I’ve been inspired lately by the paintings of Oswaldo Guayasamin. Although he is well-respected in Latin America, I rarely see the type of eulogizing that over him that is so common with Frida Kahlo, whose identity as a mature and political artist has been submerged in a depoliticized portraitist school of thought that is infinitely less disturbing of the existing order. Like Kahlo, Guayasamin, born in 1919 into a feudal and neo-colonial state like Ecuador, took sides in a visceral and visible struggle against poverty, injustice and the invisibilization of suffering that was part of so much art contemporary to the time.
This is not an essay, but a few musings in response to the images I have been able to find online. Here, I share a few, in particular the early Quito series which I find as interesting as some of his more well known pieces from the Age of Anger and the Age of Tenderness. Above, some of Frida Kahlo’s less popular artworks, The Wounded Table , circa. 1940, Self-Portrait on the Borderline Between Mexico and United States, 1932 and 1954, Marxism Heals the Sick, a reflection of her understanding of disability and the devalued lives we live under capitalism when we are incapacitated or chronically ill.
Born into a humble Kichwa and Mestizo family, he was one of 10 children, losing his mother, and then his closest friend at an early age. These experiences, along with searing social criticism of the sweeping inequities of race and class discrimination, shaped his approach to art both as a vehicle of personal expression, and as a tool for, and of, social change.
In particular, Guayasamin’s travels through South America, Mexico and the United States brought him into contact with Diego Rivera and Jose Clemente Orozco, both ardent communists and anti-imperialists. This influenced Guayasamin greatly both as an artist and social critic. Between the 1940s and 1960s he committed himself to the path of social justice and a Pan-American vision of suffering and liberation. He firmly joined the political left and was close to Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda and Victor Jara, poets and songwriters of the Chilean left, active until they were assassinated by the U.S. backed Pinochet regime in 1973.
Guaysamin’s final piece is the posthumous Chapel of Man built on his property overlooking Quito. He was a painter, muralist and architect whose deepening vision taught him to see the ignored and the silenced.
I’ve slowed down on my blog due to health and other very important circumstances. But I have not stopped… I have been, like so many of us in Canada, overwhelmed by the physical forensic evidence of a genocide so recent that it is actually on-going.
Kamloops Residential School, Cowessess First Nation Marieval Residential School, and other Residential schools have provided evidence of over 1300 deaths in the last two weeks. That is in addition to the approximately 4000 deaths recognized by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The commission had recommended the forensic examination of all residential schools for indigenous peoples, but that was denied by the federal government of Canada on the basis that a $1.5 million price tag at the time was “too high”.
This callous indifference characterizes the Canadian State’s approach to First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples when it is not engaged in the antics of the Indian Act or helping its corporate partners in resource extraction.
I fear there may be thousands more children found before this is over. And as an ally of colour or person in solidarity with indigenous nations in this settler country, I feel we need to use all our means of protest to say that this Canada we have built is rotten, from and to, the core. Supporting both treaty and unceded nations, we have to add our voices to the Landback movement. Taking our cues from the demands of Indigenous people, water, and earth protectors from various parts of the country shows us how interconnected abuse and genocide of people is to dispossession from their lands
I am sharing below the art and haiku I have created in homage to these living struggles on our current lands. Justice must not only be seen to be done, it must be done. And words like “reconciliation” are hysterically cynical in my humble opinion. Where are the words, “accountability”, “due process”, “law enforcement”, “justice”? Some of the perpetrators of abuse and worse, are still alive– protected by the Catholic Church and Canadian state.
Why are aboriginal peoples incarcerated and survivors of a social apartheid at inhuman rates, while those who squeeze their life blood out of them, get to run free? All of us who tread this soil, who weep at the dehumanization of children and entire peoples, who struggle for equality, respect and liberation in our own lives, must realize that all of that is meaningless without a fundamental shift in what it means to live on Indigenous land.
Home, weeps this land, fenced by greed disguised as civil- ization. Landback.
Home, they cry, you have taken the ground beneath. Give us back our souls.
Thousands of children home. Weeping parents shattered. Kkkanada fed blood.
Home, they wept, take us back. Hug these small bodies back to families, lands, names.
