Mapping the world the nomadic way

August 2004 -

Claudia Fontes (Argentine) visited the Australian forum South 1, and tried to find the answer to the question: what is the 'South'? And even more challenging: where is it?

There were as many answers as participants at the first stage of The South Project, South 1, the forum organised by Craft Victoria from 1 to 4 July in Melbourne, Australia, under the direction of curator Kevin Murray.

It was clear for all participants that the definition of 'South' we were all handling wasn't referring to latitude. In a tacit manner, it seemed we were often referring to a common trauma: how to deal with the conflictive colonial/postcolonial scene we were born in. But is it fair for all the representatives of these diverse and rich cultures to be gathered by a trauma? Furthermore: which part of the planet is not traumatised by post-colonial and globalisation's consequences? U.S.A.? Certainly not. As the Tasmanian writer Greg Lehman put it, 97% of the world's population, from England to Easter Island, suffer the logic of colonialism and its metamorphosis into globalisation.

Indian scholar Jasleen Dhamija offered a clue to a possible answer: belonging to the South is actually a matter of attitude. But what is the 'South' attitude? Do we artists, creators, cultural operators, theoreticians coming from so many different countries, backgrounds and practices share something like a common attitude towards our current situation? Is it possible to think on a common basis even before experiencing concrete opportunities of  cultural  exchange?

There is a big temptation to define ourselves as South by opposition to the North, as victims opposed to victimisers. This may be because it is also tempting to take advantage of the fake moral authority that the fact of being victims seems to carry. As the South African writer Mbulelo Mzamane put it, 'being a former victim is no guarantee you will not victimise those weaker than yourself.'

The attempt to reach a single definition of the South, as opposed to the North, besides impossible, is not convenient. It wouldn't empower our cultures in the least, but expose them to fade into one more mirror image of the North in the old colonial way.

At this point, the strategies to follow seem very clear. There is no dialectic to follow. Instead, discussing some concepts can be a much more useful task for our future: let's propose multiplicity instead of verticality; cultural networks instead of cultural centres; community values instead of individualism; let's prefer diversity to hegemony; let's imagine ourselves drifting on a sea of South projects.

Claudia Fontes (Argentinië) is artist and founder of Trama, programme of cooperation amongst artists based in Argentina.