September 17, 2020

Ahuecar: Notes on subverting the colonial macho

Sebastian Calfuqueo, Alka domo (2017), Video performance, 1920×1080, FULL HD, 17 minutes


Sebastian Calfuqueo, Alka domo (2017), Video performance, 1920×1080, FULL HD, 17 minutes. Parque Araucano.

Colonial extractivism obliterated bodies of water, land, lives—entire ecosystems. Throughout history, the Mapuche nation has been continuously injured by the processes that began with the Spanish conquest, but that persisted with the consolidation of the Chilean state and deepened during the military dictatorship. Evident with each one of the pu mapuche [1]deaths that have been recorded in the country’s so-called “democracy,” this state-sanctioned persecution continues today.

Our nation has been subjected to the systematic plundering of the itrofil mogen[2]The colonial pandemic continues to strip us of our dignity, but we resist. The women and other dissidents of our nation like me are today denouncing the machismo that has shattered our lives ever since European colonizers annihilated the existence of different forms of experiencing our bodies and sexualities. We question the sexual contract that was sealed without regard for our experiences, our voices. And now, together, we will rewrite our people's history for only then we can call ourselves a nation.

Colonialism is dispossession and death. Today, it continues to prey upon us in every imaginable way. The state is not our community; it has taken our territories away from us, making our lives an impossibility. They behave like a monoculture that refuses and negates the existence of other ecosystems. However, resistance lies in how we call ourselves a nation, how we write our history so that it doesn't eliminate anyone's experience. Where there is no dignity, there is no life. These will be histories written by those who placed their bodies and lives against colonialism and by those who continue resisting the modern-colonial system's lethal advance upon our existence.

History has been made through systematic extractivism, which has stolen our forms of knowledge, our memories, our bodies. We were erased from the narratives and removed from our own practices. As a result, we are now rewriting that historical violence, piercing that rigid colonial structure that continues to reign supreme. We are today creating holes and cracks that represent the possibility of undoing and unlearning the legacy that was imposed on us by others.

Nicanor Plaza, a nineteenth-century Chilean sculptor, earned the highest honors at the National Exhibition of Arts and Industry in 1872 for his work entitled Caupolicán. As a result of this, his sculpture was reproduced and displayed across various cities in the country. One of these replicas was finally unveiled in Temuco, Chile, in 1932. The physical characteristics of the figure, however, did not correspond to those of a Mapuche. Upon closer look, Plaza's Caupolican was a representation of a Sioux Indian following a description found in James Fenimore Cooper's novel The Last of the Mohicans. In fact, years earlier, Plaza had exhibited the piece under the name The Last of the Mohicans at the Paris Salon, where the work received no honors or accolades.

José Troncoso Cuevas, monument to Caupolicán, 2000. Temuco, Chile. Photo courtesy of Daniel Cárcamo Risso.

Decades later, in the year 2000, Plaza's sculpture was taken down. The Chilean government published essays acknowledging the artist's erroneous representation of the Mapuche figure and replaced it with a newer version by the sculptor José Troncoso Cuevas. This new interpretation of Caupolicán was inspired by Alonso de Ercilla's epic poem "La Araucana," written in 1569 during the colonization of southern Abya Yala, specifically the land today we call Chile. Until the mid-nineteenth century, this territory was known as Wallmapu, that is, the Mapuche land that stretches across Chile and Argentina.

According to legend, Caupolicán was one of the leading warriors who led the Mapuche resistance against the Spanish conquest. Caupolicán, it was said, had been elected as the Mapuches' toki, [3] after besting his fellow soldiers Paicavi, Lincoyán, and Elicura, in a competition to see who could bear a tree trunk on his shoulders for two consecutive nights. This colonial tale inspired writers of history, fiction, and poetry to pen texts that glorified Caupolicán as a paragon of masculinity and power. Throughout history, writers have crafted tales about this heroic character, as a symbol of the messianic and the virile. By reinforcing the notion of a single type of masculinity, many of these depictions have had a significant effect on the Mapuches' collective vision of themselves.

This was the context in which I grew up: in a culture where Caupolicán represents the only possible masculinity. Combined with Christian, colonial narratives, this sense of masculinity threatened my non-heterosexual, effeminate body and identity. The tremendous uneasiness I felt about all this prompted my need to probe with the figure of Caupolicán and his effect on the mental and emotional landscapes of men who grew up in Chile. For them, Caupolicán is and always has been a synonym for strength and virility. His depiction symbolizes masculine heroism, especially in dictatorship-era military decorations and other repertoires of the capitalist system. For example, we see this in the widespread use of Caupolicán as an advertising symbol, and as a figure in the logos of primarily male-oriented companies, stores, and products between 1960 and 1980.