Happy Pride Month! It’s been strange to be as fragmented as the LGBT community has been even before covid19. But lack of face to face contact has in particular been hard for LGBT people, especially young people who may be living with homo/transphobic or disapproving family members.
So it’s a month to honour our many communities’ resilience, our survival in spite of centuries of exclusion, hatred and scapegoating, our many ways of being who we are in spite of difficult odds. This year the evidentiary burden of genocide against Indigenous survival and the massacre of so many vulnerable people through the market logic of the corona pandemic, along with personal grief on so many levels, has made it more of reflective time than one rooted in the raucous marchers and the desperate gawkers that characterize Pride weekend on Corporate Ave., oh sorry, i mean, Church St. I probably miss the music the most!
This last week with its revelations about the active recent complicity of Catholic Church, , and God knows how many other Christian institutions– shows us how white Christians intertwined with the ruling powers as to make separation of Church and State, a total joke when it comes to the civilizing mission of settler colonialism! Two hundred and fifteen children assassinated in the name of a merciless white God. And that is only what they have let us find. The violence of settler colonialism reveals itself as a violence against the very lives and existence of Indigenous peoples. An informal apartheid made formal through the Indian Act.
So for many reasons, it’s hard to feel celebratory There’s been tons of new cultural activism and expression from Indigenous peoples in Canada and the United States. But I’ve gone with a familiar voice from the long-ago days of joining an anti-racist lesbian community! Menominee poet Chrystos has definitely been a voice calling for truth to power, even if that makes things uncomfortable. So I’ll leave today’s post with this poem.
Into the Racism Workshop
For Alma Banda Goddardmy cynical feet ambled prepared for indigestion & blank faces of outrageous innocence knowing I’d have to walk over years of media declaring we’re vanished or savage or pitiful or noble My toes twitched when I saw so few brown faces but really when one eats racism every time one goes out one’s door the appeal of talking about it is minuscule I sat with my back to the wall facing the door after I changed the chairs to a circle This doesn’t really protect me but I con myself into believing it does One of the first speakers piped up I’m only here because my friend is Black & wanted me to do this with her I’ve already done 300 too many racism workshops Let it be entered into the Book of Stars that I did not kill her or shoot a scathing reply from the hip I let it pass because I could tell she was very interested in taking up all the space with herself & would do it if I said a word They all said something that I could turn into a poem but I got tired & went to sleep behind my interested eyes I’ve learned that the most important part of these tortures is for them to speak about racism at all Even showing up is heresy because as we all know racism is some vague thing that really doesn’t exist or is only the skinheads on a bad day or isn’t really a crucial problem not as important certainly as queers being able to marry or get insurance for each other When they turned to me as resident expert on the subject which quite honestly I can’t for the life of me understand or make any sense out of I spoke from my feet things I didn’t know I knew of our connections of the deadly poison that racism is for all of us Maybe some of them were touched but my bitch voice jumps in to say NOT MUCH! I heard back that someone thought I was brilliant Does that mean that I speak well Or that she was changed It’s only her change I need
This is a seven part poem I have been working on since my work, studies, and travels have taken me to South America and Cuba. I have long been fascinated and moved by the strength of peoples who manage to hold on to their cosmologies in the face of terrible odds such as kidnapping, enslavement, auction blocks, trade-sanctioned rape, forced labour, soul-searing racism, and unimaginable poverty, and social and political exclusion, even state-sanctioned annihilation.
As a woman of colour, the racisms I have witnessed and experienced throughout my time in Peru, Colombia, Chile, Cuba and Mexico have raised huge questions about the role of anti-racism in “progressive” sectors of development and education, culture, and, even political parties, in those countries. While these issues need to be hashed out in terms of policies, financing, and social restructuring as a whole–especially in those countries where colonized peoples of colour are a majority in certain under-remunerated occupations such as manual and domestic service, agricultural labour, entertainment, and the informal sector– the role of culture in accompanying such changes is essential.
