Daily Podcast #29 Minia Biabiany /// An Island Giving Birth to Islands



Minia Biabiany is a visual artist based in Mexico city and Guadeloupe. Her work proceeds from an investigation on the perception of space to the paradigms of weaving and opacity in storytelling and language. In her practice she deconstructs narratives linked with colonial presence and heritages in the Guadeloupean territory. She initiated the artistic and pedagogical collective project Semillero Caribe in 2016 and continues today with the ongoing project Doukou, to explore pedagogical decolonial practices with the body and from concepts of Caribbean authors. Learn more on her website.

As many of us are confined in many places of the world, we wanted to provide you with a daily podcast in partnership with Radio Alhara emitting from Palestine. Our ambition for it is to not add to the saturation of information we are currently experiencing but, rather, to propose a daily extension 15-minute of our political imaginaries.

The concept is very simple. Every day, we ask one person the same question: “what is for you a moment of true decolonization?” The answer can be a historial moment or something they witnessed; something heroic and grandiose, or rather discreet and mundane; a durable blow to the structures of colonialism or a short instant of liberation.

While we are recording this podcast in privileged conditions of confinement, we keep in our thoughts the multitude of people around the world who do not share similar conditions or have no choice but to risk being affected by the pandemic because of criminal policies that have to do with neoliberalism, carceralism, or colonialism

We thank you for listening and wish you and your loved ones the very best wherever you are.

(music by hooksounds originals)

Radio Alhara The Funambulist

NB. The Funambulist daily podcast is also played every day at 3:30PM, Palestine time, on  راديو الحارة Radio Alhara, a new radio produced from locked-down Bethlehem and Ramallah, along with another 15-minute production about worldwide solidarity, created specifically by The Funambulist for the purpose of this show. 



Hello to the listeners of the Funambulist. The moment I want to share with you today is a performance that happened in Cali, in Colombia two years ago, during the last day of a session of the pedagogical project, the Semillero Doukou. The word Doukou means phase of moon in Creole, and for me, it implies that idea of doing something at the right time because you put seeds or you cut trees during the right phase of the moon during the right Doukou. So that was the idea I wanted to work with when I made that project. And to give you a bit of context, Doukou is the second project I initiate that focused on body and concept and literature of Caribbean authors. And it’s the little sister of first project that was collectively made at what’s called the Semillero Caribe in 2016. And the Semillero Caribe was made thanks to two other artists and friends that are Madeline Jimenez  from Dominican Republic and Ulrik López from Puerto Rico.

And so the Semillero Caribe was that first moment for me when I started to think about body as learning tool. Semilleros in in Spanish means seedbed and we choose to call our sharing moment, Semillero and not seminario not seminar because we did not want to use an academic term. And so the idea itself of building that sharing moment came to me when I was talking with Mexican friends, and discussing about the context, the political situation, the Mexican racism, and I kept referring to Édouard Glissant, the Martiniquan philosopher and when I was looking on the internet, I could not find anything—not anything, but many of his texts were not translated in Spanish at that time. So and I was surprised by that, so I was like okay, there is a need, like, I really wanted to share that philosophy and the poetics of Glissant. With my friends, still, I started to think of a moment to do that. And then I invited Madeline and Ulrik can we decided not to, we decided to open up the Semillero with other authors like Antonio Benítez Rojo, Kamau Brathwaite, Fanon, and to base the Semilleros on concepts like opacity, the relation, the cause, Caribbeanerality.

And so as we were in Mexico City, we build that project thinking, comparing now where we are and where we came from. And the first difference that popped into our mind and that we took as a starting point was the relation with body. So we started to think about how can we embody those concepts, how to create another way to approach them. And so we experiment with a group of people twice a week for months in the Crater Invertido, which is an art activity, activist and artistic space in Mexico City. And we shape those sessions to share concepts born within this specific context that is the Caribbean area. And we made four publications that we use as support for the sessions themselves. And in those publication, we translated texts in Spanish, English and French, most of them were not existing in those three languages. And so that was a first big important step for me. And that first experimentations taught because we had different priorities as artists, traveling etc.

But maybe now, another step is coming, we’ll see, but to continue, what I want to share with you today, after the Semillero Caribe I really wanted to continue that exploration of what I understood as something pedagogical, as linked with what is learning in the meaning of what actually happens once somebody learns. What I mean is what is needed to change a previous understanding of something, what are the steps that are allowing that process and the integration of a new information to your way of relating to the world and education has been instrumentalized to manipulate people knowing in occidental education system, learning has been instrumentalized. So how can we rebuild learning? How can we gain autonomy there, and to make it a strength again? I’m a visual artist, but I have inherited that concern from my family. Especially my mom that that was a history and geography teacher. My dad was a pedagogical inspector. And I’m from Guadeloupe, no so Guadeloupe is a Caribbean island that belongs to France until today and that has never been independent. Guadeloupe has known a constant French assimilation policy since the European invasion of that part of the world. So I grew up with that questioning very alive in me. And my experience is that there is a tension in Guadeloupian society, because of that control and economical dependency situation. The relation with historical heritage is unclear. The relation with selfness, with power isn’t clear. You know, when when you consider that many things that are impacting your life are actually decided six thousand kilometers away, without considering where you actually are.

