Gestures…

Every diagnosis of the present contains within it some vision for a preferred future, however implicit. While there is widespread discontent about the state of our shared world, there exists a considerable diversity of critiques about what ails us, and thus, of propositions for how we might rearrange and reimagine the world toward something different. “Gesturing toward decolonial futures,” is the title of this portfolio of artistic, pedagogical and cartographic experiments that seek to not only imagine but also enact the world differently. This work proposes a form of analysis that does not trace the roots of contemporary crises to the collapse of a post-War state-capital compromise, to growing inequalities, or to looming climate disaster. These are very real concerns, with very real psychic and material impacts, but they are ultimately symptoms of the same underlying illness: a global modern/colonial imaginary in which being is reduced to knowing, profits take precedent over people, the earth is treated as a resource rather than a living relation, and all of the shiny promises of states, markets, and Western reason are subsidized by the disavowed harms of impoverishment, genocide, and environmental destruction.

Thus, despite our differences, our collective of artists, educators, artist-educators and scholars operates from the premise that if the problems of the present are created by this modern/colonial imaginary, then responses or solutions formulated within this imaginary will only lead to more of the same. As with all diagnoses, ours invites its own proposition – in our case, the possibility of presently unimaginable decolonial futures. Why frame this as a practice of ‘gesturing’, rather than one of demands, manifestos or prescriptions? Standing within a global colonial imaginary, we cannot know in advance what a decolonized world might look, feel, smell, taste like. We might have some ideas; for instance, a decolonized world as a “world in which many worlds fit,” as famously proposed by the Zapatistas. We might know that our current world is not sustainable, that it is already not liveable for many, that other worlds are possible. But decolonization is not an event nor is it a formula; it is a complex, multi-faceted life-long and life-wide practice that offers no assurances.

If this is the case, then as Alexander (2005) suggests, “we need to learn how to practice justice, for it is through practice that we come to envision new modes of living and new modes of being that support these visions.” Within this collective, we experiment with metaphors of cycles of life and death to invite practices of hospicing that which is dying, and assisting in the birth of that which is new, undefined, and potentially (though not necessarily) wiser. We use three inter-dependent practices (of art, social cartography and pedagogy) to denaturalize colonial frames of reference and material architectures that make up the social context in which knowledge is produced within our current system. These practices aim to enable ways of doing, thinking, and being that are viable but unimaginable within the modern-colonial imaginary.

The sociological imperative to trace the social, political, and economic histories and contexts that shape the colonial present is a vital part of any decolonial effort; however, simply learning about colonial power relations does not in itself necessarily disrupt the dominant frames of knowing and being that are themselves made through those relations. The presumed universality of these frames circumscribes what is possible for us to imagine. Thus, artistic and pedagogical practices of hospicing/midwifery offer complementary tools and strategies that may interrupt the power of this knowledge regime and thereby loosen its grip on our individual imaginations and our collective imaginary. In doing so, they open the possibility of pluralizing not only what we know, but also how we know and who we are, so that we might learn to know and be otherwise. But this is merely a possibility, not a guarantee.

Gesturing towards decolonial futures involves learning and unlearning, detoxifying and decluttering, mourning, grieving and healing, composting and metabolizing, in order to build something new, life-sustaining and life-supporting. It also involves loosening our attachments to what we think we want so that we might instead go where we are needed.

 

Acknowledgements

Much of the work of this international collective happens in unceded Musqueam land (where the University of British Columbia is located). We would like to acknowledge the generosity of the Musqueam people for enabling us to carry out this work in this land.

We are also grateful for the support received from the Social Sciences and Research Council of Canada and the Musagetes Foundation.

 

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