As a citizen of colour in the Americas, I have chosen to seek inspiration and meaning in the beliefs and cosmologies of those of us bound together by European colonization, rather than those of dominant hegemonic religions. As the child of a colonized migrant, I belong in the Americas, as do those who have belonged here before me, and who belonged, before the words “African” and “Indian” had any meaning. The absurdity of this world turned upside down, where the poor fight each other tooth and claw for a pittance for survival, cannot destroy the connection between the gods of Santeria and those of the Quechua and Aymara peoples, especially in countries like Peru, where indigenous and afro-descended communities are integral to the country’s development and self-image, although the apartheid between European Peruvians and indigenous Peruvians is deeply entrenched and the official story of Peru may not highlight their presence except as beasts of burden or unruly mobs needing to be subdued.
That is why this following piece takes as its title the Quechua (Kichwa) word, “pachacutec” meaning “Earth Shaker” or the “world turned upside down.” I was struck by this word as it resonated with not only the the social disparagement of the indigenous people I witnessed in the Andean nations, but also the facile commodification of black religion as entertainment. An entertainment, I might add, that was almost wholly consumed by white tourists both national and international. I saw this wherever Afro music was played, whether in Cuba at the Callejon de Hamel or watching Peru Negro perform in reified contexts with velvet seats and expensive tickets. This is contrasted in the way that such religions are actually practised outside the gaze of the tourist or the anthropologist, where the deities may be termed in Arundhoti Ray’s words, the “gods of small things”, accompanying as they do the risks of everyday life under unequal social circumstances. In using the word Pachacutec I signal the “upside-downiness” of this late-capitalist world where we float through the sky and bury our crimes against humanity– for surely, colonial subjugations are just that– in the blood-stained earth from which huge profits are made at all our expense.
(Quechua word meaning Earth Shaker/World Turned Upside Down)
Today I marched in the climate strike with millions of people around the world. I marched because I breathe, eat, need water, have increasing love and appreciation for the natural world, and hold the lives of the world’s citizens in the highest regard.
I have been appalled and sickened by the astronomical levels of pollution and contamination plaguing the lives of loved ones and strangers alike, in so many places I have been to. From Mexico City, Lima, Santiago, Rome, Kolkata, New Delhi, Toronto and in the northern reaches of this province, where the abomination of logging and mining has pillaged and plundered from the earth and water and from the indigenous communities that make up so much of the colonized world.
I marched because capitalist development has put profits before people and destroyed the very air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink. The ecocide of the industrial revolution and its aftermath is matched only by the countless lives deformed and lost due to the absolute misery of millions that have allowed us to follow a narrative celebrating a linear, exploitative, and developmental progress as the only way forward. The very science being deployed to illuminate us about the climate crisis, has been used to subsume natural and human interests.
Science has been rooted in domination, and not in knowledge for the harmony and benefit of humanity. If this were not the case, we would not be fighting for such social benefits as public and affordable health care and universal drug and dental coverage. Indigenous communities would not be facing incursions from the research and development units of multinational pharmaceutical companies engaged in stealth exploitation of the rainforests. Our food and agricultural and water systems would not be poisoned by corporate interests, biotech and genetically engineered crops while pesticide runoff and fertilizer makes the oceans uninhabitable.
Our arms races and weapons of mass destruction would not devour the large chunk of international trade and governmental budgets that they do today.
I marched because not do so, would be to give in to hopelessness, to lose faith in the young people of this planet and their right to a fair and flourishing world. I marched because not do so, would be to be defeated by the greed and shortsightedness of capitalist patriarchy and its monopoly on our mainstream media, our economies, our thoughts– which flower, in spite all attempts by the rulers that be, to the contrary.
I recall this poem I wrote during the Oka Crisis of 1990. Thirty-one years ago. Things have only gotten more dire.
It was true what the foremothers
Words are unrepentant birds
which fly off
and leave us silent.
(Once more we watch
the silenced movie.
Clear Quebec Sky,
still summer days).
The army and the police
destroy dignity and land.
Earth, if you are the mother,
how can you bear the weight
of all our rage?
I am from the country Columbus dreamt of. You the land Columbus conquered. Now in your land my words are circling blue Oka sky they come back to us. Alight on tongue.
