Beyond the Text: Chi Xot’s Visual/Lived Cartography (paper)

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I will be presenting on the work of Ángel Poyón and Fernado Poyón at the Indigenous Writers and their Critics Symposium (February 24-25, 2020) at the University of California, San Diego. I wrote the paper in Spanish but I prepared a summary in English for those who won’t be able to follow along. The idea is to promote discussion across language barriers, which is not always easy. I’m posting the summary provisionally in case there aren’t enough copies to go around the day of the panel, but I will likely take it down once the Symposium is done because 1. this is a project in its very early stages, 2. I don’t want it all out there just yet, and 3. it’s not as great without the accompanying images. However, if you are interested, I’m happy to tell you more about it. And please do credit any work that may derive from this–these ideas are not only my own, but have been developed over time and through discussion with Ángel and Fer, as well as my fearless co-author, Paul M. Worley.

Abstract

This talk proposes an analysis of the context where contemporary artistic production in Chi Xot takes place. Chi Xot, also known as San Juan Comalapa, is a kaqchikel town in Chimaltenango, Guatemala, famous for its murals and many artists (visual, textile, musical, literary, among many others). Using examples from art and comic books, I explore the visual logics of the town, a type of cartography that requires a lived experience to access the aesthetics of each artist. Specifically, this paper focuses on Ángel Poyón’s and Fernando Poyón’s proposal to decentralize Guatemala’s art system and look for ways of making, promoting and appreciating artistic creation from Chi Xot within Chi Xot itself. In other words, these two artists reject western models of making and selling art, offering their own, originating from their own experiences as members of their community.

Más allá del texto: La cartografía visual/vivencial de Chi Xot (ponencia)

En estos días estaré presentado un trabajo reciente sobre la obra de Ángel Poyón y Fernando Poyón para el Simposio de escritores indígenas y sus críticos que se celebrará en la Universidad de California en San Diego del 24 al 25 de febrero. El ensayo está escrito en español pero preparé un resumen en inglés para aquellos que no hablan el español. La idea es permitirnos la discusión más allá de las barreras lingüísticas lo más posible. El resumen estará disponible por este medio provisionalmente pero muy posiblemente lo remueva al concluir el simposio ya que es nada más una muestra de un proyecto apenas en su infancia y no quiero que ande rodando por allí aún. Además, no tiene mucho sentido sin las imágenes que lo acompañan. Sin embargo, si les interesa saber más, con mucho gusto estoy dispuesta a comentarlo más a fondo. Si alguna idea o trabajo deriva de aquí, por favor asegúrense de atribuir las ideas a dónde y a quién pertenecen porque todo esto es producto de un largo diálogo con Ángel y Fer, así como con Paul M. Worley, mi co-autor

Resumen

Esta ponencia ofrece un breve análisis del contexto en que se realiza la producción artística contemporánea (poesía y arte conceptual) de Chi Xot. Chi Xot, también conocido como San Juan de Comalapa, es un pueblo kaqchikel en el departamento de Chimaltenango muy conocido por sus murales y sus muchos artistas (visuales, textiles, musicales, literarios, entre otros). Con ejemplos provenientes del arte y de cómics de la zona, se explorará la lógica visual del pueblo, una especie de cartografía que exige la vivencia para acceder a la estética de cada artista. En particular, la ponencia se enfocará en la propuesta de Ángel y Fernando Poyón de descentralizar el sistema de arte en Guatemala y apostar por formas de crear, promover y apreciar la creación artística de Chi Xot desde Chi Xot mismo. Es decir, a través de su propuesta estos artistas rechazan modelos occidentales de hacer y comerciar arte, reemplazándolos por modelos propios, provenientes de sus experiencias como miembros de su comunidad.

Unwriting Literary History

On February 10, 2020, I’ll be part of a discussion workshop that sets out put into dialogue theoretical approaches and possibilities in the study of Palestinian literature and the study of Indigenous literature from the Americas. Paul M. Worley, my co-author, and I will be talking about what it means to rethink literature (“to unwrite it”, as we propose in our book) and to see beyond the strictly literary, particularly in the context of imposed borders. For more information, check out the poster and the event page.

If you’re in Berlin, be sure to reserve your spot. Paul and I will be presenting from afar, thanks to the power of technology.

A Look Back: Unwriting and Podcasting in 2019

Unwriting y podcasting en 2019: Una mirada retrospectiva

This past year Paul, my co-author, and I had the good fortune of recording not one but three podcasts: one for SECOLAS’ Historias series and two for Mesoamerican Studies On Air (one in English and one in Spanish). This was very exciting because Unwriting Maya Literature came out this past spring and we want to tell everyone about it. The book is written entirely in English, so the Spanish podcast was a nice way of introducing it to non-English speakers/readers. We discussed this particular aspect of the book in a short essay where we reflected upon how to reach the many people whose work has been integral to our own but who cannot read it for themselves, and how to ensure we’re not merely extracting knowledge. For this reason, we were particularly thrilled to do a Spanish-only podcast. It’s a small step, but a step in the right direction.

The beauty of the podcasts is that they are quite accessible, and don’t have a price tag or come with a huge time commitment. That, and the conversations with Steven (Historias), Catherine (Mesoamerican Studies On Air), and Paul were easy: academic but totally approachable, the perfect introduction to our project and all things in between. The podcasts are not the exact same (they’re definitely unscripted); though the main ideas are there, we took some detours, explored some things more intently, and reflected on others. The Historias podcast is about an hour long, while the Mesoamerican Studies On Air podcasts are approximately twenty minutes each.

As for making my work more accessible, in the next little while I hope to write in Spanish much more, hoping that what I produce sees a 50/50 split one day. This is no easy feat because my writing comes much more easily to me in English, where I’m far more efficient and somewhat more articulate. This is perhaps owing to my many years of training, playing with words, and thinking “lofty thoughts” (as a helpful reviewer once pointed out). I’m also starting to realize that with my two selves, the Spanish-speaking Rita and the English-speaking Rita, come two distinct forms of self-criticism. Luckily, I’m always up for a challenge. It’ll be a slow process, particularly since my writing slows down a fair bit during the academic year when my teaching takes over completely, but I will do my best.

A word about the podcasts:

Mesoamerican Studies Online and On Air is a fairly new project by Catherine Nuckols-Wilde, a PhD student of Art History and Latin American Studies from Tulane University. She began the podcast a short while ago, and she interviews experts on Mesoamerica from all different disciplines.

Historias is a SECOLAS (Southeastern Council of Latin American Studies) production and it has been around for a little while. Until recently their focus had been History, but it is shifting to include other disciplines.

Listening to these podcasts is like going a conference but with the ability to space out the talks you attend. That, and you can do it in your PJs. So, do yourself a favour and subscribe to Mesoamerican Studies On Air and Historias.

LASA Boston 2019. Showing off the book / Presumiendo libro.

Unwriting y podcasting en 2019: Una mirada retrospectiva

Este año, Paul (mi coautor) y yo tuvimos la tremenda fortuna de grabar tres podcasts: uno con Historias de SECOLAS y dos con Mesoamerican Studies On Air (uno en español y uno en inglés). Estamos muy contentes porque Unwriting Maya Literature recién se publicó en abril del 2019. El libro está escrito en inglés así que el podcast en español es ideal para presentarlo a aquelles que no hablan o leen inglés. Este tema lo discutimos en un ensayo corto en donde hacemos una reflexión sobre cómo dialogar con aquellas personas cuya obra es vital para la nuestra pero cuyo acceso al libro es limitado y cómo asegurarnos de no estar simplemente extrayendo conocimiento. Por estas razones, es importante para nosotres haber grabado un podcast en español. Es un paso pequeño pero un paso en la dirección correcta.

En cuanto al podcast, me alegra mucho que lo puedan escuchar con facilidad: es gratis, accesible y corto. Eso, por un lado, y, por otro, las conversaciones que tuvimos con Steven (Historias), Catherine (Mesoamerican Studies On Air) y Paul fueron muy amenas: académicas pero francas, una introducción perfecta a nuestro proyecto y a todo lo que nos apasiona. Los podcasts no son idénticos (sin guion) y, aunque las mismas ideas surgen, son conversaciones distintas. El podcast de Historias dura aproximadamente una hora mientras que los podcasts de Mesoamerican Studies On Air duran 22 minutos cada uno aproximadamente.

En cuanto al asunto del acceso a mi trabajo, espero poder escribir mucho más en español, hasta llegar a un punto en donde la mitad de lo que escriba sea en español. Esto será algo difícil para mi porque la escritura en inglés se me da fácilmente y en general puedo desenvolverme en inglés mucho mejor. Esto se debe a los muchos años de vivir en Canadá (26) y a la mucha práctica en mis estudios y como crítica literaria (lo cual incluye ideas que me ‘quedan algo grandes’ según alguien por allí). También me estoy dando cuenta que mis dos personalidades, la anglo- y la hispanohablante, vienen acompañadas de su propia autocrítica. Lo bueno es que los retos me van bien. Sera un proceso lento porque en cuanto empiezan las clases me quedo sin tiempo, sin fuerzas y hasta sin palabras, pero me parece algo importante así que haré todo lo posible.

Sobre los podcasts:

Mesoamerican Studies Online y On Air es un proyecto reciente de Catherine Nuckols-Wilde, estudiante de doctorado en historia del arte de la Universidad de Tulane. Los podcasts son conversaciones con expertos en estudios mesoamericanos, la mayoría en inglés, aunque Catherine espera poder entrevistar a más expertos en español.

Historias es una producción de SECOLAS (Southeastern Council of Latin American Studies) y lleva varios años en existencia y aunque se han enfocado en la historia, recientemente han dado un giro para así incluir otras disciplinas.

Lo lindo de estos podcasts es que son cortos, se pueden escuchar donde sea, a la hora que sea. Es como ir a un congreso, pero tomarse su tiempo para escuchar cada plática, en pijamas, sin salir de la casa. Así que, si tiene un momento, le recomiendo suscribirse a los podcasts de Mesoamerican Studies On Air e Historias

Ábadakone at the National Art Gallery of Canada

(Nota en español)

I am happy to share with you a recent Twitter thread on my visit to the National Art Gallery of Canada for their Contemporary Indigenous Art Exhibit, Ábadakone (Continous Fire/Feu Continuel).

If you’re on Twitter, don’t bother with this post, you already know what to do!

In this thread, I focus on the three Maya artists from Iximulew (Guatemala) who were part of the exhibit, Fernando Poyón (Kaqchikel), Edgar Calel (Kaqchikel), and Manuel Chavajay (Tz’utujil). The exhibit was fabulous and I do hope many people go see it. I’m excited to think through some things, to write about others, and who knows, maybe even pay a second visit to the Gallery! I do need a copy of the catalogue (it was not yet out), so a second trip may be in order.

Nota en español.

Es un placer compartirles esta mini-reseña estilo Twitter de la exhibición de artistas indígenas contemporáneos Ábadakone (lengua Algonquin que significa Fuego continuo) de la Galería Nacional de Canadá (8 de noviembre al 5 de abril de 2020). Aquí me enfoco en los 3 artistas mayas de Iximulew (Guatemala) cuya obra es parte de la exhibición, Fernando Poyón, Edgar Calel y Manuel Chavajay. Los curadores realizaron una gran labor y vale la pena ver el resultado: más de 70 artistas de todas partes del mundo quienes representan a más de 40 naciones y grupos indígenas de más de 16 países. En estos momentos me encuentro reflexionando, pensando en qué escribir y quizás hasta considerando otra visita–aún no han impreso el catálogo, así que quizás sea necesario ir por uno en cuanto salga. El hilo está en inglés, pero sospecho que si lo abren en Twitter hay opción de traducción.

Textile Artist: Ángelica Serech

After much experimentation (and a huge realization: the ad blocker on my browser was preventing me from seeing embedded tweets properly), I finally figured out how to embed an entire thread in my blog. This particular thread took some preparation because I wanted to make sure I talked about Ángelica and her work the best way I could. This is the first time her work is featured and it’s a very big honour for me. I trust you will find her work as beautiful and compelling as I do.

Quick note: @Tsikbalichmaya is Paul M. Worley’s Twitter handle, in case you’re wondering.

Writing about Contemporary Maya Art on Twitter

Last week, Ángel Poyón asked me to translate a brief description of a recent piece, Kaxlanwäy (2019), for a social media post he was working on. I did just that, and since I enjoyed it so much, I asked him for permission and then put it up in a tweet. And since that was so much fun, I decided to do it again, this time featuring the work of Marilyn Boror Bor, a Kaqchikel artist working in Guatemala City. And so here we are, I’m now writing fun threads about contemporary Maya art.

This latest thread was a bit more extensive since I thought about it as a thread and I asked Marilyn to send me photos. She sent me a bunch and I managed to include quite a few. Check it out:

I just *had* to include this photo. After many months of social media-ing, I had the good fortune of visiting Marilyn this past summer.