Alka domo is a 2017 video performance that documents the action of loading onto my shoulders a hollowed-out coigue tree trunk in six different locations in the city of Santiago. For this performance, I staged a parody of Caupolicán's heroic deed as it is described in La Araucana. The work seeks to generate a dialogue between my body and the depiction of masculinity that dominates the collective, archetypal vision of Caupolicán. For each of the actions, I wear a different pair of high heels arranged in chromatic order, starting with red and followed by orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. [4] According to the Spanish Jesuit priest Andrés Febres, who in 1765 published the dictionary Arte de la lengua general del Reyno de Chile, the term alka domo means "man-woman." In Mapudungun, the Mapuche language, the word alka means "rooster" and is also the way people express the concept "male." Domo means "woman." Mapudungun nouns, unlike Spanish nouns, do not possess gender, except in cases like that of alka, the rooster, which is distinguished from the achawall, or hen. This word was also translated as "hermaphrodite" or "butch."

Sabastian Calfuqueo, Alka domo (2017), Video performance, 1920×1080, FULL HD, 17 minutes.

The purpose of this performance is to question the archetypal societal visions and values imposed by the patriarchal, colonial narrative of masculinity expressed through the figure of Caupolicán. The text that appears in the video performance presents the concept of ahuecar ("to hollow out") as something that may help us to unlearn what the hegemonic version of history has taught us. In Spanish, the word hueco, which shares a root with the verb ahuecar, literally means "hole," but it is also a derogatory term intended to insult and debase homosexuals in Chile. At the Liceo Manuel Barros Borgoño, the all-boys' school I attended as a teenager, I repeatedly heard this epithet being used by heterosexual men who viewed masculinity as being restricted within a single space in which diverse expressions were simply not possible.

Sabastian Calfuqueo, Alka domo (2017), Video performance, 1920×1080, FULL HD, 17 minutes. Liceo varones Manuel Barros Borgoño.

The second place I visited is the Plaza de Armas in downtown Santiago. The Plaza was founded by the Spanish colonizer Pedro de Valdivia—a contemporary of Caupolicán. According to the history books, it was Caupolicán who killed the conquistador. The framing for this shoot was the Plaza's chess tables, as these are used exclusively by men. Along these same lines, and also connected to the foundation of Santiago, the video is also executed on the Cerro Huelén, the hill in the city center known to most Chileans as Cerro Santa Lucía, which also happens to be where Nicanor Plaza's controversial sculpture was located. Other historical locations include the Quinta Normal park, a gathering place for Santiago's Mapuche diaspora, where my grandparents often got together with other Mapuches. The remaining two scenes anchor the video at the beginning and the end. The first scene is filmed in Parque Araucano, a park in one of Santiago's wealthier districts, which features two chemamüll in spaces that are alien to the Mapuche world vision and disconnected to its cultural and symbolic value. The video's final scene takes place at the Matadero Franklin, a traditional market where the majority of the workforce is comprised of male butchers. In the last scene, the market workers recognize the Caupolicán reference, first commenting quietly and then shouting. Once they realize the tree trunk is empty, the performance sparks a wave of violent, homophobic remarks.

The term ahuecar acquires nuance by exposing the violence of a masculine culture constructed by the Western world's hegemonic history and traditional Chilean cultural archetypes. The term profanes the sacred symbolic value that has been ascribed to the masculinity and virility of the hero. Thus the performance piece is a deliberate provocation to the representation of Caupolicán by different artists across time. It is an attempt to rewrite with our bodies, voices, and genders the decolonization processes still happening in Abya Yala.

Sebastián Calfuqueo (Santiago, Chile, 1991) lives and works in Santiago, Chile. He is an artist of Mapuche origin whose work explores his cultural heritage as a starting point for proposing a critical reflection on the social, cultural and political status of the Mapuche people in contemporary Chilean society. His work, which includes installations, ceramics, performance and video pieces, seeks to explore the cultural similarities and differences, as well as the stereotypes that emerge from the intersection between indigenous and Westernized modes of thought, and to raise awareness about issues relating to feminism and sexual dissidence. With an undergraduate and master’s degree in visual arts from the Universidad de Chile, Calfuqueo is part of the Mapuche collective Rangiñtulewfü and the magazine Yene. He is represented by Galería Patricia Ready in Chile.

Notes for a Horizon-tality: Toward the Possibility of Becoming Together as an Assemblage is a project that responds to our multiple and seemingly multiplying emergencies. Since the growing uncertainty of living in a world in crisis seems to continuously threaten the possibility of the future, this editorial initiative seeks to contribute to the growing scholarship on this topic from the perspective of Latin American contemporary art.

[1] We say pu mapuche to pluralize in our language.

[2] This word, in Mapudungun, means “all forms of life.”

[3] Toki is the word that refers to the “warrior leader” in the resistance to Spanish colonization.

[4] The order is a reference to the colors of the LGBTQ+ flag.