Disruptive Bodies, Anti-Colonial Language Models, and Counter Archives

The project HACKING ANTI-COLONIAL KUIR POETRY THROUGH THE TROPICS by Jô Osbórnia and Jota Ramos created for the web residencies by Akademie Schloss Solitude & SAVVY Contemporary, and part of the joint call »Magical Hackerism or The Elasticity of Resilience,« disrupts the world’s colonial ordering through LBTQIA+ works and languages from the Global South. During their residency, the two created sound and video pieces including and strengthening non-normative voices and perspectives. 

Jô Osbórnia and Jota Ramos in conversation with Gabriela Kühnhardt Alvarez — Jun 1, 2023

Were meeting in cyberspace. A particular place where languages, time zones, and ancestral histories celebrate the unseen oral archive, always existing without visual documentation. Can an accumulation of voices represent a situated knowledge to refer to the existences and narratives that are written upon the bodies?

g: Hello! My name is Gabriela, I go by she/her. Although I was born in Lima, Peru, my practice and I have been situated in Germany for most of my life. How about we start to build a framework? You two arrived last autumn to the web residencies »Magical Hackerism or The Elasticity of Resilience« as artists, highlighting poetry along with queer, non-white, non-Global North positioned collectives and peoples. Where were you coming from at that time?

jota: Hello! My name is jota. I am a trans masculine multidisciplinary artist currently based in Berlin. For some years now, my research investigates tools to build an antiracist and powerful representation of trans BIPOC people’s sociality, identity, and their historical journey.

jô​​: Hello! My name is jô, I go by she/her. I’m originally from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and I’ve been living in Berlin for almost seven years now. I am a poet, performer, and translator. My work is somehow difficult to define because my practices are transdisciplinary.  But in general terms, my main source of production in the arts are words, images, and performance. I am interested in themes of emancipation, gender, and colonialism. Ever since I moved to Berlin with a scholarship from Haus für Poesie in 2016 and decided to sign up for university so I could have a visa to stay here, I’ve been trying to find my ways here in Germany as an independent artist, which has been actually more or less challenging. I was active a lot in the poetry scene from 2017 to 2019, and then 2019 was the start of this big project called KUIR poetry. 

g: Would you like to tell us a bit more about this project?

jota & jô​​: KUIR poetry is an attempt to create a space for migrant LGBTQIA+ writers, poets, and performers in Berlin. By that time, the poetry world in the city was predominantly still very cis-hetero white. KUIR poetry began with the collective help of many friends, who got together to create the visual identity and organize venues and events. We started with poetry readings, not only in Berlin but also in Sao Paulo and Thessaloniki (at the Greek Queer Arts Festival). We were very satisfied with these get-together nights. There was almost no such thing, a safe space and community-building gathering for »queer« poetry in the city. Also, KUIR poetry was working with new dimensions of poetry, focusing not on that old fashioned way of understanding poetry as in just sitting down and writing a text, but rather on the language’s performativity.

We got our first funding from the Projektförderung Kreuzberg-Friedrichshain in 2020, it was not a lot, but enough to bring KUIR poetry to a more professional level. But then the pandemic arrived and we needed to change the format. We came up with the idea of commissioning articles and video performances to curate an online magazine. It was a new phase of the project. We started thinking a lot about what curation could mean in practical and anti-colonial terms, since we were receiving public money from Europe. We commissioned mainly artists from the Global South: trans, female, and travesti artists. This was the turning point for our production and creation. To commission works that are not only based on a gender or sexuality marker, but also considering migration, racism, and colonialism. With this anti-colonial perspective, we opened up other questions and critiques towards the white, cis-hetero, Eurocentric world in its ongoing colonial ordering. In 2021, we got more funding and, in the second wave of the pandemic, we organized an online festival.

g: Encompassing time, queer imaginations, and narratives through new ways of reading and encountering each other was transported via oral documentation, away from a projected gaze. Today we reach your individual practices, and your participation in the web residency »Magical Hackerism or The Elasticity of Resilience.« As a first point of departure from there, could you elaborate on DIT (Do it Together) work in this context? What kind of tropical strategies you choose? During this time of magical hacking, how did your research expand?

jota: It is always a challenge to work with other people. My process is very intimate and I can say fragile as well. In this residency, a common denominator is that even though our experiences are different, there is a meeting point where the space for discussion and exchange happens organically. In this sense I realize that my research expands from the moment this exchange is established. It is within my research to try to understand how the Other transits and interacts with trans bodies in a violent society, and how this interaction can be transformed.

jô: Jota and I found and recognized each other in our condition as migrants in Berlin, transitioning from »abroad.« Especially in Germany, this means that your existence is constantly being put under pressure. We came to Europe to have better lives, but actually to distance ourselves and reflect about our traumas, our country, and its traditionalisms too. We met last year at a residency at Oyoun, found out about our common processes in life and ever since we have developed a friendship. For this residency, we started asking ourselves how we can disrupt the colonial ordering of the world through languages from Global South LGBTQIA+ artists. Which brought us to the reflection of temporalities. What does it actually mean to create an archive of ourselves?

jota: The first idea was to elaborate a counter-archive in which to somehow store the history of bodies that are always on the margin. Archives are a traditional storage model, and bodies outside of cis-hetero normativity – disruptive in themselves – are not expected to be part of this model. Our bodies break the rules, according to which only the memories of those who are seen as »standard« should be stored. We also didn’t want to be part of this specific, normative way of archiving, or reproduce it. Our truths should be accessible through other representations, in posterity, in a counter-archive.

jô: What will be left from our existences? (How) will they be remembered? It’s not about nostalgia. Anti-trans legislation attempts are currently happening all over the globe. Right now, in Brazil, sixty anti-trans pieces of legislation are proposed . It’s this common understanding that our existences are never safe. They never have been, but at the same time, we always existed. It’s back to the idea of archiving ourselves somehow, during the residency.

g: The core question is: what is the archive? Conventional archives host and produce records – products of technology, of remembrance. Which technologies did you re-appropriate during your residency? Could you elaborate on your decision for the results and what they address? From your point of view, what makes the digital framework suitable for non-normative perspectives?