Protect me with your brazen passion for history is my truth, Earth, my witness My home, this native land.
from A New Remembrance, TSAR Press, Toronto, 1993
At that time, in 1990, we did not have the public land acknowledgements used in social justice venues that we have today, as links between racisms and histories of exclusion are being made between people of colour descended from slaves and immigrants/refugees with Aboriginal and Metis peoples. For example, in Toronto, this might be used:
INDIGENOUS PEOPLES OF TKARONTO The land I am standing on today is the traditional territory of many nations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples and is now home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. I also acknowledge that Toronto is covered by Treaty 13 signed with the Mississaugas of the Credit, and the Williams Treaty signed with multiple Mississaugas and Chippewa bands.
During that time I was forcibly struck by the banal genocidal machinations of the Canadian/Quebec alliance, as a Mohawk ancestral territory and burial ground was to be razed for a golf course. This speaks to the colonial settler state’s desire for amnesia, an amnesia to be filled with fake news and anonymous trolls, as any news item pertaining to indigenous /Canadian relations will show on the internet.
the symbol of the red dress stands for the thousands of murdered and devalued Inuit, Aboriginal and Metis women, upon whose bodies and lives, our present standards of morality as a constitutional polity rest.
Through these pictures, I invite the reader to join me on a journey of solidarity and testimony from “sea to shining sea” and in particular, pay attention to the notorious Highway of Tears where so many lives of Aboriginal women have been taken.
I comemorate the presence of First Nations and Metis peoples in spaces that for me, constitute Canada in so many ways, the park, the bus, the north, the highway of tears and the prison or jail (where aboriginal women are grossly over-represented).
I leave the viewer with this series, The Weight of All our Rage/Red Dress as my meditation on a hope for a future where indigenous peoples throughout the Americas (of which Canada is a very real part!) can create autonomous and just relations with settler and extractive governments and in alliance with the many people of color who increasingly make up the population in Canada and the United States.
This is a work inspired by both living in Mexico for a while, and, seeing its plight in the face of multiple challenges, both internal and external. A complex and fascinatingly diverse land, Mexico cannot be reduced to a single image or emotion. Loteria draws on the rich symbolism of images that portend an uneasy syncretism…one in which domination and subjugation are intertwined in both the sacred and the mundane .
Loteria is a game played in Mexico and similar to the U.S. game of Bingo. The images have been around for 0ver 500 years, apparently originating in Italy and being brought to Mexico in the late 18th century. Popularized by the beginning of 2oth century, even the Catholic Church in Mexico issued its own set of Loteria cards.
As a person of colour, a lesbian , a visitor to Mexico, and a “Latin Americanist” by academic training, my take on Loteria aims to subvert some of the traditional imagery and symbolism of the classic Loteria drawings. For example my use of the rainbow flag for the traditional image of the Mexican flag/La Bandera. This speaks to the hope held by LGBT activists in Mexico, that Mexico may combat its own homophobia, to which hundreds have fallen victim in the few decades. While wealthy gay tourists may enjoy resort communities like Puerto Vallarta, Mexico has a long way to go in challenging and overturning LGBT-phobia for ordinary Mexicans, both judicially and in the popular imagination.
Equally, a card like the Lady/La Dama generally represents a fair skinned woman, where as I have chosen to use the image of a brown skinned native woman. In Mexico, indigenous women are generally seen as inhabitants of a world of historical subjugation and contemporary marginalization since they are so often treated like 3rd class citizens in their country. The high rates of femicide in Mexico affect indigenous and poor women disproportionately. Thus I take a partisan stance!
For the World/El Mundo, the image of Atlas, is replaced by that of a woman of colour whose overlooked labour fuels a variety of socio-economic systems, such as slavery, debt peonage, share-cropping, informal markets and household services and maquiladora manufacturing around the world. For the image of the brave one or El Valiente, I show an elderly disabled Indigenous man, celebrating the courage it takes to live on a pittance with mobility and other problems.
With the cards of el Apache and El Negrito/the Little Black Man, I was confronted by the highly stereotyped imagery of previous cards. I wanted to show the agency of these historically disenfranchised peoples, through both the use of colour and the image of a “slave”, breaking his chains. Many do not know that the Southern coast of Mexico was historically home to a slave-based plantation economy, relying on African labour, as in the Caribbean. There are nearly 1.5 million Afro-descended Mexicans! In recent years, Afro-Mexicans are organizing and taking their rightful place in Mexican society politically, economically, and culturally.
