a little more proactive in the part of the show called “Territorios insumisos”, insubordinate territories. Here is a (comparatively) tiny version of the giant pedagogic map the Beehive Collective used to draw “parallels between colonial history and modern-day capitalism”.
“Capitalism,” the poster declares: “Every time history repeats itself, the price goes up.”
We move into America Norte through a room of material about Nicaragua which repeats the epochal political art installation form of Group Material in 1984, their “Timeline: The Chronicle of US Intervention in Central and Latin America” installed at P.S. 1. The installation, by [Experimental Graphics Collective?], concludes with a sad image of opposition politicians being arrested by the government of the corrupted Sandinista Daniel Ortega.

In the gallery dedicated mostly to work from America Norte we find Standing Rock posters by U.S. graphic artists familiar from the work of JustSeeds and the Interference Archive in Brooklyn – #NoDAPL!.
Most spectacular is the tipped-up long house relatinig to the Zapantera Negra project. This construction, with painted murals outside and hung inside with tapestries made by Zapatista women, was installed for the show by California artist Caleb Duarte. He’s part of the team of artists in solidarity with the Zapatista movement working out of an occupied building called EDELO (En Donde Era la ONU / Where the United Nations Used to Be).
Between 2012-16, the Zapantera Negra project brought together the artist Emory Douglas, former Minister of Culture of the Black Panther Party, and collectives of Zapatista women resulting in remarkable syncretic works linking the two movements.

Both the Zapatistas of Chiapas and the Black Panthers before them were/are armed liberation movements which had to deal in the face of overwhelming state power arrayed against them. Yet they persist – in Chiapas as a de facto autonomous zone, and in the “KKK USA” in the form of a powerful and influential historical example, and direct inspiration for present-day projects of black autonomy like Cooperation Jackson.
The Zapatistas continue to be a blacklight beacon of possibility. They inspire many, as evidenced in the the 2021 anthology When the Roots Start Moving produced by Alessandra Pomarico and Nikolay Oleynikov of Free Home University and Chto Delat respectively. (Their project was the subject of a post last year on my increasingly related blog “Occupations & Properties”.)

Emory Douglas in Chiapas

For them the Zapatistas represent “a home (or a homecoming) for our hopes and political imaginaries, providing a praxis to learn from and with.”
This is a long way from hippies wearing beads and taking peyote, i.e., an essentialist romantic identification with indigenous peoples and struggles. This is the evolved position of left cultural actors and thinkers in solidarity with anti-capitalist anti-colonial native-led movements. #IdleNoMore en soli con #ExtinctionRebellion
All in all, “Giro” is a deeply thought profoundly complex political art exhibition. The subtitle comes from a song lyric, the chorus, by Violeta Parra, “Volver a los 17”, just as the earlier related show “Perder la Forma” title came from a poem –

Se va enredando, enredando
Como en el muro la hiedra
Y va brotando, brotando
Como el musguito en la piedra
Ay sí sí sí

(It gets entangled, entangled
Like the ivy on the wall
And goes sprouting, sprouting
Like the moss on the stone
oh yeah yeah yeah)

“Here,” as written on the wall text, “the graphic turn is understood as a recurrent political matrix.” The “hut” of the Zapantera Negra project, posters from the Chicano movement of 1969-72, graphics from Pasofronteras/border crossings activisms, classics from the OSPAAAL anti-imperialist project est. in Cuba in 1966, #BLM “my life matters” martyr-portrait images – all of this activism is transversal, and increasingly networked.
As always with the Reina Sofia exhibitions it’s too much – but seriously, it’s never enough for not just memorializing but inspiring ongoing activism and agitation.
The “Agora of the Present” tries to be that, a zone of rabble rousing. Three screens fire up sequentially, the most unignorable black-clad troupes of women shouting in unison at the “rapist in your path” (Sandi Bachom, 2020) – a spectacle of unity and accusation.
We sprout on.
Next stop for the show:
Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo de la Universidad Autónoma de México (MUAC), Ciudad de México (noviembre, 2022 - julio, 2023)

LINKS& REFERENCES mentioned in the text

Pinochet's troops round up people on the streets in Chile, September 11, 1973

Graphic Turn: Like the Ivy on the Wall
exhibition handout in English

See this pedagogical guide “HOW to '92” produced by the Alliance for Cultural Democracy and posted in full at Gregory
Sholette’s “Dark Matter Archives”

Bartolomé de las Casas.

Environmental Defender Killed Every Two Days Over Last ... › ...
29 sept 2022 — The report—entitled Decade of Defiance: Ten Years of Reporting Land and Environmental Activism Worldwide—underscores how land inequality and ...

One minute video presents the report

Carolina Caycedo, “La Siembra – The Sowing”, e-flux online, #129, September 2022

Red Conceptualismos del Sur
Plataforma de investigación, discusión y toma de posición colectiva desde América Latina. Fundada en 2007

The “Mapoteca” of the Iconoclasistas collective

Black Legend (Spain)

Royal African Company

Cristina Híjar González, "Giro gráfico. Como en el muro la hiedra", Posted on 6 junio, 2022
"Breve e incompleta crónica de la exposición internacional de acciones gráficas y visualidades de la RedCSur en el Museo Reina Sofía" on a Mexican blog

Fotos de camisetas en ANIVERSARIOS del 15-M: – Kaos en la red

Pichi Fest (@pichifest) • Instagram photos and videos › pichifest
Festival de fanzines transfeminista y autogestionado en Madrid

Iguala mass kidnapping (2014) – the Ayotzinapa inicident

Fuentes Rojas. Bordando por la paz y la memoria. Una víctima, un pañuelo
includes 13 minute video interview

citation from "La Demora" (the delay), by Cristina Hijar, Elva Peniche and Sylvia Suarez in the catalogue of the show, p. 107. O.P. Assisted machine translation.

