Identity and Resistance Voices

Decolonising Memory to Walk Towards the Present

The Unconscious Undermined by the Enemy: the inner thoughts of a transgender art student (educator).

Written by Lucía Guerra
Translated by Caio Arruda


This text is a narrative written by a pedagogy student who currently lives in Curitiba, a capital city in southern Brazil. She thinks and develops studies in the art based on her transgenderness, and her body is marked by whiteness and by the experience of the working class that survives in late capitalism. She starts with clippings from her childhood and end by pointing out the impact of her experiences on the themes that inspire her to think about art.


My name is Lucía Guerra, and I believe that I have been obstinate since before I was born. I was born in 1996, and I am from the third generation of women in my family who have inherited poverty, a legacy we were forced to receive.

Not long ago, my mother told me that my grandmother stated that there was a female body in my mother’s womb throughout her pregnancy. This older woman strongly doubted all the doctors who said otherwise, and she got silent only after seeing my penis with her own eyes. Sometimes I think of the comfort that this soul felt when I affirmed my gender identity.

When she died, I was still a child, and I didn’t know about this consequence of life, which is death. I always cried very quickly, but I do not remember crying once because of her death. I believe to this day that death is like going to sleep and that when you sleep in this life, you wake up in the next one. I believe that also because I know that I have already died (and I always die) and that this current life is the dream of an old life.

My grandmother was the first person that saw the feminine in me, but not the only one. I remember the loneliness that I lived throughout my childhood. Only a few children played with me at school because the adults responsible for them did not like them playing with boys who acted like girls. I never understood that very well; after all, I was never a boy.

Of course, loneliness was not a problem. I have always been accompanied by some of the most amazing friends that one can have: the beings that lived in the pages of the books that I used to read.

I read a little bit of everything throughout my life. In my teen years, I met the affection in the pages of Paulo Freire’s books, an educator and philosopher born in Pernambuco, a state of northeastern Brazil.

With him, I learned to believe in the power of words. I learned that words alone don’t do much, but they inspire people, and people can do many things. That must be why I have this uncontrollable urge to write: it is how I remind myself that I am not alone. His words echoed in me and made me believe that revolutions are possible, and I realised that education is part of a life and world project that I want to build.

Paulo dedicated his time to changing other people’s lives through reading and writing, allowing them to tell their own stories. His defence for education as a practice of freedom comes from the perception of a historical process of domination and precariousness of bodies by alienating their condition of being oppressed. The colonial project applied in Brazil persists; the epistemicide remains linked to a series of other practices that hinder the access of subaltern bodies to spaces of knowledge production.

I began my studies at university in 2014 with a degree in Chemistry thanks to federal affirmative action policies for low-income students from public schools. It was in this program that I understood in practice the imposition of the coloniser’s scientific paradigm. Although I dropped out of that program, I have devoted a lot of time to studying epistemological paradigms.

Since I read Paulo so early on, I have always been committed to thinking about ways to democratise knowledge. Because of that, I found art. I believe in change through the sensitive, through a supernatural process that touches our soul. And in 2016, I started my degree in Pedagogy, eager to understand the complexity of the human learning process. Learning and expressing yourself through art are ancestral skills.

Over the years, I have had teachers concerned with the ethical commitment to training critical professionals and engaged in constructing a feasible project for the future. When I think of the future, I do not see it as a distant point on the horizon but instead as a succession of present tenses. In the Portuguese language, we have a verb tense called Future of the Present that we use to talk about things that will happen moments close to the act of enunciating.

I dedicated myself even more to studying the epistemology and philosophy of education, and my brave and rebellious heart has found a home in the feminist and de-colonial paradigms. To name a few names that have led me to reflection I can say bell hooks, Frantz Fanon, Grada Kilomba, Conceição Evaristo, Lélia Gonzalez, Maria Aparecida Bento, Carolina de Jesus, Audre Lorde, Patrícia H. Collins, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Angela Davis, Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, Florestan Fernandes, Jorge Larrosa, Walter Benjamin, Jota Mombaça… I could keep adding names and more names, but I believe that I have already exposed the complexity of voices that I seek to echo. Some choices can be read as contradictory, but there is nothing I can do but embrace the contradiction.

All these experiences make me think of education and art as the production of conceivable imaginary and, consequently, I see a scenario of war being fought in the unconscious. Art and education are my battlegrounds, and language and speech are my weapons.

We are a nation alienated from our history that relates to time and memory through a paradigm of progress imposed by the colonisers in the process of domination of our territory. Education was and has been the main way to try to reverse this reality. If knowledge is power, I want to do what I can to share the weapons that will dethrone our lords. Therefore, art is the battlefield where I make war[1]. It is where I explore and expose the discourses that mark my body embracing the contradiction of existing and being in the world.

