If I have to be a bitch… (An ode to cringe) by Martín Zícari

If I have to be a bitch (and “bitchy” is possibly my best personality trait) “diaspora” and “collaboration” are two words that make me cringe when discussing Latin American artists in Europe; two words that I’ve heard over and over in the last few days. 

The first, diaspora, is cringy because it’s a word with significant historical and political importance to certain groups – none of which I belong to. The second, collaboration, has been totally cringy in contemporary art for years. But as opposed to diaspora, collaboration is cringe because it’s obvious. Everyone collaborates; everything is already a collaboration, so why bother saying it? Is talking about collaboration obscuring something else? The paranoid part of me is always on alert, scanning for the unsaid. 

But if I’m going to bitch a little more (and this is actually the point I want to make) I should add that cringe is a feeling I’ve learned to trust.

As a gay man, cringe has always been part of my modus operandi. My high school chapel, where I would hide from bullies, shame filling the room like a smoke machine, was a place where I found some time for imagination. At first, it was just depressing fantasies of my own funeral, crowded with people mourning my death. But little by little, that gave way to more optimistic visions. Walking fast down the stairs to avoid the crowds or hiding from my tormentors, I found myself imagining the good life ahead: to escape the tiny city where I was living, to become a writer, or to actually date that boy who was hitting on me online. Cringe gave birth to imagination and desire. What began as an unwelcome emotion born of fear and shame opened up space in the form of desires erupting as imagined futures, picturing my life free from family and social mandates. (Spoiler alert: I’m still not.) So now, cringe – as with being bitchy – has become a life methodology. Instead of escaping it, when I feel cringe I have the reflex to nestle into it, like an old queen in a comfortable cushion; this is where the best thinking happens. So thanks Próximamente for bringing these words to the fore!

The process goes something like this: I hear the words, I cringe, and my queer lineage emergency alert is awakened, notifying me that there may be something to learn from this situation.

So what is it that these words and the feelings they inspire want me to learn? My first answer is that within cringe there’s a desire to actually be part of a diaspora, to have the feeling that I’m somehow supported by a larger group. If we cannot actually say that there is an active Latin American diaspora in Belgium that thinks of itself as such, we can say that such a group is, however timidly, on the horizon.
In one of the most diverse cities in the world, Brussels, it is surprising that the Latin American artistic community has so many problems achieving collective visibility and participation in the performing arts sector. Frequently caught up in wars around identity politics, Latinx artists are generally excluded from mainstream attempts at decolonizing and diversifying the capital’s exhibition spaces, which have been primarily focused on African or Middle Eastern artists and their diasporas.

This is completely understandable if we are thinking only of Belgium’s unique colonial past and its contemporary legacies. But if we begin by thinking of coloniality in the present tense (as something happening right now) Latin American artists need to claim a significantly larger space in the Brussels cultural scene. Our skin’s mid-level brownness makes us simultaneously too white for mainstream decolonization efforts and too brown for the regular annual programs of institutions, with Black artists from Latin America suffering the double burden, as Alexandre de Sena said in “State of the Arts” yesterday.

Even if individual artists manage to be programmed at major venues (and despite efforts like this festival to speak about the Latin American diaspora) the lack of long term support and/or spaces uniquely geared to their work marginalizes Latin American artists and prevents us from becoming stronger as a collective.

Which brings me to collaboration, the cringy word that offers a path to achieve a notion of the “commons” that is ours. If in the context of the festival we hear the word collaboration over and over, it is perhaps more an expression of desire than a statement of what has already been achieved. As Chris Kraus puts it: “There’s no such thing as a failed utopian community; or, if the collective is an experiment in shared time, how can time fail?” We face colonial legacies and reticent institutions. We battle bureaucracy to live and get paid. But against all of this we continue to recite the mantra of collaboration. So yes, cringy words, you are welcomed!
Martín Zícari is a Brussels-based Argentinian writer and researcher. Published author of fiction, poetry and essay, his research focuses on Latin American activism legacies through the lens of performance and dance theory.