Editorial #04

Descolonizaciones inciertas II

#NiUnaMenos (< ==> #MuchasMás)

In the first installment of our debate, we asked questions about the current meanings of the term “decolonization.” Yet, we have to admit that what we want to see as the denor¬mativization of social life remains only an aspiration—and one likely held by just a fraction of society. Not a single decolonial battle has been resoundingly won.

We live in a world that continues to be hostile to at least 50% of its inhabitants. Not a day passes without at least one piece of news about violence against humans, usually against women. Every day women are tortured, raped, murdered; their bodies discarded like trash. Since the early 2000s, “Ni una más”/“Ni una muerta más” has been the cry of activists in Ciudad Juárez in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, demanding that this violence come to an end. Starting on June 3, 2015, when demonstrations broke out in major plazas across Argentina, that cry has been inverted as a way to refute the loss: “Ni una menos”–“Ni una mujer menos.” The pace with which the #NiUnaMenos move¬ment has gained momentum across the continent shows that no country is immune to the problem of femicide or to systemic gender-based violence. An international women’s strike with public demonstrations in fifty-four countries on March 8, 2017 attests to the violence’s catastrophic global dimension.(1)

We know that gender-based violence is not limited to crimes committed against women and girls. It takes many insidious forms. The perpetrators of such crimes often go free. Often they are not even prosecuted because the patri¬archal justice system refuses to believe the victims. At the same time, women’s ability to make decisions about their lives is undermined by draconian limitations of reproductive freedom or even by attempts to delegalize or criminalize a woman’s right to choose.

We also know that no class is immune to the violence. Neither wealth, nor education, nor professional status affords women protection from it. Gender-based violence is pervasive not only in the street and other public spaces, but also in corporate offices, educational institutions, and private households. If, in its early days, the Internet was imagined as a safe space to forge bonds and to create al¬ternative communities, today that space engenders new forms of violence and harassment against women: stalking, shaming, blackmail. In the worst-case scenarios, virtual violence leads to death.

Philosopher Silvia Federici has called this pervasive daily violence an “undeclared war” that capitalism and patriarchy wage on women. She has noted that women of color are disproportionately affected by this war, and that women who live in the global South are exposed to its most brutal, militarized and para-militarized, forms.

Like Federici, we use the word “women” to name a political category. Aware of the potential objections, we assert that this category extends to transgender women and to other queer and rebel bodies. We also understand that the violence against these non-conforming bodies is quite possibly the most atrocious of all.

This “undeclared war” is waged across all social struc¬tures and affects all forms of life. In recent months, we have seen women activists flooding galleries to remind us that the art world is not immune to everyday and domestic vio¬lence. Specifically, they questioned art institutions about the place and, implicitly, about the value ascribed to Cuban artist Ana Mendieta, whose husband, artist Carl Andre, was acquitted of her murder. What does Andre’s continued recognition from major art institutions mean? Will we ever see a wall text or read a catalogue essay that speaks of the accusations against him? And if so, how would such an ac¬count shift the entire narrative of art history?

On the flipside, how do we harness the relatively recent inclusion of women artists in art galleries and institutions that had overlooked them for decades? Does their inclusion solve the problem of equity? Can it remedy decades—if not centuries—of willful erasure, and if so, how? The art¬ists that art institutions classify as women make up 30% of the art world at the very most. Work towards equitable representation is just barely getting underway. And if truly equitable representation were ever achieved, would that in and of itself mean a real structural shift? How would that “transformed” art world, if it were to come into be¬ing, position itself in relation to the everyday violence that permeates our societies? More important, perhaps, is the question of what structural transformations and concrete actions we—women and our allies—can effect in the cultural field to make sure that the cry #NiUnaMenos does not ring out again in our streets and galleries. First of all, how do we—artists, curators, critics, dealers, collectors, and so forth—even acknowledge the raging epidemic? Second, how as art historians and theorists, as organizers of exhibitions and public programs, and as educators, do we re-imagine our practices to acknowledge that epidemic and its opera¬tions? And, finally, does undertaking that work imply that we ourselves as subjects have to undergo the process of decolonization, and if so, how?

Dorota Biczel
Andrea Giunta
Luis Vargas Santiago

1 Poet and activist Susana Chávez Castillo (1974–2011), a native of Juárez, is credited with coining the phrase “Ni una mujer menos, ni una muerta más” in the mid-nineties. Scholar Melissa Wright traces the deployment of the slogan “Ni Una Más” to Mexico in 2002. Beyond any particular slogan, grassroots women’s movements across the globe have been drawing on one another, and on their predecessors in the last four decades. For ex¬ample: in October 2016, on so-called Black Mon¬day, Polish women went on strike out to oppose a proposed total ban on abortion; in January 2017, US women marched in the wake of the presidential inauguration of an abuser. There have been waves of anti-violence protests in India since December 2012 and a recent #NotInMyName campaign in South Africa (May 2017). The official annual Unit¬ed Nation’s campaign 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence (November 25–December 10) has its origins in the Women’s Global Leader¬ship Institute (1991), the roots of which lie in the UN’s Decade for Women (1975–85) that began with the International Women’s Year and World Confer¬ence on Women in Mexico City in 1975.