Roundtable with visual artists: Afroféminas / Colectiva Lemow / Trenzar Perú

by Julia Cabrera (Afroféminas)
Teresa Jiménez and Tirza Yanira Ixmucané Saloj Oroxom (Colectiva Lemow, Guatemala)
Alondra Flores and Cristina Renteros (Trenzar Perú)
Daniela Galán (moderator)

Transcribed by Maira Jiménez and
translated by Edith Márquez Duque

Zoom roundtable, April 20, 2021.

Daniela Galán: I am very excited about chairing this panel. We are going to talk with members of these three collectives and explore their work in the visual arts. The first collective is Trenzar Perú. We are accompanied by Alondra Flores, who is a feminist, environmental activist, manager of cultural events, and cofounder of Trenzar; and Cristina Renteros, who is an artist in this cultural association. We are also accompanied by members of Colectiva Lemow. Teresa Jiménez is a filmmaker, communicator, and student of life, based in Guatemala; and Yanira is a sculptor and muralist. And, finally, we have the collective Afroféminas represented by Julia Cabrera who is an art historian, teacher, manager of cultural events, especially responsible for Afro-Spanish exhibitions.

Julia Cabrera: The creator of Afroféminas, Antoinette Torres Soler, is a philosopher, activist, and entrepreneur. She created Afroféminas in 2014 and she has also written a book and she has also written the book Viviendo en modo afroféminas (2018) that is related to this organization. Afroféminas seeks to disseminate and support the work and voice of Afro-descendants and racialized women. As a community it addresses different subjects, realities, and stories and it also maintains a digital media platform to give voice to those perspectives. Through our Internet site, https://afrofeminas.com, essays and articles are published by journalists, communicators, and other professionals. Our Internet platform and cultural work has gained recognition not only in Spain, where the collective has its headquarters, but also throughout the world, mainly in the Americas in countries like Colombia, where there are also headquarters.

Here are some examples of our cultural projects. “Do you know …” aims to make visible Afro-descendant and racialized artists, but also from gender and LGBT perspectives. We also publicized the artistic initiatives and cultural projects of Afro-descendant artists and collectives; one of these collectives is The Black View, which is an association of African and Afro-descendant actresses, actors, and filmmakers. We set up interviews with artists like Spanish actress Montse Pla, but we also use interviews as a form of cultural activism, such as conversations with Carolina Benitez, one of our writers, or with Heny Cuesta, founder of Cimarron productions and TV/film director and producer. We find that interviews create a space for reflection around questions such as those asked by Doris Otis Mohand as to why aren’t there greater and more diverse female artists? And we offer a gallery space for more visibility for African and Afro-descendant artists, such as Monserrat Anguiano. We have a store to disseminate this kind of art and culture and to pay the artists. We also do calls for artists, fairs, exhibitions, etc. Our project also disseminates the work of other art collectives and art research projects: we want to be an intellectual space to carry out new narratives of the history of art. The women who are part of the cultural section of Afroféminas come from different fields such as communication, philosophy, history, philology, and politics.

Teresa Jiménez: I am speaking from Guatemala. We are part of the Lemow Collective. This name means mirror or reflection in one of the Guatemalan languages. We are a collective that manages communication, art, and cinema. Our greatest resource is the audio-visual medium, so after eight years, we continue to express our emotions and tell real-life stories that we do not see particularly in film, whether fiction or documentary. We also work in art activism and disseminate our work on the Internet, especially in social media, which has been fundamental for our communication during this time.

Yanira Ixmucané: What a pleasure to see you and greet you! Tere and I are representing this collective today, but we have more partners: Verónica, Cleira, Kat, and Luisa. All of us come from different parts of Guatemala. In addition to audio-visual productions, there are several areas that we have been working in during this time: we want to create or transmit certain stories from different points of view, from the different realities of our various contexts. In addition to this, access to art in our communities and villages here in Guatemala is precarious. To address that, since 2013 we have developed itinerant exhibitions, traveling to villages and communities in Guatemala, bringing cinema and artistic training into various spaces. This work is mostly our social contribution done for free. At the moment we do not have much financing, but we know from our experience how creating art spaces has changed us and has helped us see other realities, especially by getting close to girls and boys and to women in their communities. So that is why we still manage these itinerant exhibitions. Furthermore, we are training filmmakers and emerging artists. We try to develop a space that is more open and that can bring together all the cultures that are part of Guatemala such as Xinca, the Garífuna, la mestiza, and the Maya. So we try to establish that diversity in our spaces. Art moves and motivates us, and I think we can do things that are really important because it is necessary to bring art closer to all places in the country.

Alondra Flores: Good morning comrades. Here in Peru it is still morning. How wonderful to meet you and listen to you all. I am very grateful for our collective because it is nourishing and it inspires us to continue working. I am Alondra Flores and I am part of Trenzar Perú, a collective of feminist activists since 2016 and a cultural association since last year. Before we became a collective, we had already been working together as friends. We named the collective Trenzar for two reasons. We feel “braiding” is a wonderful symbol and want the work of Trenzar to enact a constant braiding with different collectives and organizations, not only within the performing arts but also with promoting human rights. Furthermore, when we were little our grandmothers braided us. Thus, for us, it is a symbol of returning to our roots and keeping our ancestors’ history alive. We work to strengthening the development of girls and adolescents in the construction of their gender identity, and to work with women to make gender violence visible.

Our country is a place hit hard on a daily basis by feminicides, disappearances, and violence. Our main job is to try to eradicate these. To do that, patriarchy must be eradicated from the small spaces to the large ones. Since we are performing artists, we study about the performing arts and theatre, we practice feminist activism, and we work from a pedagogy of community-based management. We do plays, workshops, festivals, interventions in the public spaces, and many such projects. I know that all the self-managed partners here will understand that sometimes we have to do everything. In other words, I really appreciate everything that Trenzar has taught me. I have learned more than during my five-year university degree in Performing Arts. Since the pandemic, we have more recently focused on working on virtual campaigns.