To learn more about Marilyn’s work, head over to the Twitter.* And yes, I’ll try to do a bunch more of these threads since the work that Maya artists are putting out is pretty sharp and deserves our attention. That, and in case you haven’t heard, some amazing contemporary Maya art will be making its way to the National Art Gallery of Canada this November, for the second Contemporary International Indigenous Art exhibition, Àbadakone | Continuous Fire | Feu continuel, which will feature more than 70 artists from all over the globe.

*I’m being facetious. Kind of. I’m fairly new at the Twitter.

A Follow-Up On Baring It All, Research, and Coaching

A few months ago, I decided to reflect on my journey (personal, professional, and everything in between) and I ended up writing a guest blog post for the Professor Is In. The timing was just right: a book I co-authored with Paul M. Worley had just come out, things had settled at work (no strike, no new preps!), my dad had stabilized after a few gruelling years of disease and then a lung transplant, and overall, things, though busy, felt manageable.

Did I mention I had a pretty awesome summer too? I went home to Guatemala to visit family and friends, and to present Unwriting.

The post I wrote didn’t come out right away, and so it stayed in the very back of my mind. It was not until it became public that I realized just how personal it was and I starting feeling overexposed, with a not insignificant desire to shut down and hide. But alas, there it was for the world to see, and comments, calls, and messages followed. The reception has been very positive and I am grateful to all those who have reached out. I won’t lie, I’m a little apprehensive as to how some colleagues may perceive it, but something I learned along this very windy road I’ve been on is that I have to shape my own narrative. I was getting pretty tired of having to explain myself and of having to put up with sneers at the mention of my non-TT career. I love my job, I have a great deal of respect for my colleagues, chair, and dean, and I like who I am where I am. I don’t expect the explanations or the sneering to go away, but things are clearer for me and I needed to say it aloud, for some reason.

This fall my school is actively thinking ways in which we faculty can engage in applied research more fully. This still leaves me out in the cold since that’s not the kind of research I do, but I appreciate that we’re talking about it. As I mentioned in that guest blog post, my chair has been nothing but supportive of my research—for instance, he found me help with the indexing of Unwriting Maya Literature and for that I am mega grateful. I confess, I don’t see myself taking on applied research. I’ve found my groove and, more importantly, I am deeply committed to the work I do and the people I work with. Perhaps I’m being closed-minded to the possibility of doing that kind of research, but so far, I just don’t see how I’d make it work. That, and taking on a new field/methodology/project would mean time away from current projects and from some pretty amazing people. With a heavy teaching load (5-5) it is hard to find the time to do the research I want to do given that it is not a job requirement; that means I have to be selective and very strategic about the work I choose to do.

In a few weeks I will be giving a brief talk on working at a Canadian institution for an online Academic Job Market Conference by Beyond the Professoriate. I’m not sure what I’ll be talking about, but I hope I can at least let others know that it is possible to veer off course (by circumstance or by choice) and still find a place where you can do meaningful work. The trick for me has been a balancing act: recognizing and respecting my priorities, and, if necessary, making sacrifices but only the ones I choose to make. I am aware that I speak from a place of privilege because I am able to make those choices, reflect, and course correct without taking devastating financial, personal, or professional hits. But one thing is certain: every decision (bad, good, and debatable) up to this point has been mine and that feels pretty good. For now, I’ll keep on trucking, thinking about things, writing, teaching, and staying quick on my feet for whatever life hurls my way.

A Couple of PSAs

Almost a decade ago, my dad was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, a rare, incurable disease. In 2017 he received a lung transplant at Toronto General Hospital. The process was long and difficult but worth every wait (at the ER, doctor’s office, PT clinic, on the transplant list, in traffic etc.), every phone call, every setback. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of becoming an organ donor, so if you’re in Canada or anywhere else with an organ donation program, make sure you register. In Canada, you can easily do so online: https://www.beadonor.ca/

As for the two coaching services I mentioned, I think we tend to undervalue the importance of professional help, particularly in a career with processes as isolating as ours. Back when I was in the midst of quitting my TT job, the help of a coach from the University of Ottawa’s PD Institute was instrumental. Though I had strong support systems and a good professional network, the clarity that a third party brought to my experience was invaluable. Check out the Professor Is In and Beyond the Professoriate for academic coaching. They both have solid social media presences and are reputable (and no, I am not making a cent for singing their praises):

  • The Professor Is In is a coaching service for academics navigating tenure, promotion, and everything in between. It’s POC, queer, and women friendly.
  • Beyond the Professoriate is a counselling/coaching service geared primarly towards graduate students and newly-minted PhDs.