“Mesoamérica Resiste”, from the Beehive Design Collective

Timeline: The Chronicle of US Intervention in Central and Latin America. 22 January – 18 March, 1984. on Doug Ashford's website

Zapantera Negra (Updated and Expanded Edition)

Caleb Duarte’s website with material on the Zapantera Negra project

Blog post on t“When the Roots Start Moving” book with editor interview, October 19, 2021 “On Learning and Un-learning”
see also a Canadian appearance by those two at:

Next stop for the “Gira” show:
Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo de la Universidad Autónoma de México (MUAC), Ciudad de México (noviembre, 2022 - julio, 2023)

Warriors waiting at Wounded Knee, 1973

Saturday, October 1, 2022

A Visit to the Watchtower

The assembly at La Atalaya

The pandemic seems to have let up, or at least the sky is clearing. I got the ‘Rona at last. It wasn’t fun, but it wasn’t severe. Definitely a new disease. But in Madrid, folks are walking around and interacting without masks, although on public transit most people still wear them.
Recently I was invited to a fiesta at CSO La Atalaya in Valekas. It’s something of a trip out there. I missed the play of the "marionetas subversivas", but I had some paella at the “comida popular”.

Heading to the fiesta

The okupa La Atalaya is an abandoned school, and the fiesta took place in the expansive playground. I can't say when it was first occupied, but the blog starts in 2015.
Vallecas is a peripheral barrio of Madrid. It began as a "chabola" or "favela" in agricultural land decades ago as laborers came from the Spanish countryside to work in Madrid's factories. They were organized by the Communist Party to demand proper housing, and the struggle was a hard one. Finally public housing was built. The barrio remains solidly working class.

Undated photo, 1960s? Vallecas was called "little Russia" in the last century

Atalaya means "watchtower". In their occupation statement, they said: “We want to be the engine of cultural recovery and sovereignty for Vallekas, returning to being what we should never have ceased to be... As we said the first day we started, paraphrasing Pablo Neruda: “It is forbidden not to smile at problems, not to fight for what you want, to abandon everything out of fear, not to make your dreams come true”.
"Alegría para combatir, organización para vencer". "Joy to fight, organization to win."
The center is where the "pirate ship" of the annual July Naval Battle of Vallecas is ‘launched’ – built and rolled out to the streets. This construction plies the local ‘waters’, the crowds that gather to drench each other with water in the annual July event in the streets of the barrio.

A mural recalls the 'pirate ship' of the annual 'naval battle' (giant water-gun fight) in the barrio

In May, when an order of eviction came down, La Atalaya called a press conference. Publico reported that by then the old school had a climbing wall, a skate park, sports teams, and a “pole dance” project. I think this is more likely an aerial silk project, since they performed in that way at the fiesta. A long hanging fabric is used as a performance armature for twisting and climbing movements.
Atalaya was founded as a youth center. Publico quotes a young man, Daniel, "We have allowed young people to have free activities in an area with few resources”. During the pandemic, some residents of the neighborhood ran a solidarity food pantry, Somos Tribu, which served 200-300 people weekly.
"These spaces help create community,” He said. “We are isolated in our homes and we believe that we have no help or alternatives, but the social centers help us understand that problems are collective, and that we have to find solutions together."

Climbing wall in La Atalaya

After a judicial order to vacate, delivered in May of this year, La Marea made a video which reveals what an extraordinary project this CSO is.
In this “day-to-day” video, produced for El Salto magazine, you can see the climbing wall, a boxing club, a skate park, with hands-on guided instruction, and a solidarity food pantry. The place even has a library with language classes and events. The narrator speaks of youth at risk in an educational system that isn’t adapted to their realities.
The food pantry is for people with “renta minima”, an income of 700 Euros a month. An organizer notes that there are many ideologies in the neighborhood, Christians, Muslims, atheists, and those “who wave the flag” (nationalists). This is a “human project”, he says, during a time when many social services are closed.
La Atalaya was not evicted in May. They recently won another court victory, as activists up on criminal charges were acquitted. Still, like all the okupas of Madrid, regardless of the important services they provide to citizens, the fate of La Atalaya is highly precarious.



CSOA La Atalaya represents itself, with bulletins and a rad short video

about CSOA La Atalaya

Irene Gonzalez Rodriguez, “Madrid acorrala aún más a los espacios sociales: el centro La Atalaya se enfrenta a un nuevo desalojo”, Publico, 05/12/2022

A May, '22 tour video by Oriol Daviu of La Marea, narrated by young woman organizers
"El día a día del CSO Atalaya, de Vallecas, obligado a desalojar el centro"

Eli Lorenzi (@elisabeth.lorenzi)

In the plaza at La Atalaya. Lucio Urtubia was a famous Spanish anarchist