Cultures of Anti-Racism in Latin America

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Social Sciences

Abstract

In a global context of persistent racism and racial inequality, alongside the growing "post-racial" denial of their importance, this project will explore the role of the arts in challenging racism. The project aims to investigate the sociality, practices and discourses of contemporary cultural producers working in literature and visual and performing arts who focus on issues of racial difference, racism and anti-racism in three Latin American contexts: Brazil, Colombia and Argentina.

Why the arts? We work on the basis that the arts have always played a crucial role in anti-racist movements, serving as important tools with which to protest against and educate about racism. The arts have the ability to mobilise emotions through narrative and performance, and this makes them well suited to deal with racism's dependence on an emotive logic. By combining expertise from the arts and the social sciences in a cultural studies approach, we seek to locate artistic practices that address racial inequality and racism in their social and cultural context; we aim to map how the producers, their practices and their products circulate in the social world and produce effects there that contribute to the struggle against racism. While rationally devised social policy addressing socio-economic conditions is vital to correcting racial inequalities, it can simply by-pass, be undermined by and even exacerbate the visceral emotions that racial difference produces in a racially hierarchical society. It is these emotions we seek to approach and address through the medium of art and performance.

Why Latin America? Because the region has a long history in which "post-raciality" - by which we mean the tendency to deny or minimise the significance of racism and racial inequality, invoking a colour-blind universalism - has co-existed with marked racial inequality and with often veiled but still powerful racist attitudes. This paradoxical co-existence is becoming characteristic of other areas of the world, in the wake of post-World War II trends that made "race" politically toxic and made the denial of racism commonplace, while racial inequalities remain and even grow. We contend that the way struggles against racism in Latin America address this long-standing co-existence can hold lessons for anti-racism more widely. For example, the post-racial claim that increased inter-racial mixture indicates decreasing racism is belied by the fact that Latin American countries have often been majority mestizo (mixed-race) societies for over two centuries, without this having solved the problem of racial inequality and racism.

A notable feature of the project is that it encompasses anti-black and anti-indigenous racism in a region where practices and attitudes prejudicial to indigenous people are often not labelled as racism, but also at a time at which this label is becoming increasingly popular in struggles against such prejudice, highlighting the structural dimensions of indigenous disadvantage. A further strength of the project is its comparative approach, which seeks to use the rather different racial formations of Argentina, Brazil and Colombia to assess how generic or country-specific anti-racism strategies are.

Research teams in each country will bring together senior and junior, UK-based and Latin American researchers in the social sciences and arts to work with a range of artists and performers to explore diverse practices, including for example indigenous literatures, visual arts and cinema in Brazil, hip-hop music in Brazil and Colombia, Afro-Colombian art and an indigenous-black organisation that uses performance as a pedagogical tool, and street dance and commercial music forms alongside literature and political art in Argentina. Project researchers will work closely with artists and performers and will collaborate with them in project workshops, which will also have a public-facing component.

Planned Impact

We have identified these non-academic beneficiaries and impacts:

i) Artists and cultural producers from Brazil, Colombia and Argentina whose work addresses issues of racial difference and racism. This project will raise awareness about the potential their productions have for exposing and confronting the persistence of racism in Latin America. Workshops and public events in each country, to which these artists will be invited, will give them the opportunity to discuss their production, and the relationship between culture and anti-racism, with other artists, as well as academics, social activists and civil servants. These events will build on the extensive networks of the PI, the UK-COIs and the International COIs and will foster the networking of practitioners across artistic disciplines and national borders, enhancing anti-racist strategies in the region. The project's closing event in the UK will bring researchers and findings from the Latin American scene into exchange with British anti-racist artist/activists and, via feedback from the researchers to artists in Latin America, will enhance integration between the UK and Latin America with regards to these critical issues. This closing event will also launch an online exhibition of some of these artists' works, which will allow them to reach a broad public, thus enhancing their international status and visibility.

ii) Indigenous, Afro-descendant and other organisations from the third sector whose work focuses on race and racism will also benefit from the project. Its analysis of the role of affect in, and the potential of the arts for, articulating anti-racist practices will contribute to their capacity building, helping them design and develop more innovative action and strategy aimed at social inclusion.

iii) Governmental agencies dedicated to racial issues will draw on the results of this project to implement anti-racist initiatives in which the arts and emotions have a central role (for example, art festivals, competitions, educational initiatives). In order to engage these agencies, we will invite their representatives to the public event in each country.

iv) British cultural practitioners will also benefit from the Latin American experience. The coexistence of racism and 'post-raciality' is a relatively new development in the UK, yet it is a long-standing condition in Latin America. How Latin American artists navigate this particular racial dynamic through cultural production can provide learning points for their British counterparts. Furthermore, bringing these British and Latin American contexts together - something that is rare both in scholarship on race and in concrete anti-racist work - will help illuminate their shared features, usually neglected. The final symposium and impact event , which will put British and Latin American artists in dialogue, will create a platform for these exchanges.

v) Local communities that are the target of racial violence will benefit indirectly, since the project will build capacity and transfer knowledge to NGOs and state agencies, thus improving the quality and impact of their social work with these communities.

vi) Finally, the research could be appealing to a wider public, in Latin America and the UK, with an interest in Latin American art (who would learn about contemporary and groundbreaking cultural production from Brazil, Argentina and Colombia), the state of racial difference and anti-racism in Latin America, the relationship between art and race, and the possibilities of culture for fighting discrimination and strengthening of racial inclusion. The website and the online exhibition will allow access to material on the project and the artists featured. The public events in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Manchester and the online exhibition will offer the possibility of experiencing anti-racist cultural production first hand.

Publications

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