In terms of techniques, I use embroidery as a metaphor to think of the wefts and ties that each body is inserted in. The threads enter and exit the weave forming the front and back of the fabric. I also apply this technique in photography, where I work with the concept of kidnapping and retrieving memories.

These concepts are mobilised from my life trajectory. Kidnapping is the act of taking possession of something and depriving it of its freedom. This has been the main behaviour of cis-heterosexual and colonial whiteness. A group of kidnappers who have held bodies captive since childhood, preventing them from living in freedom. For these stories, the rescue is the solution. Rescue as an act of liberating, of extinguishing an undue debt, an inherited debt that is not fair, of guaranteeing sleep for insomniac souls who need help to wake up in the next life.

The origins of the photographs on which I apply embroidery are diverse: some come from albums long kept from my childhood, thrift stores, antique shops. These spaces maintain a different relationship with the past, present and future.

Photographs are echoes of moments, a way of printing and fixing an event on a photographic sheet, a production of a memory. That is, photography is nothing more than a human attempt to cling to a past, trying to keep alive an experience of a time that has already passed and that cannot be experienced again, just remembered.

When I take a photograph in my hands I usually think: what if the person in that photo is someone who had their story captured by the victim’s narrative and never had the opportunity to tell their own story? There is a story here that needs to be released. In this photo, there is a story of kidnapping and rescue.

This brings me back to my own memories. I try to evoke the sensations that passed through my body. I try to take my unconscious on a journey and allow my hands to give materiality to these narratives, I try to bring a little peace to these stories materialized in a hybrid aesthetic. And to make these issues more evident, I selected some works that mobilized these reflections.

Photo description: the picture shows a collage of old photographs from the author’s childhood. There are words in Portuguese embroidered onto it. From top to bottom and left to right it reads: “Menino ou menina ou minini ou minini ou niño ou niña ou menine ou menini. Filhote de bicho gente. Filhote de bicha trava. Criança transviada.” It roughly translates to: “Boy or girl or minini or minini (gender neutral variations for the gendered words menino/menina, meaning boy/girl) or niño (Spanish for boy) or niña (Spanish for girl) or menine or menini (other gender neutral variations for menino/menina). The child of a human animal (bicho gente). The child of a tranny fag (bicha trava - there is a word play with the words bicho (animal) and bicha (fag)). A transviada (a conjunction of the word trans and viada, which means fag, but transviada could also translate to renegade) child”. Note: The use of sensitive language in the translation was agreed with the author.
Figure 1 [2]: Lucía Guerra. CriOnça: retalhas de uma infância selvagem (CriOnça: shreds of a wild childhood). 2021. Embroidery in Photography with cotton skein, metallic skein, and hair fiber, 29,7 x 21 cm. Photographs all rescued from the author’s childhood albums.

To start with the most recent: criOnça. There is no direct translation of this term, which is the combination of the words Criança (child) and Onça (jaguar). It is about my childhood and reflects my attempts to give a new meaning to my relationship with my past. When I think of kidnapping, I think of the idea that trans people are deprived of an affectionate relationship with our past. I was Lucía even before I could understand who she is, and I take it upon myself to produce not only my future present, but also my past.

To associate my childhood with that of an animal that runs, that lives free and adapts to life in the most diverse conditions is to remind me and other trans people of this condition of production of life that lives and resists. We have been wild since our birth.

Photo description: the picture depicts three people in an old urban Brazilian scenario. There is a child sitting on a bench, and one male adult is sitting next to the child with his arms around them. There is another male adult standing next to them. There are words in Portuguese embroidered onto it. It reads: heterossexuais aterrorizam crianças com fantasmas do patriarcado (heterosexuals terrorize children with patriarchal ghosts).
Figure 2 [3]: Lucía Guerra. Cuidado: heterossexuais aterrorizam crianças com fantasmas do patriarcado (Beware: heterosexuals terrorize children with patriarchal ghosts). 2020. Embroidery in Photography with cotton skein, 7.5 x 10 cm. Photograph rescued from a thrift store.

In this work, I draw attention to the fact that the education of all LGBT children is done under fear. We are terrified from an early age by the idea that our identities will destroy the family, that we do not deserve the love of any deity. We are threatened with rejection in the workplace and our condition of existence is constantly treated as a joke.

