Through these drawings associated to a text that make tales dialogue with a predominantly Latin American decolonial and feminist scholarship, Alina Paias presents A Casa da Bruxa (The Home of the Witch), a political and poetic manifesto in the form of an architecture.
The Home of the Witch is a work of architecture theory in five chapters and five tales. They all work together as an open-ended description of an architecture, illustrated in key images.
The first chapter deals with the false equation between the global modern system (as a concrete reality) to a supposedly universal global condition (as an abstract reality) according to Enrique Dussel (“Europe, Modernity, and Eurocentrism,” 2005). There is no “universal condition” that is advanced in modernity, yet in the name of such advancement great violence is committed against bodies and cultures.
If violence committed in the name of modern civilization is always morally unfounded, where does that leave us in our relationship to it? There are, in fact, ways to cannibalize modernity: to do so, alternative realities need to be co-produced with its historical Others.
Freedom from Euro-centered modernity can be attained without abandoning modernity. Enrique Dussel calls for a trans-modernity, a constructive project to create a new reality where historically marginalized groups have their agency recognized. The Home of the Witch is a place of freedom in practice that embraces alterity, where modernity and its Others in terms of gender, sex, knowledge, race, and faith are co-created.
The European mind wished to frame the world and explain it completely under the guise of scientific method. The complexity of the Other outside the frame was lost in translation and purposefully misrepresented. A global system of expropriation began forming with the Great Navigations and violence against other cultures had to be justified with the aid of their de-characterization.
Those de-characterizations changed and evolved over time, and today permeate the dominant global culture. That means, as Arturo Escobar explains, that the decolonial struggle, against coloniality (a state that remains after colonization), happens considerably in the realm of culture (Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World, 2005).
The ability to shift one’s own reality is a metaphysical act, it is magic. A magical character already permeates Latin American culture and manifests itself in cultural hybrids, at times strange and unworldly. The Home of the Witch exists as a rupture in hierarchies and enacts subversions in the world representation regime. It is the place where radical renegotiation of life and its spaces occurs, and is being constantly remade.
The Home of the Witch is the free home of free people.
The Woman, The Journey, and The Table: a woman arrives to an old town. There are no beds left in the guesthouse. A girl takes the woman to her family’s farmhouse. In the center of the ample-sized main room there is a round table, resting at the bottom of a small arena. Over the table is a thick wool cloth, and under the table is a round brazier with fire. The table is where the family negotiates events of the home and the farm. It is where work is distributed. The spaces and rooms are transitory property. All is collectively kept.
The second chapter begins with the reaffirmation that colonial domination has been justified by a constructed hierarchy of cultures, where some of them would be ‘ahead’ in a teleological movement universal to civilization. The imposed hierarchy is possible only through knowing that the Other exists, without attempting to understand them.
The European Enlightened Man believes he was the only one able to produce knowledge based on pure, untainted rationality. Santiago Castro-Gomez calls that “the hubris of the zero point” (The Hubris of the Zero Point, 2005). The self-declared neutral point from where knowledge departs validates hierarchy applied to societies as it is constructed from observation and comparison.
Freedom depends on co-existence based in full acknowledgement of the Other. The Chicana writer Gloria Anzaldúa describes co-existence as the consciousness of the Frontera, the Borderland (Borderlands/La Frontera, 1987). To think from the border is to understand how it is possible to mobilize, from a subaltern and anti-hegemonic position, the knowledge that is useful but produced within the hegemonic realm. Border thinking is setting each foot on one side of the rift and occupying a third, liminal space.
The “zero point” must be abandoned at once. It is necessary to consider the place in history, geography and
biography where knowledge is produced. That is what Ramón Grosfoguel calls the body-politics of knowledge (“Transmodernity, Border Thinking, and Global Coloniality,” 2006). The opposition to abstract universality is concrete diversality — a concept conceived by Walter Mignolo based on Édouard Glissant’s work — which means that reality has aspects locally produced. That does not lead to fragmentation or inequality, as long as mutual acknowledgement between cultures is in exercise.
The Home of the Witch does not wish to be the only way or the all-encompassing way of approximating decolonial thought to how we think of process in architecture. It is simply a story retold of a possible home.
The Home of the Witch is made in diverse ways.
The Woman, the Project, and the Kitchen: a woman’s mother asks her to make her a new kitchen. The original one is a room with two opposite doors: one leads to the dining room and the other to the garden. The new kitchen incorporates space from an unused room. The things of the kitchen (stove, cabinets, etc.) pile up near the garden, in tall volumes of masonry, and between them the house opens up towards the plants.
The third chapter describes how the uncompromised place where absolute knowledge resides presupposes a fundamental dissociation between mind and body, also mind and nature. That is the rupture through which exploitation is promoted. Silvia Federici’s description of the Cartesian body-mechanism is that it is controlled, administered and distributed, becoming subjected to reason (Caliban and the Witch, 2009).
That dissociation is done in a capitalist context and individual powers, which could even be applied in changing one’s own reality, become downgraded as labor power. That changes even the nature of Being, as there are two Beings now: the one in the mind and the one that is bodily.