Christina Renteros: What Alondra says is really true for me, and I would like to point out that before Trenzar was created, we already self-managed collectively and we did other activities related to human rights. Additionally, the process up to today has been very interesting because along the way we have gone from being teenagers to being adults. Some of us have chosen to be mothers. We have made wise choices and also mistakes that have contributed to our vision and to how we approach the people with whom we braid virtually on the Internet. There have been many changes, many setbacks, but we are constantly searching to feel in touch together, juntas at all times.

Daniela Galán: Thank you all very much for your presentations. Listening to you, I see how many of you went from being a collective to being a cultural project or an association. I would like to explore what the differences between these two kinds of organizations are, how your projects evolve or not, or maybe what are the advantages of working as a group and the advantages of being considered a more formalized cultural project.

Teresa Jiménez: One of the advantages of working collectively is that we share knowledge with each other. Each one is a different being and has a different world, so we always learn from each other. That is the beauty of working collectively. Maybe, one of the disadvantages is that sometimes we don’t know each other well and we hurt each other without meaning to do so because we are in the process of learning how to live in this community, right? Learning to identify emotions, feelings, getting to know each other, to know those varied worlds is not easy because we are many.

Traveling Exhibition by Lemow

Finding funding is also complicated, particularly in countries like ours, where art is not seen as important. So, it is complicated to get adequate funding and try to live from this; in fact, we cannot make a living from this. I always say that, on the one hand, we are developing our artistic projects and, on the other hand, we are looking for what to do for a living. We have found so many obstacles, but despite all, we continue little by little.

Daniela Galán: Before going to Yanira, I just want to touch upon what you said about the financial part as one of the key elements of working collectively, precisely one of the advantages of joining collective efforts is to obtain financial support, but such membership could also become the opposite, a disadvantage.

Teresa Jiménez: In our case, we have knocked on doors in our country, Guatemala, and we have received support, but it has been not much. We have currently international support from a fund in Nicaragua. It has supported us during all these years and, in this fight it has really trusted in what we do. I think we have had more support and visibility outside of Guatemala. Inside our own country, it has been really hard, but somehow we continue.

Yanira Ixmucané: In relation to your initial question, we never wondered if we wanted to be a platform, an association, or a collective. We have considered the possibility of being an association through legal recognition, which would also benefit us. Becoming an association is also a very complex process and many of us do not have much training or perhaps no university training, so we go stumbling along the way. I think that joining our efforts as a collective is important, because in that way we can rely on the skills of the others, and respecting and learning about the various spaces and diversity in our different cultural backgrounds. I think that working collectively has helped us break down certain barriers within our thinking, and to try other ways of living, creating, and feeling. We have been working together for almost eight years and it has been very difficult to obtain funding because we get told that in our countries even food and water are lacking. We are a very poor country. The funding priority is on those things. Art and even education are sometimes secondary. So, looking for funding for an art collective’s work can be very difficult, regardless of whether you act individually or collectively.

Daniela Galán: In that sense Julia, how has your experience been in Spain with Afroféminas? What makes you a platform?

Julia Cabrera: I think the difference is that Afroféminas includes so many women. If you need Afroféminas, they are there to be your speaker, to support you and to spread your work. We are so many. For example, if you write a book, you can disseminate it via Afroféminas. So, our group’s work exists for all racialized and Afro-descendant women. Financially, our situation is not that different from the Lemow collective. Art suffers everywhere, it relies mostly on voluntary collaborations.

Daniela Galán: Let’s say that there are some differences amongst your collectives and platforms, not only in what you produce, but also in the themes you explore. Lemow is more a creative association of artists who have an interest in working together to develop collective projects. Afroféminas is more like a platform that promotes different areas of work; it’s not only focused on the cultural aspect but also on different forms of dissemination. And Alondra, you talked previously about the shift that Trenzar is making as it moves from a collective to a platform. Could you expand on this?

Alondra Flores: For us, this was a really difficult decision. In fact, we reconsidered a lot of things about our process: we questioned the hierarchy and the role of each format. The background is this: an organization that we work with offers funding only to formally established collectives. So, we said, let’s do it. Why? Because that opportunity opened doors for us to seek funding that we could not access otherwise. We could not do everything that we do if it weren’t for the alliances we have. We are a self-managed organization and do not receive monthly funding. For me most difficult thing about working collectively is the need to always reach agreements because it takes a long time. Here’s an example. We work with relatives of the victims of the armed conflict in our country. They are people who are around 70 years old, and have a different rhythm than ours, so the meetings with them are very long, but for us it is very important to listen to them because we are going to speak from their testimony and from their voice. Working with various collectives also entails waiting, listening, observing and dedicating more time than we probably would if we worked in a more hierarchical way.

In addition, Trenzar works as a platform for other partners. In fact, for two years we had rented a house that eventually we had to leave because it was self-managed and we couldn’t continue paying for. At the same time, during those two years, many other collectives worked in this house. I don’t know why I didn’t mention it before, but well, I am a lesbian, and we work with the LGBTI+ community. In the month of Pride, we hold meetings, actions, we work on video performances and that also allows us to work with different identities, and collectives. For example, if we work on an activity involving trans women or trans men, it is essential for us that there is a trans person in the team, because I am a cisgender woman. It is also essential that whole groups join the campaigns and that their voices are heard, not just my dull voice. In fact, we always try not to be the same people who appear everywhere, but instead we invite colleagues from outside, so they can chair panels, etc.