The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center has partnered with the Ford Foundation to republish select pieces from the foundation's series CREATIVE FUTURES, 40 provocations by thinkers across the spheres of arts and culture, documentary film, and journalism. Brought to life by the social, racial, and economic reckonings of 2020, the series aims to reimagine these fields, and through them, fuel and shape the transformative possibilities to come. Guest-edited by APAC Curator Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis. This provocation is by arts collective Las Imaginistas, on the theme of "New Paradigms."
Las Imaginistas on becoming social cyborgs
Las Imaginistas is a socially engaged art collective of mixed queer women and trans folx, living in Carrizo Comecrudo territory and fighting to reclaim their indigenous ancestry.
5 Things Funders Can Do to Become Anarcho - Scyborgs Hatching Liberation
1) Take a Nap
The art world needs to rethink its relationship to labor and productivity. Where is the funding for artists to think? To research? To “re-hoosh” their lives towards liberation? By placing emphasis on product we reinforce the artists’ relationship to capital, making it impossible for the artist to actually step into a place of productive, liberatory imagining.
Give us* some money to do nothing. That would be radical. Give us some money, in the words of the Nap Ministry, “to take a nap.” Artists cannot reimagine solutions to structural oppression if all the capital systems encourage us to perpetuate and reproduce those systems. Further, the issues we attack are interconnected. Philanthropy in the nonprofit sector has started to shift away from project-based grants towards intersectional advancement of values. Our fights are interconnected and not necessarily aligned with a singular project narrative.
Give us money to research and build relationships. Build space for us to research and really dive into new, meaningful solutions for cultural change.
Also give us money to be on retainer. Give us enough money to run a full team of collaborators and pay the community. The art world is ripe with funding for projects that cost a year of the artists’ time and labor but only pay for a fraction of the costs. We manage these projects while simultaneously hustling at a day job, caring for our families, not having health insurance, healing community trauma, and trying to fund our next project. Help us make spaciousness so that we can nap and dream up some genius things for the next generation. This work won’t be done in six months, or a year. Invest in us beyond a time frame.
*us being women and queer people of color.
Really you should take a nap: funders need to practice and constantly investigate their own relationship to liberation. Are you taking enough naps? Is your sexual imaginary decolonized? Does your workplace let you clock in late so you can dance in the morning? When you have a group meeting, are the women of color heard and respected? Is life joyful? Check your own receipts. We all need to be in it. Advocate for your naps. Also advocate for your dog’s naps and your children’s naps and your chicken’s happiness. Get yourself liberated and listen to the beings around you, so you can support their liberation as well.
2) Decenter the falic
Just get it out of the way. It is the time for the leadership of women and queer people. Place us in the middle. This doesn’t mean balancing things out, or doing things 50-50 male-female. Just make whole programs that are only about women and queer POC. If you have a group of artists functioning as a think tank and you bring in men, make it clear that the leadership of women will be centered. If you have a program and you want to include men, make the men’s job about supporting the women.
The horrible lack of funding for women of color in the art world has been well documented (see Art Statistics by James-Case Leal, Guerrilla Girls, and Max Dashu’s Suppressed Histories). How is your foundation rewriting history? Don't just do what is equitable or include a few more women in 2021. Radically rethink centuries of exclusion from art canons. Rebalance the scales at the cosmic level. Think about the depth of the field as a whole and correct the course.
3) Bend Time
Time is cultural and imagined. Tsitsina Xavante of the Xavante people in Mata Grosso state of Brazil talks about progress from the indigenous perspective. Similarly we ask and are reimagining what is the timing of art and progress from an indigenous or Black perspective? What is the timing of a project from a cosmic perspective? From the perspective of our descendants seven generations from now? How does that timing impact the framing of art funding, history, exhibition, and the discipline itself? How would a reframing of time shape funding structures, systems, and relationships with artists? Rethink time. Reframe the white supremacist cultural construct of urgency. Make spaciousness in the work. Build for the long haul. We are literally fighting the apocalypse. Fund for that.
4) Decolonize Labor
In her book A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None, Kathryn Yusoff talks about devaluing some people’s labor (women, black and indigenous people) as a strategy for colonization. Break that cycle. Our labor has been invisible and capitalized upon. Funders want to fund people to build a project with a community built on an existing relationship, but they don't want to give money to the artist to take time to build new relationships with other communities. It makes no sense. By this logic we would never build relationships, we would never network or organize across geography. Help us build systemic change by building strategic, meaningful relationships. Relationship building is an art in and of itself. It is a skill, it is a talent, it requires training, and it is largely unpaid. And guess who is mostly building those relationships for long-term community capacity-building and change? Women of color. Don’t devalue that labor. Don’t steal it. Acknowledge its worth and provide artists with appropriate compensation.
