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Condor; fragment of pre-Columbian rock art engraving in the Atacama Desert, Chile. The cross was painted centuries after,  presumably by catholic missionaries. Photo: Ximena Jordan.

 

Beyond Europe

 

Nota de la autora: "Más allá de Europa" es un artículo que fue inicialmente escrito en inglés para ser publicado en una revista chileno-australiana, en Melbourne. Con la autorización del comité editorial de Escáner, lo publico a continuación en inglés, a modo de excepción y con la intención de compartir con ustedes el texto original. Agradeciendo su comprensión, los invito a leer y a pensar "más allá de Europa".

Ximena Jordán.

 

 

 (…) we may differentiate two types of colonial dominance: a violent colonialism that dealt effectively with the physical conquest of territories and which took place chronologically; and a more insidious one, a cultural colonialism pioneered by rationalists, modernists and liberals who occupied the minds, selves and cultures of the colonized.

Titus Pop, PhD. Romanian scholar.

 

Since I was a teenager the most enjoyable activity, which fulfilled my free time, has been cultural entertainment. Reading books, going to the theatre, visiting museums and art galleries have been and still are my most delightful hobbies. Accordingly, when I had to decide which activity to choose as a professional career and main source of income, I decided to study cultural management combined with theatre and visual arts studies. I really enjoyed it; I got my master’s degree in art curatorship and I have been working in the arts since then. At the present, time I work in two Museums located in Mexico City.

       Needless to say, salaries are not particularly generous in the cultural business; for this reason I normally travel to other countries or cities to attend courses, to perform different professional tasks, to become involved in different working programs...or to destinations that I can afford visiting. But also – and most importantly – I travel where I really want to go.

       I am thirty-seven years old and I have never ever been to Europe. Honestly, I have not wanted to go there, so far. Moreover, I do not even have plans to go to Europe. Of course this is something totally normal for me. Nevertheless, enjoying a fascination for the arts, and performing my career in it, the fact of not having travelled to Europe seems to be something professionally non-compatible for the majority of the people whom I generally interact with. So, I am often confronted with the question: …why does this occur?

 

  Fragment of Mesoamerican pre-Columbian mural painting. Cacaxtla arqueological site, Mexico. Photo: Ximena Jordan 

Fragment of Mesoamerican pre-Columbian mural painting. Cacaxtla, Mexico. Photo: Ximena Jordan

 

Apparently, a considerable amount of people in Latin America and Australia still believe that most artistic manifestations started in western Europe. Accordingly, for several of my acquaintances it is quite an issue that I have not been in cities such as Rome, Berlin, Paris or Madrid, since they believe fine arts come from this part of the world and therefore, not knowing Europe implies that I am not entitled to know “much” about art since it was there where I should have actually learnt about “the arts”. This statement seems to me as far from the truth as possible; this belief is actually not even close to what we know today about the beginning of different forms of art. Moreover, I am convinced that - already advanced in the twenty first century - this eurocentric point of view is unfair towards both Chilean and Australian societies because it diminishes the appreciation that we should have for our own forms of art and for those art styles originated in our neighboring countries.

         These sort of wide spread convictions are manifestations of what we know today as eurocentrism; an ideology based in the consideration of Europe as the progenitor of most of western economies and cultures, without taking into consideration that Europe itself was erected with the resources and labor stolen from foreign dominions. Unluckily, eurocentrism is a common assumption in both societies where I come from —Chile and Australia— as well as in my current nation of residency, Mexico.

        The eurocentric model finds its foundation in the European invasion that took place approximately five hundred years ago in America, expanding its limits to Africa and Australia thereafter. In order to accelerate their domination process, to enslave the locals and to take hold of their possessions and natural resources with no guilt, Europeans made the natives believe that they had illuminated the “savages” with civilization and culture; previously, darkness and ignorance was all they had. Along with this, Europeans were supposed to have brought into to the New World attributes such as religion, arts and laws, among other beneficial traits. Certainly, our indigenous ancestors had already developed all these cultural forms, however the conquerors did not accept them as valid signs of development.

