The idea of knowledge used as an instrument of colonial domination has been debated in the Global South since the first half of the 20th century. The essays of Martinican philosopher Frantz Fanon, Guinea-Bissauan Amilcar Cabral, and of Brazilians Paulo Freire and Darcy Ribeiro are references. In the 2000s, the Peruvian sociologist Aníbal Quijano probed the question more deeply by proposing a fundamental distinction between colonialism and coloniality. Whereas the concept of colonialism harkens back to the geopolitical control of one nation over another, coloniality reveals the complex web—racial, patriarchal, sexual, of knowledge—of hierarchies and privileges constructed by colonial domination. As a result: five centuries of oppression on the earth, bodies and knowledge still in progress, even after decolonization.
Guided by the decolonial spirit, in 2009, Bolivia enacted a new Constitution, which recognized that it is a Multinational State comprised of more than 36 indigenous and diasporic nations. So, how is it possible for the country to have a National Museum, inserted in a plural context? The issue gave rise to a process of change at the National Art Museum (MNA) in La Paz, put into practice between March 2019 and June 2020. During this time, the institution was directed by the philosopher and curator Max Jorge Hinderer Cruz, who established the aim to decolonize, democratize and de-elititize “the Museum as much as it would do the same for the dominant notions of what art is.” The initiative echoed not only the ethical-political repositioning of the country, but also of all of Latin America at the beginning of the 21st century.
The first step was to open an institution. La Paz is a city whose population is predominantly ethnically Aimará. Neighbors who would pass daily through the intersection of Calle Comercio with Socabaya, at the doorstep of the National Museum, did not feel welcome in that colonial building, a jewel of the Andean baroque of the 18th century. Guided, free visits in the Aimará language, offered since 2019, provided key access to the Palácio de los Condes in Arana. A rich exchange of perceptions was the result of the interaction of the new public with the mediator, who was also Aimará, such as bringing to light the intranslatability of the concept of “art” for the vision of the Andean world. “In what way do we speak about art, if we do not have the word art available and if we do not agree on its meaning? What does this teach us about our understanding of art?,” Hinderer Cruz contemplates.
Ideas of Art
In the early 1980s, curator and visual artist Karajá, Kássia Borges, felt uncomfortable during her classes at the Faculdade de Artes in Uberlândia (MG), in the Brazilian southeast, in which the faculty defined what was and was not art. “For us Karajá, everything is art. And what was being taught was coming from a Eurocentric idea which was born out of Modernity. The figure of God was replaced by that of the White man to justify—aesthetically— the process of invasions. The fact that we did not share the same aesthetic did not exclude our eternal relationship with Beauty. Our objects can be sacred and also have use in our day-to-day; writing is a tool and is also used for corporeal adornment. But the colonizer only sees an exotic object,” says Borges, today a professor at the Federal University of Uberlândia, his alma mater. “The role of curators and institutions, including art programs, is essential in this new possible and urgent journey.”