5) Build Third Spaces
Many indigenous communities find the term “art” to be irrelevant. Their framing for art is very different from how the art world imagines it, especially in relationship to terms like “social practice art” or “creative placemaking.” Las Imaginistas views lifestyles, holistically, as an artistic practice. White artists from Bahaus to Andrea Zittel have made these ideas popular. And second wave feminism (the personal is political) revealed that domestic life is necessarily intermingled with public life. But the art world has yet to embrace those who do not skillfully frame their work as art, thereby limiting who gets included in the conversation on culture as weapon.
Advancing the cultural consciousness towards liberation requires intersectional and overlapping work of organizers, activists, facilitators, teachers, and hackers. Some of these people call themselves artists some of the time, others call themselves artists none of the time. Sometimes the work of Las Imaginistas clearly can be categorized as art, other times our labor is more nebulous. Often this work is not classified as art by the gatekeepers of the discipline (historians, curators, funders) and so this work often falls into an unknown third space.
Rethinking the biggest problems of our time will require some nebulaity! The revolution will not happen without a radical shift in cultural consciousness. Culture makers are the ones who will lead that work. Fund the interdisciplinary work that falls between the cracks that no one is calling art. Get funders in other sectors to start funding culture strategy. Fund the work that needs to happen to get us all free. That is the bottom line. Make that the goal. Is it working to change the cultural imagination towards collective liberation? Fund it. And fund it in the terms and framing that make sense to the person, collective, tribal entity, housing co-op, etc. that you are funding.
Some notes on language:
Anarcho: Las Imaginistas doesn’t advocate for nihilistic anarchy, but we find the term to be useful in rethinking structures that have exceeded their functionality. Inspired in part by Alnoor Ladha’s usage of the word, we see anarchy as a useful thought experiment that references the amount of radical and foundational reimagining required by this moment.
Similarly we find the term “apocalypse” to be a useful thumbnail for the complete pineapple-upside down-ness of a moment. Six months ago our collective was talking about the apocalypse and the idea was dismissed by many as being hyperbolic or hysterical. We are now in an apocalypse. The egg has cracked on the floor. We are ripe for reimagining how to bake the cake. Be an anarchist working within the apocalypse.
Scyborgs: this term is la papersone’s spin on Donna Haraway’s cyborg. A scyborg is a social cyborg. It works in community to make change. Scyborgs are people who are awake to the systems that perpetuate inequity and the necessity for change. Any liberated activist working in the northern hemisphere is a scyborg. Social cyborgs do this work together. They are organized. Dismantling the structural inequities of capital within the art world and unraveling cultural and gender-based hierarchies will require scyborgs.
A related term is “conspirer.” That word comes from the racial justice movement and many groups working to dismantle white supremacy. The central idea here is that allies, well-meaning people who are empathetic, are not functionally potent resources in the revolution. This moment is calling for a revolution of thought. The concept of ally-ship has expired. Be a conspiring scyborg in the system of philanthropy.
Hatching: the process of change will be ancient, intuitive, and of the body. All of our beings will need to work to give birth towards something new. This will be a caloric process. It will take energy. It will require conversion. It will not be gendered. The act of building a new future, for philanthropy, art, capital, and communities will be a creative process that will require all of us taking turns, sitting on the eggs, hatching new worlds. Get your body involved. Align your essence to hatching something new.
Liberation: liberation is about all beings. It is essentially about the earth. It is about re-integrating identities with the elements: with water, land, and sky. It is just as much about liberating the Amazon as it is about liberating children from immigrant detention. It is about dismantling framings that no longer serve us and social structures that bind our expansiveness. Liberation is collective, it is social, it opens like an aperture, with the timing of each wing’s movement bound by movement of the whole. And like the Liberadores del Madre Tierra we know that liberation of the collective consciousness is inherently linked to liberating the earth.
Labor: the term creates a necessary divide between what is and is not labor. Working at my computer = labor; sleep = not labor. But sleep is required for working at my computer effectively, so sleep is tied to my labor. Sending an email = labor. Taking a walk and daydreaming = not labor. But if I don’t daydream I won’t have anything worthwhile to send an email about.
Dividing out labor vs. not labor as a quantification and valuation of time creates fictional divisions that fetishize productivity and output, while simultaneously incentivising the bifurcation of a being into fragmented parts: if I stop serving the needs of my body to sleep, then I can work more. This is all to say that labor is a term we want to dismantle but we use it here as a cultural framing to take a middle step towards its disintegration.
We imagine a world without a division of labor and non-labor, one in which however you are called to spend your time towards the advancement of communal well-being is valued. Responsibility will be placed on the individual to access their own accountability in relationship to the community’s highest needs.
Naps: the concept of taking naps for liberation comes directly from the mind and practice of Tricia Hersey. Her framing places time and labor re-evaluation at the center of radical decolonial practices. This work explicitly centers the dismantling of capitalism and is antiracist at its core. “Taking a nap” is not about people in power treating themselves to massages more often. “Taking a nap” is about people of color deprogramming from a culture that tells us that we are only worth the value of our labor output.