Anzaldúa knows the body in fact carries a complex wisdom: it is unconcerned with conceptual definitions of reality. It does not discern the ‘concrete’ stimuli from what is thought or remembered.
The body is the key to the reconciled being because through its wisdom, it is possible to become free from a merely conceptual dissociation between the world of reason and the world of phenomena. In a global system of exploitation, it is the means of recomposing the transformative powers of each individual.
The Home of the Witch is, therefore, the home of the body lived in and openly declared. The choice not to occlude the feminine body and home is one of subversion.
The Home of the Witch does not hide its own parts.
The Girl, the Beginning, and the Bath: a girl closes her eyes and is transported to a new place. There is a big tank filled with warm water. There is a structure as large as the tank, held by the roof, allowing the sunlight to come in. It smells of water, perfumes, sweat, and oil. There are women talking in low voices. There are women older, and of many sizes. Two women approach her. They are washing, resting, and becoming friends. They also enjoy sitting in silence. The girl leaves through a door, she does not know yet what she has seen.
The fourth chapter remembers Federici’s argument that the current system of wealth production is possible through the primitive accumulation of differences in capitalism and the unwaged power of literal reproduction by women–with the understatement of that power as a natural resource.
The struggle for freedom has to embrace the rights of women, as even in contexts of social liberation, gender hierarchies are hardly equalized. Capitalism produced a universe to its margin, and called it feminine. The woman was gradually removed from the public sphere and reduced to the interior of the home.
Yet, true liberation of women could never come from an adjustment and stunting of her powers to adapt to the current system. Instead, hierarchies must be ruptured and the public sphere must be invaded with relationships that are not ruled by invisibility and violence, in a process that can be described as de-masculinization and domestication of the world.
Nelson Maldonado-Torres describes the ethical paradigm instated in colonized countries as the non-ethics of war (“On the Coloniality of Being,” 2007). The Other is brought to a point of sub-alterity, not only unacknowledged but also actively despised. The colonized Being is stripped away of absolutely everything.
Maldonado-Torres identifies the act of giving and receiving as the fundamental ontological action in non-European philosophy. Being, in opposition to European philosophy of the Enlightenment, should be a relational process. That is what Emmanuel Lévinas describes as trans-ontology.
The response against a “coloniality of Being”, and that means the domination of relationships by the non-ethics of war, would be to focus on the trans-ontological possibility. Decolonization, therefore, represents a new possibility for the hierarchy of what conditions an architectural project: The Home of the Witch favors exchange (better defined as trocas, in Portuguese). In order to become complete, The Home of the Witch must take up space in the world, promoting new relationships that are not ruled by violence and expropriation.
The Home of the Witch takes up space in the world.
The Woman, the Family, and The Walls: a woman’s family holds a meeting to discuss alterations to their home. The family wishes for windows and doors, but they cannot reach a common solution. They finally decide on adding all of the windows and doors that each person desires to one of the walls of the gathering room. The house gains a wide opening over which one can support their chest. There is a low opening that a child can go through. There is a tall slit that one can approach to see what is on the other side. On sunny days, the family takes beds and couches outside. They dry their clothes on the openings where there is a lot of wind. The home talks to other sister homes situated nearby through her openings.
The fifth chapter starts by pointing out that the science of Enlightened Europe and capitalism share the
understanding of nature as an inert set of resources subject to instrumentalization.
The domination of nature reveals the system of hierarchies imposed over the world. The multiplication and reaffirmation of differences is composed through the exploitation of nature — conceived as different to and below reason. The woman is below the man. The body is also below reason. Those are all differences that sustain modernity. Resisting this paradigm is done through a re-approximation to nature and a holistic understanding of Being, where the Cartesian rupture between mind and body enacted by the European Enlightened man is repaired.
An understanding of nature that is less informed by the postulates of the European man is, therefore, more inclusive, horizontal, and integrated.
The ones that have suffered the most with the invasion of the New World are women. The colonies imposed not only a system of exploitation of natural wealth, but an entire capitalist-colonial-patriarchal ‘package’ that tore through every dimension of life. The ways of living and being of women were the most opposed to that system. Carolyn Merchant says that the first cycle of modernity was established on the control of nature, the witch (unruly woman), and the involuted Native (The Death of Nature, 1989).
It makes sense that the reparation of inequality happens in The Home of the Witch, the disorderly woman, in history, that practiced anti-colonial resistance and shielded from obliteration the holistic understanding of nature. She is now a guiding image of this project.
The Home of the Witch is one with itself and the world.
The Old Woman, the Memory and the Home: A woman begins to forget. Her family made the home as they wanted to and not as she learned to. She spent too much time dealing with homes that should be, seeing intellectuals dividing them in types. Her home grew with the children and not before them. When the woman dies the home will contract. Her home never obeyed the productive order of things and so others disparaged it. Her home belonged to a lucky family, however. Other homes are simply there for being, so the people inside of it will find shelter from the rain and not get sick. Those different types of homes do touch sometimes. The woman, now wiser, believes that that is the frontier where the witches live. ■