And, of course, Guadeloupian people had, they found ways to resist now to fight back. We can think of the maroon we can think of gwoka, which is a traditional dance and music in Guadeloupe. We can think of the mass carnival, but I did not grow up in those traditional resisting spheres. So for me to question that relation between pedagogy and alienation is a way to regain autonomy in thinking and to value that possibility to learn to know ourselves with our own tools. And so those texts of the publication, of the Semillero Caribe were really also playing a role of linking the Caribbean. Because in Guadeloupe, we know much better the French Caribbean authors. Dominican Republic for example, with Madeline, it was more Spanish, and with Ulrik, from Puerto Rico, it was Spanish and English. So we decided to work with those three languages because we also, the three of us had different access to the theory of the Caribbean. So two years after the Semillero Caribe with Madeline and Ulrik in Mexico, I was invited by Yolanda Chois. She is a curator based in Cali, Colombia. And so I was invited to be part of her project Tópicos entre trópicos: Topics Between Tropics in 2018 and since the very beginning, Yolanda and I we decided to work with a non mix group of women of Cali for a week, and to use text of female authors as starting points. So we chose the text of Mary Gresso and Noelia Mosqueda that are both black authors from the Choko. And for the Caribbean, we use text of Jamaica Kincaid of Antigua. And after poetry of Guadalupe, we wanted to create a conversation within literature of the Afro descendant diaspora between the Caribbean and the afro Columbian. But when we did the Semillero Caribe, I was living in Mexico City, so my body was involved in that place. But I didn’t know Cali, I didn’t know the relation people have in Cali and I thought it was a very, very different posture to come without having that experience myself.

So for the sessions of the Semillero Doukou in in Cali, I invited local searchers to each session to propose an exercise within the session. No, so I was leading but then I gave space to very different searchers. So for example, Karolina Shari came, she is an artist and she decided to work with the voice. The dancer, Anjali can Yeto worked with the figure of the mangrove. We also invited the writer, Jenny Valencia to talk about her reading of the city and its interaction with salsa and Santeria. And, also, we invited Erica Flores in collaboration with a dancer Andrea Walia. And they to share with us their ongoing investigation on the line. And so they’re all based in Cali. And all doing the Semillero Dooku, we discovered text of the writer Otilia Caracas, and that was an incredible gift to have her with us. And so I reshaped the relation with the body and the concepts that we were using in the Semillero Caribe. And I included what I called active images to work with. So we were using the mangrove, the water and the trace as images. But actually, each image was linked with a concept. So we actually approach the image of the water with the concept of opacity, the image of the mangrove with the concept of the relation and the image of the trees with the concept of the BDD. And as the BDD is a concept taught by Lénablou, who is a Guadaloupian choreographer, and it’s about thinking, imbalance, or the new way to walk to go through things. To make it short, it’s a bit more complex than that. But for me, like one of the thinking about pedagogy, if you’re thinking about what is the learning process, one of the most helping thinkers in that exploration was Francisco Varela. And his understanding of the learning process as a succession of steps of what could be translated as “awareness” in English, I think, “prise de concience” in French.

So to understand that awareness as a matter of learning, but what is fantastic is that he connects that change of awareness with emotions, so with the body. And for the Semillero Doukou, I was more focused on creating emotions among the group, and the conditions for those emotions to be welcome. And to be recognized on the moment or later. The first exercise we decided to make in the Semillero Doukou was to ask the participant to make two lines and to face each other for a very long time. They didn’t know even their names, they had no presentations before. But they had to, to write a text to think about that text as a gift to the other person. And that was a very intriguing and strong moment, because from that moment, that group was actually born with an energy and autonomy without even having a clear objective because they didn’t know where I wanted to lead them. But it was about feeling. And that’s where learning really occurs.

When we get aware of something, when we can change our perspective on what we know, we can change our belief and there is always an emotion that comes with it, no, so when we modify our thoughts, our action, our relation to the rest, and motion is related to that. And when you are in an assimilation context, belief is often inherited and imposed. And that’s also why learning is so political. It’s because it’s related with the ability to consider your own needs and your own search of autonomy, to regain that space. And that we can talk about whatever—meditation can talk about mathematics, we can talk about running.

Any learning process involves that. And so, after four days together with that group of incredible women, we decided to propose a conclusion to the Semillero. And they decided to make a performance to a public, they will, they would invite themselves. I think about 15, people came something like that. And few hours in the morning, they decided to mobilize what they wanted from the Semillero, and to propose it to the public. And of course, the public didn’t know what, what it was coming to. And so I was part of the performance not guiding it, but part of it.

And in that moment, where we invited people to repeat, one of the exercise of Carolina Chari, with the voice. It was an exercise when we composed sound, and we compose a rhythm of the new group. At that moment, I was fascinated to see how the woman or the group how their participant of the week have taken autonomy and empower themselves deciding how they wanted to share that exercise with other bodies, by evoking other bodies. And that was very powerful for me. Yeah, I really, I really thank them for their trust and for our collective power in action at that moment. Thank you to the Funambulist team, to Caroline, and for giving me the opportunity to share.