The Complexities of Mourning

Posted by Angela Arias Zapata – PhD student.  Media, Culture, and Communication NYU 

During my visit to the Casa Arana building, I could witness the sadness with which the young men that guided me through this site regarded the failed project of a cabinet-making workshop that I described in my last post. The other sign that I interpreted as a gesture of solemn sadness, was their attitude as we visited the cepo. A cepo is a yoke for humans -that is the exact meaning of the word-, but people in La Chorrera actually use it to speak about a small room next to the stairs of Casa Arana, were indigenous people were tortured and murdered during the rubber boom. It is now a warehouse that the school administration uses to keep musical instruments (trumpets and drums), as well as supplies for the school activities (stationary materials, for instance). The three young men told me that this was the place where the overseers punished those who did not fulfilled the amount of rubber requested from them by the Casa Arana Company. One of the punishments, they added, was to leave the person hanging from the columns for an entire day. They also mentioned that the overseers would bring dogs and make them lick the wounds of those punished. One of them sighed as he mentioned how thousands of people died inside that small room. They explained how, afterwards, all the bodies were put on top of each other in a rectangular space on the ground limited by stone divisions, right between the cepo and the stairs.

They didn’t give me more details about the tortures that took place there and I didn’t want to ask them more about it, since what they told me was part of public reports. However, I kept thinking about the fact that their demeanor in this specific spot only repeated when we were at the “cabinet-making cemetery.” It’s not that one situation is more or less important than the other, or even comparable in terms of what could be more significant for the people of La Chorrera. But they have at least one element in common: a feeling of failure, related to a project of modernization that brought violence and death -in the case of the Casa Arana rubber exploitation- or  disappointment for a promise of progress in which the indigenous people would receive all the benefits.

This kind of mourning towards progress repeated in many instances of my stay at La Chorrera. It was the feeling most similar that I found to pain for the past as it is traditionally portrayed in western contexts, as well as promoted by the Colombian state through its policies of memorialization. To my surprise, in the case of the project of building a museum at the site were the Casa Arana Company built its emporium of slavery and death, what seems to be more relevant to the inhabitants of La Chorrera is not to give the space an atmosphere of solemnity or sacredness; this is not a place where they would go to mourn and remember those who died there. Instead, the project represents the possibility to reclaim and reaffirm a status that was historically denied to them: that of Colombian citizens in full rights. Proof of this that what is most important to them in terms of building the museum is what it would represent in terms of their relationship with the Colombian state.  Continue reading

#YoSoyNicky: Anti-Discrimination Activism in the Dominican Republic

by Saudi Garcia (Department of Anthropology Doctoral Student)

Activity buzzed around me in the nearly empty-space of the salon floor as I sat on a small stool and managed the phone line, cellphone and the locked glass door. At 10 AM, a call rang through the landline and on the other side, a young woman began speaking through what I sensed were tears. “Can I speak with Carolina?” She asked. In that moment, I was unable to immediately transfer her to Carolina Contreras, the owner of Miss Rizos salon and a public figure in what is the growing natural hair movement in the Dominican Republic. Instead, I asked if there is anything that I can do to help. I wrote her phone number and the details of her story in my cellphone and passed it on to Carolina via text message.

The woman on the other end of the line was Fátima Gónzalez Méndez (aka Nicky) a political science student from the Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo. After applying and being accepted to her program of choice and being notified of receiving the scholarship, only to have it withdrawn, Nicky decided to lobby at MESCYT for a scholarship that would enable her to study and live in the Basque Country, Spain. On the morning of July 26th Nicky had gone to the office of the minister of higher education in Science and Technology (MESCYT) in Santo Domingo to lobby.  In her words, the minister in charge of the scholarship selection process, Ligia Amada Melo, dismissed her efforts to obtain a scholarship, telling her that she does not give scholarship to people with “pelo como tu” (“Hair like yours”).

Nicky has afro-textured hair, a copper-colored Afro that halos around her face. The implications of the statement by this public figure were immediately interpreted to be discriminatory against people who wear their hair in curly or afro styles. This form of discrimination is common in the Dominican Republic where women, girls and men experience exclusion in various sectors of public life due to their appearance.

nicky

photo courtesy of verne.elpais.com

Until 2013, the Junta Central Electoral forced women with afro and curly hair to straighten it for their national ID card pictures. Female bank tellers offering customer service at the country’s major banks are barred from wearing their hair natural and other women have been denied entry into commercial establishments for similar reasons. Young men in poor neighborhoods are arrested and their hair is shaved as a standard policing tactic. In May and July, several young women took to social media to denounce being denied entry to their schools because they refused to straighten their hair. These restrictions are often upheld in the name of “buena presencia” or good appearance. However, they are indicative of the translucent coating of respectability politics that permeate life in Dominican, and Caribbean, society.

Continue reading

Defense Research in a Shifting Security Environment

Posted July 26 by Colette Perold — PhD Student in NYU’s Media, Culture, and Communication

Perold_Brazil_PNC

AMA_ACE_6928_87_0001; Arquivo Nacional

On May 18, Brazil’s interim Foreign Relations Minister José Serra used his inaugural address to lay out Brazil’s new foreign policy plan, a ten-point schema that resisted an easy close, to the surprise of many: “But if I had to add one more,” he said, “I would name one that we have to act on…the protection of our borders.” He argued that Brazil’s landed borders are where Brazil’s organized criminal networks develop, where arms and goods smuggling meet drug trafficking, harming the Brazilian people and Brazil’s economy.

A week later, on May 25, the interim government announced the creation of an Executive Committee of Border Coordination and Control, composed of the ministries of defense, justice, and international relations, with support from at least twenty agencies, including the federal police, the federal reserve, the intelligence agency (ABIN), and the armed forces. Interim Defense Minister Raul Jungmann announced the committee would bring an additional 15,000 troops to the border, with additional arms and resources, at a total projected cost of R$9 billion.

On July 8, interim Minister of Justice Alexandre de Moraes announced in an interview with news outlet Istoé that the ministry would be augmenting the size of Brazil’s National Force from 1,500 troops to 15,000, and—once the Olympics are over—focusing their work also on Brazil’s landed borders.

Continue reading

Museum Education Accessibility in the Heart of Bolivia

Posted by Arlean Dawes – MA Candidate at CLACS /Museum Studies Concentration at NYU

The theme of accessibility is arguably one of the most important aspects to any museum. Accessibility takes on different forms such as architectural accessibility in ensuring that museum facilities are manageable for all visitors to the museum, or facilitating certain services specifically for visitors that may need further assistance to fully enjoy the museum visit experience. The creation and accessibility of educational material has been my main focus during my time at INIAM- Museo Arqueológico in Cochabamba (Cochabamba Archeology Museum). In a city such as Cochabamba, that is known as the ‘heart of Bolivia’ for its central location, it is also a major hub for transportation conflicts known as bloqueos or paros de transporte. While these occurrences are not uncommon, they contribute to the difficulty in being able to rely on school groups getting to the museum and the importance of having resources coming from the museum to the schools and communities. INIAM is certainly not brimming with constant public programs with education and community participation as the focus. The interactive educational program is the only set project of the museum that deals directly with school groups visiting the museum and participating in something other than the general museum tour. However, for those schools that are not able to send their students to the museum, we created 6 educational foldables based on the themes that the interactive program covers.

Continue reading

Chronicle of an Omission Foretold: The Place of Concrete Poetry in the History of Digital Literature

Visual Poetry pieces by Augusto de Campos

Video Poetry works by Augusto de Campos exhibited during July in São Paulo

Milton Laufer, PhD Student at the Spanish and Portuguese Department.