Like the Tarot, numerous stylized images of Loteria are testament to the way in which it captured the popular imagination over centuries. The original game had the caller sing out the cards through the form of riddles. While these riddles may no longer be integral to the game, Loteria is still a potent symbol of Mexican popular culture. I hope I have contributed to an interpretation of Mexico that celebrates its beauty, colors, and hope for a more representative and just future!
Below, I have included the Wikipedia information on the Loteria riddles. Enjoy!
The following is a list of all the original 54 Lotería cards, traditionally and broadly recognized in all of Mexico. Below you will find each card name and number with the riddles (in Spanish) sometimes used to tell the players which card was drawn. However, there are several less traditional sets of cards, depicting different objects or animals.
1 El gallo (“the rooster”)
El que le cantó a San Pedro no le volverá a cantar. The one that sang for St. Peter will never sing for him again.
2 El diablito (“the little Devil”)
Pórtate bien cuatito, si no te lleva el coloradito. Behave yourself buddy, or the little red one will take you away.
3 La dama (“the lady”)
Puliendo el paso, por toda la calle real. Polishing as she steps, all along the royal street
4 El catrín (“the dandy”)
Don Ferruco en la alameda, su bastón quería tirar. Sir Ferruco in the lane, wanted to toss away his cane.
5 El paraguas (“the umbrella”)
Para el sol y para el agua. For the sun and for the rain.
6 La sirena (“the mermaid”)
Con los cantos de sirena, no te vayas a marear. Don’t be swayed by the songs of the siren. (In Spanish, sirens and mermaids and their song is synonymous.)
7 La escalera (“the ladder”)
Súbeme paso a pasito, no quieras pegar brinquitos. Ascend me step by step, don’t try and skip.
8 La botella (“the bottle”)
La herramienta del borracho. The tool of the drunk.
9 El barril (“the barrel”)
Tanto bebió el albañil, que quedó como barril. So much did the bricklayer drink, he ended up like a barrel.
10 El árbol (“the tree”)
El que a buen árbol se arrima, buena sombra le cobija. He who nears a good tree, is blanketed by good shade.
11 El melón (“the melon”)
Me lo das o me lo quitas. Give it to me or take it from me.
12 El valiente (“the brave man”)
Por qué le corres cobarde, trayendo tan buen puñal. Why do you run, coward? Having such a good blade too.
13 El gorrito (“the little bonnet”)
Ponle su gorrito al nene, no se nos vaya a resfriar. Put the bonnet on the baby, lest he catch a cold.
14 La muerte (“Death”)
La muerte tilica y flaca. Death, thin and lanky.
15 La pera (“the pear”)
El que espera, desespera. He who waits despairs. (A pun: espera “to wait” and es pera ” to be a pear” are homophones in Mexican Spanish.)
16 La bandera (“the flag”)
Verde blanco y colorado, la bandera del soldado. Green, white, and red, the flag of the soldier.
17 El bandolón (“the mandolin”)
Tocando su bandolón, está el mariachi Simón. There playing his lute, is Simon the mariachi.
18 El violoncello (“the cello”)
Creciendo se fue hasta el cielo, y como no fue violín, tuvo que ser violoncello. Growing it reached the heavens, and since it wasn’t a violin, it had to be a cello.
19 La garza (“the heron”)
Al otro lado del río tengo mi banco de arena, donde se sienta mi chata pico de garza morena. At the other side of the river I have my sand bank, where sits my darling short one, with the beak of a dark heron.
20 El pájaro (“the bird”)
Tu me traes a puros brincos, como pájaro en la rama. You have me hopping here and there, like a bird on a branch.
21 La mano (“the hand”)
La mano de un criminal. The hand of a criminal.
22 La bota (“the boot”)
Una bota igual que la otra. A boot the same as the other.
23 La luna (“the moon”)
El farol de los enamorados. The street lamp of lovers.
24 El cotorro (“the parrot”)
Cotorro cotorro saca la pata, y empiézame a platicar. Parrot, parrot, stick out your claw and begin to chat with me.
25 El borracho (“the drunkard”)
A qué borracho tan necio ya no lo puedo aguantar. Oh what an annoying drunk, I can’t stand him any more.
26 El negrito (“the little black man”)
El que se comió el azúcar. The one who ate the sugar.
