- Sensing Decolonial Aesthetics in Latin American Arts by Juan G. Ramos
This intriguing study is premised on a deceptively simple notion: that much popular art in Latin America’s long 1960s sought to develop a decolonial aesthetics through challenging the rarefied airs of high art by dialoguing with popular forms and audiences. In developing this thesis, Ramos takes the reader on a tour through three primary forms of decolonial arts: antipoetry, nueva canción, and new Latin American cinema. He attempts to situate these three experimental genres as emerging dialogically both with each other and with a popular audience. Their decoloniality stems from this dialogue with the people along with a rejection of the elitist frame of earlier generations of artist, musicians, or filmmakers.
Ramos locates this trajectory within a broader discussion of the action of “sensing decolonial aesthetics”, each of which are terms extensively unpacked in the introduction and first and last chapters of the book. His consideration of ‘decoloniality’ builds largely from Walter Mignolo and Rolando Vasquez. Ramos describes their consideration of the decolonial as, “an option for undoing and revealing the embedded legacies and the totalizing and normative forces that modernity/coloniality have come to mean” (5). Ramos also engages the relationship between the aesthetics of western modernity and aesthesis (or process of sensorial perception) as a crucial concept. The author builds especially upon Rancière’s discussion of the relational qualities of aesthetics, a framework that underscores the possibility of dialogic aesthetics as a means toward achieving decolonial relations between artist and audience. Broadly speaking, the sensing of a decolonial aesthetics also necessitates rejection of the hierarchical frameworks of coloniality and of aesthetics, in effect establishing horizontal rather than vertical artistic relations.
This question of how artists sought to create such horizontal relations animates Ramos’ major case studies. While often engaging with specific political activism, the examples Ramos discusses shy away from a conceit of an intellectual or artist as a teacher of the people, a framework that tended to prevail [End Page 522] within Latin American left prior to the 1960s. The artists he discusses instead sought to directly respond and converse with the individuals and collectives that made up that popular audience.
Ramos locates this argument in a detailed study of three forms of decolonial arts. The first, and perhaps most nuanced of these case studies, concerns antipoetry and conversational poetry. He focuses particularly upon Chilean Nicanor Parra, whose ‘antipoetic’ work attempted to shift from the high art verses of a Pablo Neruda or a Gabriela Mistral while highlighting the poet’s own subjectivity and contextual reality. While Parra acknowledged the influence of these giants of Chilean poetry, Ramos holds that he deliberately eschewed their formal structures in order to formulate a conversational mode that would enable greater contact with the lived reality of 1960s Chile. He juxtaposes Parra with Mario Benedetti, Roque Dalton, and Ernesto Cardenal, underscoring each poet’s attempts to expose the coloniality of poetic forms and in the process progress toward a decolonial aesthetic. In this chapter, he is also able to demarcate the linkages that existed between these varied artists, particularly by focusing upon the important role Benedetti played as interlocutor in his position at the Casa de las Americas.
The other two case studies concern the development of nueva canción and new Latin American cinema. Ramos considers nueva canción as a fusion of folk traditions that respected the “implications that popular arts have for peasants and other sectors… across Latin America.” (p. 93). He emphasizes the important role of Violeta Parra (Nicanor’s sister), whose collection of folk melodies and traditions helped inspire both her musical compositions as well as the development of open spaces (peñas) in which these “decolonial sounds” could be developed in a multisensory environment. Ramos also highlights the uneasy relationship that Parra, Victor Jara, Silvio Rodriguez, and Mercedes Sosa had with their own celebrity, to which they responded with continuous articulations of their responsibility to the popular idioms and politics that drove their work. The final chapter engages experimental...