 

 

 Nazca pre-Columbian textile work. Photo: www.precolumbianart4sale.com/

Nazca pre-Columbian textile work. Photo: www.precolumbianart4sale.com/

 

According to an eurocentric version of the history  —the one that prevailed during the twentieth century — before the Europeans reached these “lost lands”, people that were living there did not have religion but, instead, superstitions; nor did they possess art expressions but folklore; no laws but social chaos, etc. Of course this was a brilliant strategy for the Europeans because it made both —the invaders and the dominated populations— to embrace the idea that the physical and social violence involved in the domination processes was not only justified but also necessary, since the civilization that the Europeans aimed to impose by means of this aggression was a convenient reward for both parts involved in this cultural confrontation. Again: nothing farther from the truth.

        The fact that many people seem negatively surprised when someone like me, who should hold a strong knowledge concerning artistic phenomena has never been to Europe, is merely an unfortunate replication of a political paradigm imposed hundreds of years ago by the first Europeans in our territories, which had been maintained in subsequent periods of history by diverse economic European agents. Firstly, eurocentrism was advantageous for the European monarchies and empires. Couple of centuries later, when both of these structures of power had already concluded, it continued to be a profitable ideology for the European international investors, the European universities, the European fashion brands, the European travel agencies…etc. Thus, the predomination of a eurocentric ideology in our societies did not originate in an understanding of our primordial history but in the –yet historical– interest that Europe has had for centuries in the diverse wealth of our nations.

 

 Australian aboriginal art of Yuendumu (previously sand paintings). Photo: Margarita Aguayo. 

Australian aboriginal art of Yuendumu (previously sand paintings). Photo: Margarita Aguayo.

 

To conclude, I wish to clarify: no, art was not originated in Europe. Hereby three examples: Mesoamerican peoples (pre-Columbian Mexico) painted splendorous murals in their buildings before the geniuses of the Italian Renaissance did so. Central Andes cultures such as Chimu and Nazca Cultures (pre-Columbian Peru) made colorful textile art, so resistant to sunlight and climate variations that we can still observe them today. Australian aborigines made fantastic ephemeral visual art thousand of years before European contemporary artists “created” the art style known as site-specific installation.

         I must admit that it is likely that I will love Europe if I have someday the chance to go. Nonetheless, this will not necessarily make me a better art professional; I merely shall become someone who honestly wants to visit Europe instead of someone who is fulfilling a social requisite in doing so.

 

Ximena Jordan, 

Master in Art Curatorship, Melbourne University 

ximejordan@gmail.com

Edition: Veronica Poblete

 

Cover image: Condor; fragment of pre-Columbian rock art engraving in the Atacama Desert, Chile.  The cross was painted centuries after, presumably by catholic missionaries.  Photo: Ximena Jordan.

 

References:

Europa, modernidad y eurocentrismo. Enrique Dussel. URL: http://enriquedussel.com/txt/1993-236a.pdf

 

La colonialidad del saber: Eurocentrismo y Ciencias Sociales. Editor Edgardo Lander. URL:

https://www.tni.org/files/download/La%20colonialidad%20del%20saber.%20Eurocentrismo%20y%20ciencias%20sociales.pdf

 

Eurocentrism and its avatars; the dilemma of Social Science. Immanuel Wallerstein. URL: 

http://iwallerstein.com/wp-content/uploads/docs/NLREURAV.PDF

 

Challenging Eurocentrism. Julliet Ucelli and Denis O'Neil. URL: https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/uk.hightide/fm-euro.pdf

Muy acertado en las ideas que comparte! Gracias Ximena!
Great thinking about pre columbian art... pero me voy más atrás todavía. Explicame porqué las flores son simétricas, armónicas, porqué una sepia del golfo pérsico dibuja patrones increíbles con sos chromatóforos mientras clava sus ojos en tus pupilas, algunos que desafían al más complicado letrero luminoso de Las Vegas. ¿Por qué una libélula dibuja una calavera en su preadbdomen? ¿por qué una urraca colectora busca joyitas para su pareja. ¿Es que el arte está en la evolución? ¿por qué las estrellas se ordenan en espirales, por qué la luz se quiebra en el espectro al pasar por un prisma o por la lluvia formando un arcoiris? ¿Por qué gozo con los colores? Entonces el Arte está en la Mente infinita, la misma que creó y que nos dio vida. Tu labor es escudriñar la armonía, la belleza en dibujo y expresión, y hacernos a nosotros los "ocupados en otras tantas cosas importantes" darnos cuenta que al final y al parecer, el arte y la belleza son paz para el espíritu, levanta los ánimos, induce a la admiración.

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