Thinking about childhood and new ways of educating is also what mobilizes me to think about art through the production of sensitive and possible existences. I belong to the generation that was kidnapped by the colonizer and that knows the effects of the post-traumatic stress that this experience causes, in such a way that we no longer want the coming generations to experience it.

But how do we lose the fear of something? We are afraid of the unknown, of what we do not know how to explain or understand. Jorge Larrosa encourages experience as a practice of knowledge production. That is why this work also talks about educating the new generations not to be afraid of themselves, that the greatest way to fight fear is to encourage curiosity and to explore the most of themselves without fear, because it is only by taking away the power that terrify us that we can walk towards freedom.

Figure 3: Lucía Guerra. Narrativas de si: cisgeneridade em decadência (Self-narratives: cisgenerity in decay). Photography embroidery with hair fibers, 21 x 15 cm. Personal archive.

Figure 4 : Lucía Guerra. Narrativas de si: reflexo (Self narratives: reflection). Photography embroidery with hair fibers, 21 x 15 cm. Personal archive.
**This media may contain sensitive content. You are advised to use your discretion whether or not to see the full media. To view the full media, click here

Finally, to close the text and keep myself open to the possibility of expanding these discussions, I have included these two photographs out of a sequence of three. All are auto biographical narratives. The photographs were taken in 2017 at the time when I understood transgenderity as a production of my existence.

I embroidered them in 2020 using my own hair as a totally personal production process. Coincidentally I haven’t cut my hair since 2017. Embroidering with hair is certainly a magical process, it is using something produced by your body to create discursive imperatives, to give reason to my own truths.

In these two works I talk about these two phrases “Your secret ignored by everyone, including the mirror” and “A perpetual mark an identity =  cisgenerity in decay” The first sentence is by the Brazilian multiartist Lina Pereira, known by the stage name Linn da Quebrada. The second one I wrote myself. In this work, I was mobilized by the coercive imperatives, in this case the learning of the body within a cisgender structure, white and heterosexual, which is imposed from a biological reading of our bodies. We learn to ignore what we see in the mirror. And to transcend is a process of constant unlearning to make room for new understandings of yourself.

Living has been a perpetual flow of learning and unlearning, of questioning all truths, of having doubt and contradiction as an epistemological condition. If everything that oppresses us is made up of unhistorical, universal and unquestionable truths, may the life of all who live and survive outside the norm be that of inhabiting contradiction as a power.

With that, I will end here with hopes that this text brings more confusion than peace, because I strongly believe that the one who is certain is bound to fail.


Footnotes

[1] Translator note: in the original text in Portuguese the author used the word “Guerra” in capital letters, which means both her name and the Portuguese word for “war”.

[2] Photo description: the picture shows a collage of old photographs from the author’s childhood. There are words in Portuguese embroidered onto it. From top to bottom and left to right it reads: “Menino ou menina ou minini ou minini ou niño ou niña ou menine ou menini. Filhote de bicho gente. Filhote de bicha trava. Criança transviada.” It roughly translates to: “Boy or girl or minini or minini (gender neutral variations for the gendered words menino/menina, meaning boy/girl) or niño (Spanish for boy) or niña (Spanish for girl) or menine or menini (other gender neutral variations for menino/menina). The child of a human animal (bicho gente). The child of a tranny fag (bicha trava – there is a word play with the words bicho (animal) and bicha (fag)). A transviada (a conjunction of the word trans and viada, which means fag, but transviada could also translate to renegade) child”. Note: The use of sensitive language in the translation was agreed with the author.

[3] Photo description: the picture depicts three people in an old urban Brazilian scenario. There is a child sitting on a bench, and one male adult is sitting next to the child with his arms around them. There is another male adult standing next to them. There are words in Portuguese embroidered onto it. It reads: heterossexuais aterrorizam crianças com fantasmas do patriarcado (heterosexuals terrorize children with patriarchal ghosts).

[4] Photo descriptions of figures 3 and 4: both pictures depict the author ‘s naked body. Both are embroidered with Portuguese words. In Figure 3 it reads: Uma marca perpétua uma identidade = cisgeneridade em decadência (A perpetual mark a identity =  cisgenerity in decay). In Figure 4 it reads: Seu segredo ignorado por todos, até pelo espelho (Your secret ignored by everyone, including the mirror).


About the Author

Lucía Guerra is an educator and develops studies in the textile arts seeking to associate poetic narratives with visual narratives in an attempt to create new imagery about trans bodies. Currently she is part of the platform quandonde intervenção urbana em arte and has been thinking about ways to act  in art, thinking about the relationship between body and identity; time, memory and public space.

0 comments on “Decolonising Memory to Walk Towards the Present

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: