On ecosystems of struggles and resistance

Alessandra Pomarico
November 9, 2018

Field Report on the 11th Creative Time Summit in Miami, Florida

The 11th Creative Time Summit just wrapped up in Miami. In many parts of the city, community organizers continued to mobilize voter registration for the Midterm elections, such as in Little Haiti where a procession of musicians playing self-built instruments guided the dancing crowd through the market to a spot where canvasing was organized. Other activists, like the Dream Defenders, engaged within Black and Brown communities, and authors of the Freedom Papers Manifesto continued campaigning from the stage of the Summit on specific local issues.

Curated with a deep intersectional and feminist approach by Elvira Dyangani Ose in collaboration with Corina L. Apostol, the themes of the conference could not be more timely: On Archipelagos and Other Imaginaries—Collective Strategies to Inhabit the World. The gathering aimed to raise awareness about the pressing issues of the current moment, “dislodging fixed notions, persisting barriers, and violent divides, while opening new connections, poetic wanderings and moments of solidarity” as Apostol commented.

Benji Ra performing at the opening night. Photo: Misha Mehrelwre @ CTS

Miami became emblematic of the fragile, threatened ecosystem we are part of: a polyglot city and a hub for migration, a home for diasporic communities, still racialized and discriminated, a place grappling with poverty, violent gangs, the effects of climate change, and dependence on nature. Still, communities here—as those suffering elsewhere, especially in the Global South or in the disadvantaged areas of the Global North—seem to develop a stronger awareness of our inherent interconnectedness with each other and the world we inhabit. Becoming archipelagoes recalls Édouard Glissant’s notion of interrelated stories and places, a way of thinking based on a radical togetherness, challenging the colonial social imaginary and its approach to the land. A different sensibility emerged, affirming the necessity of overcoming our separateness, our politics of identities, and the fragmentation of our subjectivities and lives towards a more common future. Almost a “no way back,” in which we need to adopt a paradigm of wholeness, seemed to be the shared undertext of all the conference presentations, in recognition of the non-separability of our intertwined existence with all living and non-living things. Houston Cypress, an activist for the environmental protection and cultural preservation of the Everglades, was one of the first speakers:

our spiritual condition is reflected in the physical environment. Indigenous people know how to keep the circle of life in balance. Indigenous people are multilingual as they can communicate with the water, the trees, the birds…they know how to work respectfully between worlds. Native science and data are fundamental to counteract present environmental disasters; we need to decolonize science, but we need to build a legal frame for sovereignty in the defense of indigenous cosmovision and world view. Tribes are reluctant to share their knowledge, and it’s easy to understand why: they used it to poison us.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Surrounded Islands, Biscayne Bay, Greater Miami, Florida, 1980-83. Photo: Wolfgang Volz © 1983 Christo

Apparently a coincidence, a large exhibition at the Perez Art Museum (where most of the events were hosted) displayed Surrounded Islands, a stunning work realized by Christo and Jean-Claude 35 years ago in Biscayne Bay, which visually re-connected the eleven islands of Miami’s archipelago with a large floating pink canvas. The documentation of this monumental land art piece, which took three years of collaboration and involved city institutions, marine authorities, inhabitants, scientists, engineers, geographers, lawyers, and fishermen, showed the collective effort and the coming together of different forms of knowledge that an action requires. Objects, pictures, archival material from the Surrounded Islands became a powerful background as we walked up and down the museum to follow conversations on art and education as a form of activism, and as pivotal elements in producing cultural shifts.

Christo, Surrounded Islands (Project for Biscayne Bay, Greater Miami, Fla), Drawing 1983 in two parts. Pencil, pastel, charcoal, wax crayon, enamel paint and aerial photographs.  National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., USA. Photo: André Grossmann © 1983 Christo

Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Surrounded Islands, Biscayne Bay, Greater Miami, Florida, 1980-83. Photo: Wolfgang Volz © 1983 Christo

Despite a shared sense of disillusion with the actual political moment globally, the critique of neoliberalism and of the nation-state apparatus, and the realization that democracy is in a deep crisis everywhere, most contributions at this Creative Time Summit revolved around the urgency of becoming neighbors, self-organizing, building mutually supportive systems, resilience, solidarity, and re-existence. Through various creative forms ranging from conversations, presentations, film screenings, drag and music performances, urban farming workshops, and guided tours, the sessions were organized thematically, concerning, namely, Boundaries and Borderless Futures; Facing Climate Realities, Reimagining a Green Future; Towards an Intersectional Justice; and Resisting Displacement and Violence. Approximately one hundred artists, activists, thinkers, and doers, from different latitudes and perspectives, were invited to discuss their role in relation to these contemporary urgencies in the face of social unrest and collective environmental struggles. With subaltern, queer, Indigenous, and feminist perspectives, topics connected questions of immigration and borders, displacement and violence to ecological disasters and acts of responsibility for the environment; neocolonialism and neoliberalism to gentrification, enclosure and land dispossession; and techno-surveillance, post-truth and post-democracy to the the risk of social uprising brought by inequity and injustice.

CrudXs Cubensi is a queer hip-hop duo from Cuba wrapping up the first day of Summit. Photo: Richard Alvarez @ CTS

Dialectically orchestrated between illustrations of our present dystopian condition and gestures of regeneration of hope and life, the conversations spoke on a local, regional, and international level, showing the consequences and the connections among these realms. But nationality was not displaced— instead most of the presenters embodied many geographies in their biographies, and a sense of plural belonging, a life in between places or in transit. There was a clear curatorial intention to give voice to speakers of African descent, of the Caribbean Diaspora, and from the Global South. Among many others, these presenters included the grass-roots artist group Brigada Puerta de Tierra, Colectivo Universitario de Disidencia Sexual (CUDS), Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons, and journalist and historian Vijay Prashad, who emphasized the “return of the monsters”—the danger of fascisms when Leftist legacy and workers’ movements are disintegrating and there is no counterpower to resist neoliberalism.

The few speakers from Europe also critically put in relation political history, market economy, the ongoing destruction of local ecosystems, gentrification, the intensified level of mass surveillance, and shared their artistic strategies to fight against forms of injustice and mass control, as in the contributions of Dan Perjovschi, Lia Perjovschi, Maya and Ruben Fowes, Pablo Desoto, Zach Blas, Anna Minton, and Timothy Morton. While the conversation got dark at times, hope came back thanks to work that is inherently generous and generative, like in the case of Doual’art projects in Cameroon, where socially engaged art is the platform to restore dignity and provide space across class and privilege, as the co-founder Marilyn Douala Bell explained.

Karla Croqueta, one of the strongest voices of the Miami’s black and latino drag scene opens the Summit with vaudeville performance Tidal Rage: Drag en la Frontiera (produced by Fredo Rivera). Photo: Misha Mehrelwre @ CTS

Other highlights of a dense and thought provoking program were Tidal Rage: Drag en la Frontera, the opening performance curated by Fredo Rivera, for the way in which the art of drag responded to Miami’s hyper-development and its geographical and metaphorical position at the edge of the US, where the South and the North border; the lecture of Bhenji Ra, a Filipino and Indigenous transgender artist in Australia, pointing out how all her identities are connected in intersectional forms of oppression; and a powerful performative lecture by Peruvian, Spain-based artist Daniela Ortiz—her three-year old son Inti in her arms—illustrating how colonization, racism, patriarchal, and capitalist powers are transmitted and reinforced through the education and legal systems in Europe. The keynote talk delivered by award-winning prolific author Edwidge Danticat was also very moving as she advocated lyrically for the people currently approaching the US Southern borders in the caravans, and for all whose lives are in transit. Speaking from her personal position as a displaced Black Haitian, she underlined three important lessons that we could take from the strategy of crossing borders in large numbers: first, that stories must be shared and more witnesses need to be created along the way; second, that unity brings strength and together we are less vulnerable, and we can count on each other as in the farmers’ saying “today I work your land, tomorrow you work my land“; and, third, that perseverance is needed: “If home won’t let you stay, you walk 30 miles a day, you just put one foot after the other, you don’t blink if an army comes to stop you, you keep walking, you have the right to be.“

Daniela Ortiz and Inti on stage. Photo: Richard Alvarez @ CTS

On the way to the summit’s final event, the Inaugural Film Series, the crowd was caught by a torrential, monsoon-like rain. The canopy of a small chain restaurant as a temporary refuge, we squeezed together, damp feet and soaked clothes. For a moment, in a less abstract way, our bodies embraced the climate realities discussed by Timothy Morton who passionately warned: “We are the modern asteroids and we are about to wipe out most of the species of the planet, including ours. Climate change should be understood as mass extinction. Also, in the biosphere, the part is as important as the whole and to help the environment we don’t need to feel guilty, but responsible. If you understand it, act responsibly.”

Open air Inaugural Film Screening started shortly after a stormy rainfall. Photo: Alexsa Tolentino @ CTS

We are the modern asteroids, checking the weather on our phones, sometimes unable to see the impact of our lifestyle on the life of the planet.

But we are also the parts whose sense of responsibility can change the Whole.

Some know how to keep the circle of life in balance. We need to support those people. As Hassan Darsi said when sharing about his project in support of Moroccan organic farmers resisting corporations’ land expropriation and soil impoverishment: “We should never ever abandon the perspective of life, never negate life. Our work as artists should always create and support life for all living forms!”

Hassan Darsi with his didactic outfit explains ecological crisis in Morocco. Photo: Richard Alvarez @ CTS

Alessandra Pomarico

Alessandra, an editor for ArtsEverywhere, is interested in international and multidisciplinary curatorial projects and residency programs at the intersection of arts, pedagogy, social issues, nano-politics, and community building.

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