C& América Latina: Tell us about your journey as an artist/curator. What topics interest you in these two/each of these capacities?
Yolanda Chois: I was born in Cali, a Colombian town where the temperature oscillates between 25°C and 30°C degrees; a tropical ecosystem, now converted into a barren land because of the sugar cane industry. I grew up in Cali in the nineties, in the times when the great drug cartels were crumbling, the paramilitary forces rising and the end of the century was approaching. I belong to a generation that is only just understanding what it meant to experience the world from the vantage point of a city submerged in a deep crisis from which it is only now starting to recover.
I studied art at the public university in the region (Universidad del Valle) where the walls were filled with outdated leftist slogans. In the decade of 2000, the cultural dynamics in Cali implied that an art student could only create from the periphery, due to the institutional crises, the corruption, the scarcity of resources, the existence of merely ONE art gallery in the city and, the lack of artistic activity/offer (despite Cali being a city with over 2 million inhabitants). For these reasons, the few independent projects that existed – Helena Producciones and lugar a dudas – became like a school for many young artists.
After my studies I began working in the world of art, joining art collective and doing temporary work. I connect colectives, study groups, artists, and cultural producers through different projects. From this interest, my first attempt for an independent project was born: Galería La Sultana (2010), produced together with curators José Tomás Giraldo and Diana Cuartas. By this time, my interest revolved around the question: “How can we use art to communicate the relationship between people and the territories they inhabit?”
In 2011, I decided to go on a trip from Colombia to Mexico through Central America. I wanted to put an end to the ignorance we Colombians have about the countries in Central America. However, the Costa Rican consulate in Panama denied my visa, and so I ended up staying in Panama for a year. Here, I began to understand the importance of the Afro-Antillean immigration in this country; the people who built the railway and later the Channel. I also began to understand the relation between the border regions, and these two insights proved fundamental for my work today.
Later, the platform Hacia el Litoral. Acción colectiva (Towards the Coast) followed. This project embodies one of the motifs that brought me to the conference Echoes of the South Atlantic. Towards the Coast arose from questions regarding the relationship between the border territories between Panama and Colombia, especially the area bordering the Pacific Ocean. These regions – biologically connected but geo-politically isolated – are mainly Afro and indigenous territories. Historically, they contain the story of the foundation of the continent with the arrival of Europeans. Towards the Coast invited people from different disciplines, both in Cali and in Panama City, to travel across the border. The result was a series of artistic projects that later led me (this time individually), to work on migration issues and travel to Ghana, Africa, for an artistic residence with the Nubuke Foundation.
C&AL: Which artistic projects are you currently involved in?
YC: I am going to name only three current projects. Falling Off to the Periphery / Cayendo a la periferia is a project by Ana Garzón (Colombia), Audu Sallisu (Ghana) and Yolanda Chois (Colombia). Through radio, open talks, essays and performances, the project hopes to generate new readings and interpretations of contemporary migratory phenomenons, especially from African countries towards Europe and America. On the other hand, Topics Between the Tropics is a program that is based on the Caribbean-Pacific-Atlantic triangle and hopes to weave relationships in order to understand how different groups of people with a linked past and facing very similar current challenges, can find points of convergence and action. The program is based in Cali, Colombia but brings together artists, thinkers and musicians from the Caribbean Antilles and some African countries. The project will be carried out over a period of one month, base work with local groups and communities. It is designed by people from different local institutions: Alejandro Martín (Museo La Tertulia), Ana Garzón (Más Arte Más Acción), Olga Eusse (Banco de la República), Sally Mizrachi (lugar a dudas), Henry Salazar and Fabio Melecio Palacios (Instituto de Bellas Artes, semillero Litoralidades). Finally, Ocean Highway is the title for a project which is part of The Future of Memory, a very extensive program implemented by the Goethe-Institute in different South American cities. Cali will be the venue for the program finale. The Museo La Tertulia has invited us as artists and cultural agents of the city to think about the “future of memory” in the current context of Colombia, where acts of sectorized violence are happening and social leaders are being systematically murdered.
C&AL: How is the conference Echoes of the South Atlantic important to you?
YC: This event will allow those of us who are involved in the daily task of pondering certain questions from our local standing point to learn from others, know about what they are doing and thinking and act in the same direction. Our individual work runs the risk of being invisible, depending on the interests and limitations of local cultural institutions. Therefore, this conference is very relevant: it makes our work visible.
With regard to the theme of the conference – the relations between Africa, America and Europe – I think of the psychiatrist, philosopher and essayist Frantz Fanon (1925-1961) from Martinique and the thesis of his work Black Skin, White Masks. I refer to Fanon’s idea that every people that has gone through a process of conquest and domination, in addition to being marked by the experience, carrying a trauma, will have to face these issues and dismantle colonial thought. Our societies are deeply anchored in these thought models, and each person who has been part of those colonial processes will have to create their own extensive process, practically endless. Following Fanon in the sense that each people must deal with its own trauma, I think that, in part, the work we do in art and culture is to create favorable environments so that the changes, ruptures or irruptions that are taking place in other aspects, are catalyzed or potentiated. Of course, we can not impose a line of action for an “other” to recognize their problem, because we are scarcely aware of the problem itself. So I would ask one more question, also within the framework of the Echoes of the South Atlantic: To what extent does each one of us, who participates in the conference either as an institution or an individual, sustain the structures of colonial thought?
Yolanda Chois studied Visual Arts and Aesthetics at Universidad del Valle, Cali. Colombia. She currently works at Almanaque Azul Foundation (Panamá) in the department for cultural and community projects and collaborates with Más Arte Más Acción (Colombia) on the project Territories. Parallel to this she supports artistic practices and independent communication on the platform Towards the Coast. Collective Action (Hacia el litoral. Acción colectiva). Presently, she is working on the project Falling off to the Periphery. Dynamics of Migration, in collaboration with Audu Sallisu (Ghana) and Ana Garzón (Colombia) as well as designing the program Topics between the Tropics, an exchange experience between Caribbean, Pacific and Atlantic thinking.
Translated from Spanish by Zarifa Mohamad Petersen