The Modernity/Coloniality/Decoloniality project is a critical theory as well as a practice which emerged from Latin America, encompassing theorists such as Walter Mignolo, Quijano and Maria Lugones. As a group, they convened at Duke University in May 2004 and considered the differences between existing critical projects on decolonization of knowledge and other contemporary critical projects.
This project both emerges and diverges from existing decolonial and post colonial frameworks, taking one step further post-war decolonising projects, including the work by Frantz Fanon on coloniality of power. 1 They recognise that critical thinking in colonies and ex-colonies can be linked to Jewish critical traditions as reactions to European formation of imperial nation states. ‘Modern nation-states’ create two conditions. Firstly, it puts Europe at the centre of colonial domination, as a single ethnicity block defined by “whiteness”. This is re-enacted in “colonial nation states” such as South Africa and in the Carribean, where white/creole elites take power and maintain the colonial matrix of power. Modernity, capitalism and coloniality are aspects of the same package of control.
Within this project, Aníbal Quijano presents a colonial matrix of power that can be described in four interrelated domains: control of economy, control of authority, control of gender and sexuality and control of subjectivity and knowledge. It is the “the darker side of modernity and the global reach of imperial capitalism.” While neoliberalism disrupted the center/periphery concept linked to concepts of colonialism, borders remain important sites and concepts when considering the pluri-versal imperial/colonial borders of the modern/colonial world. Ultimately, it would be an economy that would move away from the north american trade primacy. In terms of models, MCD also diverges from Marxism, which relied on class oppression and the exploitation of labor as a binding experience, which is a eurocentric context to which non-eurocentric experiences diverge. For this reason, decolonial projects cannot be subsumed under Marxist ideology; Marxism should be subsumed under de-colonial projects.
What they are proposing requires a refocusing on new ways of thinking, an epistemological break. It requires de-linking from a modern episteme that silences and excludes marginalised voices. It is critical of master paradigms and proposes that decoloniality must consider non-linear, pluralistic and non-capitalistic political economy, to crack open the way of thinking and concepts of state to include those who have been oppressed and silenced. Marcelo Fernández-Osco proposes an “Indigenous episteme . . . horizontal solidarity that extends not only to all humans but also to non-humans in the natural and cosmological world.”2
For Maori intellectual Linda Tuhiwai Smith, decolonisation refers to ‘a long-term process involving the bureaucratic, cultural, linguistic and psychological divesting of colonial power’.3
From Sarah Radcliffe in the field of Geography, the legacy of colonialism is a post-Enlightenment Euro-America episteme which permeates through the power dynamics of european centred colonialism into all other ways of knowing. While postcolonial geography examines the legacy of colonialism, de-colonialism builds on this to consider social movements outside western influence. Expanding on this, it seeks inspiration from anti-colonial movements and writers, as well as frameworks local to these places, developing an ecology of experiences, identities and knowledges. While colonial-modernity eradicated non-colonial knowledge, enacting an epistemicide of colonised subjects’ knowledge, decolonial writers are open to these and other forms of knowledge, from south-south flows, from a broad range of intellectuals and from those outside of the western created models. It recognises vernacular embodiments of western institutions, while at the same time de-linking from western frameworks. The aim is original, critical, southern theory. In her text, Decolonising Geographical Knowledge, Sarah Radcliffe proposes a multi-epistemic literacy, “in which (plural) border thinking adds to, not replaces, diverse ‘Western’ knowledges”.4
What is the perspective of Walter Mignolo on the role of the “art world” and arts practices in the MCD project? When questioned about this Mignolo listed four different points, or trajectories. The second trajectory is concerned with postmodern and altermodern aesthetics.
“These are the biennials and triennials that act as guardians and promoters of values, either in the wide umbrella of “contemporary art” and modern/postmodern aesthetics, or altermodern aesthetics.” 5
“The affirmation of identities is tantamount with the homogenizing tendencies of globalization which are celebrated by altermodernity as the ‘universality’ of artistic practices. This notion chastises the magnificent diversity of human creative potential and its different traditions; it perennially aims at appropriating differences instead of celebrating them.”6
Mignolo recognises the broad institutional gatekeeping that contemporary curatorial practices performed, and was critical of Bourriaud because of the universality of the apparent postcolonial amnesia present in the Altermodern proposal. It seems he perceived the role of the altermodern was to maintain a power relationship which centred both around the Europe/USA axis, but also as a continuation of the legacy of Eurocentric art histories and episteme. This makes it incompatible with MCD goals, especially given how entrenched the concept of aesthetics was in the colonial project.