27 El corazón (“the heart”)
No me extrañes corazón, que regreso en el camión. Do not miss me, sweetheart, I’ll be back by bus.
28 La sandía (“the watermelon”)
La barriga que Juan tenía, era empacho de sandía. The swollen belly that Juan had, was from eating too much watermelon.
29 El tambor (“the drum”)
No te arrugues, cuero viejo, que te quiero pa’ tambor. Don’t you wrinkle, dear old leather, since I want you for a drum.
30 El camarón (“the shrimp”)
Camarón que se duerme, se lo lleva la corriente. The shrimp that slumbers is taken by the tides.
31 Las jaras (“the arrows”)
Las jaras del indio Adán, donde pegan, dan. The arrows of Adam the Indian, strike where they hit.
32 El músico (“the musician”)
El músico trompas de hule, ya no me quiere tocar. The rubber-lipped musician does not want to play for me anymore.
33 La araña (“the spider”)
Atarántamela a palos, no me la dejes llegar. Beat it silly with a stick, do not let it near me.
34 El soldado (“the soldier”)
Uno, dos y tres, el soldado p’al cuartel. One, two and three, the soldier heads to the fort.
35 La estrella (“the star”)
La guía de los marineros. Sailor’s guide.
36 El cazo (“the saucepan”)
El caso que te hago es poco. The attention I pay you is little. (A pun: caso “attention” and cazo “saucepan” are homophones in Mexican Spanish)
37 El mundo (“the world”)
Este mundo es una bola, y nosotros un bolón. This world is a ball, and we a great mob. (A pun: bola can mean both “ball, sphere” and “crowd, mob”, bolón is a superlative with the latter meaning)
38 El Apache (“the Apache”)
¡Ah, Chihuahua! Cuánto apache con pantalón y huarache. Ah, Chihuahua! So many Apaches with pants and sandals.
39 El nopal (“the prickly pear cactus”)
Al nopal lo van a ver, nomás cuando tiene tunas. People go to see the prickly pear, only when it bears fruit .
40 El alacrán (“the scorpion”)
El que con la cola pica, le dan una paliza. He who stings with his tail, will get a beating.
41 La rosa (“the rose”)
Rosita, Rosaura, ven que te quiero ahora. Rosita, Rosaura, come, as I want you here now.
42 La calavera (“the skull”)
Al pasar por el panteón, me encontré un calaverón. As I passed by the cemetery, I found myself a skull.
43 La campana (“the bell”)
Tú con la campana y yo con tu hermana. You with the bell and I with your sister.
44 El cantarito (“the little water pitcher”)
Tanto va el cántaro al agua, que se quiebra y te moja las enaguas. So often does the jug go to the water, that it breaks and wets your slip.
45 El venado (“the deer”)
Saltando va buscando, pero no ve nada. Jumping it goes searching, but it doesn’t see anything. (A pun: venado “deer” sounds like ve nada “see nothing”
46 El Sol (“the sun”)
La cobija de los pobres. The blanket of the poor
47 La corona (“the crown”)
El sombrero de los reyes. The hat of kings.
48 La chalupa (“the canoe”)
Rema que rema Lupita, sentada en su chalupita. Lupita rows as she may, sitting in her little boat.
49 El pino (“the pine tree”)
Fresco y oloroso, en todo tiempo hermoso. Fresh and fragrant, beautiful in any season.
50 El pescado (“the fish”)
El que por la boca muere, aunque mudo fuere. The one who dies by its mouth, even if he were mute. (In reference to a fish being hooked by its mouth, even though it doesn’t utter a sound.)
51 La palma (“the palm tree”)
Palmero, sube a la palma y bájame un coco real. Palmer, climb the palm tree and bring me a coconut fit for kings. (Lit: “A royal coconut.”)
52 La maceta (“the flowerpot”)
El que nace pa’maceta, no sale del corredor. He who is born to be a flowerpot, does not go beyond the hallway.
53 El arpa (“the harp”)
Arpa vieja de mi suegra, ya no sirves pa’tocar. Old harp of my mother-in-law, you are no longer fit to play.
54 La rana (“the frog”)
Al ver a la verde rana, qué brinco pegó tu hermana. What a jump your sister gave, as she saw the green frog.