The power of the diaspora is a crossroad, a confluence of forces, a struggle for survival, inventiveness, and creativity so as not to die. All my works have elements of ancestral technologies, these technologies1 make it possible to continue living, creating, and existing. I am always reappropriating these technologies, remembering and thanking them. Ancestry is a technology that makes it possible to produce infinity and to survive oppression head-on.

jô: The appropriation of an archive, not only in politics, but also in terms of our ancestry, encompasses the contradictions and imbalances of forces embedded in the act of archiving itself. How can we represent archiving in a way that is not conventional? How can we make sure we create memories for the future and, at the same time, also criticize normative archiving? How can we archive the existence of ourselves without forgetting the context of oppression we are inserted in?

For the web residency, we decided to create three episodes of sound and video pieces.

For the first sound-piece episode, we collected voices from migrant trans people from Berlin and abroad: Singapore, Brazil, Morocco. We tried to connect as many people as we could within our circle of artists and friends. We asked each of them to send us a one-minute sound file about their experience of being trans: their upbringing, their lives, feelings. In whatever language they preferred. Then we asked ourselves how each piece could be complemented, overlapped or not overlapped. And where do we need translations? In the second episode, Jota and I de-archive, from our positionality, experiences and voices, our own selves.

For the video pieces we recorded and edited performances representing all these problematics about the idea of archiving. In the first video, for example, we recorded and edited a performance we did: Two trans people wrapping  each other’s chests, throats, and mouths with transparent material. It has a layer of irony in it: It looks somehow like a violent act, a silencing attempt, although it doesn’t necessarily imply pain. A critical representation of archiving, we thought, should go together with a critical understanding of voice. Especially for us trans people, this a very important process of our transition, since society remains based on binary ideas of voice and gender. And these norms affect our voices, tonalities, and forces into the world, too.


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»Ancestry is a technology that makes it possible to produce infinity
and to survive oppression head-on.«

g: Voice is also linked to the right of existence. Voice is also linked to expressing yourself to really reevaluate yourself. This is what we do when we speak, we always continue to exist with our voice. Although I feel tense watching your video piece, the physical touch communicates the idea of loving and caring for each other.

jo: It has both this tension and this beauty of togetherness. Thats what we think archiving the whole spectrum of our existence is about.

g: jota, did the residential time and time thinking with Futura Trōpica Netroots influence new embodiment for performances?

jota: Yes, definitely. Futura Trōpica opened my eyes to the need to crack the system and make art accessible in places not thought of to have and see art. Hacking has a countercultural value because this set of rules, which presents itself as normality, falls apart by combining art with anti-commercial and anti-institutional practices.


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»How can we make sure we create memories for the future and,
at the same time, also criticize normative archiving?«

g: Finally, Id like to ask you two about your wishes for the future. What are you are looking forward to? Where do your dreams lead you?

jô​: Its always a difficult question because, right now Im trying to figure out how Im gonna pay my rent for the next month. Id like to feel the freedom of creating, because personally I think this whole migration process makes us, artists from the Global South, confront so many structural problems. Its a choice of doing art or being able to pay the bills. Im trying to stabilize a little bit in my personal life, but I am looking forward to pursuing translations of some books that in my understanding are crucial for an anti-colonial perception. Also, Id like to go on with my writings, especially a novel where I could somehow portray the existence and challenges of trans migrants in Berlin. And developing more of a continuity to my performative language too.

jota: Right now, Im looking forward to having peace of mind and space to be creative. Most of the time Berlin is a hostile environment. Being a trans person of color demands a lot of energy, you have to be aware all the time, with the first step you take out your door. Im looking forward to feeling safe. My dream leads me to a place where it is not a struggle to be an immigrant artist.

Jota Ramos is trans masculine multidisciplinary artist currently based in Berlin. For some years now, their research investigates tools to build an antiracist and powerful representation of trans BIPOC people’s sociality, identity, and their historical journey.

Jô Osbórnia (she/her) is a poet, performer, translator, and curator from Rio de Janeiro. She has been living in Berlin for six years

Gabriela Kühnhardt Alvarez (she/her) aka Kükelhahn, currently coordination fellow at Digital Solitude, focuses on visual and spatial practice online or AFK. Her research orbits around representation and the politics of visibility, with a specific interest in dreaming as a subversive tool to resist reality.

  1. Editor’s note: Technological innovations from the Global North were developed as agents of imperialism, providing power and imbalance and contributing to continued coloniality. To think of tech otherwise, it has to be questioned in order to change paradigms, for example with digital technology. Questions can arrive through situated knowledge challenging the hegemonic knowledge around tech. What is tech and where has technology developed elsewhere?

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