As a PhD Student in the Spanish and Portuguese Department, my research focuses on the development in Latin America of what is known as digital literature. By this I mean a particular way of thinking about texts which is not constrained by the bounds of the device called “book”, which lays in between many other disciplines, like the visual arts, video art, and computer games. This involves not only a new paradigm, or at least a broader paradigm, in our way of conceptualizing literature, but also a meaningful political dimension, a democratization, in the sense of how cultural goods circulate—including but not limited to the Internet—and, most importantly, how they are produced: in the same fashion espoused by the avant-garde movements, in digital literature the boundaries between the producer and the consumer are blurred, calling into question not only ontological concepts like creator, art-work, and reader, but also legal ideas that have traveled a long and undisputed path, like intellectual property. Though the first two works of digital literature date back to the 1950s (Strachey, 1952 and Lutz, 1959), it was only during the past decade that a field of scholarship focused on this literary form began to emerge. In this time, digital literature has become a vital object of inquiry, not only because its trajectory is difficult to anticipate, but also—and more importantly—because it sheds light on our understanding of literary production in a broader sense.

Continue reading

Fragile Autonomy

Posted by Hanna Wallis – MA Candidate at CLACS / Global Journalism at NYU

Driving through northern Cauca, the view out the window shifts only slightly between different shades of green. Vast expanses of sugar cane extend off into the horizon, a monoculture sea for biofuel export. Today, I am among hundreds of Nasa community members to “recover” a crop field. The indigenous movement here operates from a different paradigm of sustainability; beyond productive capacity, clean energy, or collective profit, they strive to “liberate the mother earth.”

FullSizeRender (7)

Since the 1970s, the indigenous movement organized through the “Consejo Regional Indigena del Cauca” CRIC has fought for many forms of indigenous structural autonomy. Claim to territory lies at the the heart of this struggle, but unlike other movements seeking land access, their conception of geography transcends the idea of ownership. Upon re-claiming a former hacienda plot as their own, the leadership does not divide the space into small individually operated fincas but converts it into collective territory. This philosophic shift changes land into territory, and territory into mother earth. From this foundation, people are not solitary individuals, but units of the collective and members of the community whole.   

Continue reading

On the Fringe of Memory: Discovering Paine

Posted by Anna Rappoport- MA Candidate at CLACS at NYU

Rappoport_Chile_Paine

It is easy to interact with memory in Santiago- every neighborhood displays it proudly. From street art in Barrio Brasil and Barrio Yungay, to the polished, classically inspired architecture that surrounds La Moneda. However, public representations of memory regarding the events of September 11th, 1973 and the eighteen years of dictatorship that followed are often tucked away- representative of many Chileans “out of sight, out of mind” attitudes. Looking even further outside the capital- where the majority of atrocities under the dictatorship occurred- proved even more difficult.

Chile is one of the few Latin American countries that has actively supported sites of memory throughout the country, lending governmental and financial support for the creation of museums, memorials, preservation of sites of torture and detainment, and other public spaces that commemorate the gross human rights violations of the Pinochet regime. While many sites began through the preservation efforts of victims’ family members and survivors, the government has incorporated many into DIBAM (Directory of Libraries, Archives and Museums) or Chile’s National Patrimony. My project enabled me to travel to the Region Metropolitana to explore the numerous sites of memory around the region, and I particularly focused on the Museum of Memory and Human Rights and the Paine Memorial, located about 30 minutes south of Santiago.

Paine is a small agricultural town best known for their watermelons, however prior to the Agricultural Reform that occurred in 1972, struggled with the extreme inequality of the latifundio system. Aided by Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR), some of Paine’s campesinos joined together to reclaim the lands they worked from the latifundio owners. When Pinochet took control of Chile in 1973, the latifundio owners and carabineros hunted down Paine’s campesinos, MIRistas, and sympathizers that took over the lands. 31 years after these unjust murders, the Paine Memorial was conceived.

Continue reading