How does an art practice delink from this legacy? Could “southern” thinking provide a framework and methodology? Mignolo thinks so, and proposes a decolonial aesthetic, under the concept of aesthesis. One of the broader aims is to delink from thinking “disciplinarily” (e.g., sociologically, economically, anthropologically, artistically, etc.), which in turn would break down western construction boundaries between creative forms, such as folklore, craft, design etc.
“The Eurocentric organization of knowledge was to divide between truth, beauty, and good (that is, epistemology, aesthetics and ethics). Now we have to delink from that particular prison house of language.”7
In a text published in Social Text Periscope, “Decolonial AestheSis: Colonial Wounds, Decolonial Healings,”8 Mignolo makes a case for a new framework which uses the concept of Aesthesis, which refers to the ancient Greek phenomenological idea of engaging with your senses and the emotions connected to this. This concept was initially presented by German philosopher Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten in his 1750 text “Aesthetics” and precedes Kant's founding of Aesthetics as a branch of philosophy. The kantian evolution of this conception of philosophical aesthetics inserted intrinsic hierarchical weight to ideas of genius and beauty. 9 Given the ubiquitous nature of western episteme and influence, it would be impossible to totally avoid or deny the classical influences, but a delinking could re-focus on the idea of senses led experiences rather than a quest for beauty as decided by western standards. Aesthesis is an experience that is part of the human condition, and experienced by everyone, therefore making it more accessible and inclusive, not necessitating an understanding of western art history or forms of knowledge.
The role of aesthetics in the racialisation of colonised subjects helped create a gaze which cut across and affected all parts of society. It perpetuated an image which excluded non heteronormative, white, western, male identities and created a categorisation that defined and silenced those who presented as “other” or don’t fit into western defined norms. Therefore, while the colonial wound is one which is more identifiable to those who were directly oppressed, it is one that affects everyone affected by the patriarchal, racist legacies. Mignolo proposes that practices based on aesthesis, rather than aesthetics, permit a broader experience which is not defined by man-made categories and constructs of Kantian imperial/colonial traditions. Within this is a recognition of a trans-cultural and trans-spiritual aesthetic, linking those inhabiting the borders of the imperial/colonial differences and suffering the colonial wounds of in between-ness. The building of inter-indigenous affinities tends to these wounds by building mutually supportive relationships based on recognition and shared experiences, which can be a foundation for self-authorship and cultural resilience.
“A crucial sphere of intersection of being and knowledge is art, along with other forms of non-rational knowledge, thrown out of modernity. It is there that the most promising models of decolonizing of being and knowledge are shaped.”10
Medina Tlostonova speaks about how, as an intersectional practice, art can defy the rationalising impulses of modernism and can be a liberated space for decoloniality. She presents an expanded concept of the trickster to identify the potential for destabilizing the centre by building trans-cultural and trans-marginal alliances between those who dwell in the imperial/colonial borderlands. This opens up opportunities and spaces for healing of colonial wounds, an idea which is deeply connected with decoloniality.
1 Maldonado-Torres, N. 2007, "On the coloniality of being: Contributions to the development of a concept", Cultural Studies, vol. 21, no. 2-3, pp. 240-270.
2 W. Mignolo: ibid
3 Radcliffe, S.A. 2017, "Decolonising geographical knowledges", Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, vol. 42, no. 3, pp. 329-333.
5 “Decolonial options and artistic/aestheSic entanglements:An interview with Walter Mignolo” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society Vol. 3, No. 1, 2014, pp. 196-212
6https://transnationaldecolonialinstitute.wordpress.com/decolonial-aesthetics/. Accessed 21/04/20
10 M. Tlostanova, “Beyond the State and the Market: Trans-Modern Art as a Way of Liberating Knowledge and Being”, p.83 - 89. BIOPOLITICS, NECROPOLITICS AND DE-COLONIALITY, Marina Gržinić, et al. Bucharest Pavilion: Journal for Politics and Culture 2010