Border Field State Park / Imperial Beach, San Diego, California. Tony Webster from Portland, Oregon, United States, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
The study of the Americas, an interdisciplinary specialization shaped by and during the Cold War, has traditionally been confined within hard geopolitical borders defined by those from the Global North. Rooted in colonial histories of domination, these rigid contours work to smooth out social, cultural, and political complexities; obscure practices that operate outside of dominant narratives; and produce neatly divided generations and geographies that betray their varied instabilities and interconnections. Despite these inherent problems, area-specific study still functions as a critical space of visibility for historically marginalized peoples, practices, and places. As Arlene Dávila, Professor of Anthropology and American Studies at New York University, has stated regarding the creation of the National Museum of the American Latino: “I would love to be in a universe where we don’t need to have culturally specific museums because we do have a diverse museum world that represents all of us… But I don’t live in that society right now. I don’t know if we’re going to be living in that society a hundred years from now.”1 It is to this dilemma that Macarena Gómez-Barris’s easily digestible Beyond the Pink Tide: Art and Political Undercurrents in the Americas also responds. For Gómez-Barris, the path forward lies in “Transnational Americas Studies,” creating currents that flow underneath and through the Americas, particularly in the way that water often disrespects the territorial borders of the nation-state.
Both in the “undercurrents” from her subtitle and throughout the text as a whole, Gómez-Barris evocatively uses water as a metaphor to center fluidity and permeability in the transnational examination of the Americas. The “Pink Tide” that denotes her archive refers to the left-leaning political turn across Latin America in the early 2000s, the crest and fall of which Gómez-Barris herself witnessed in Ecuador when President Rafael Correa’s administration (2007–17) reverted to the repressive and corrupt tactics utilized by its predecessors. Despite her disillusionment with this political period, Gómez-Barris urges us to resist a flattened, dominant narrative of the Pink Tide’s nation-state failures. Instead, she offers ways for us to think more deeply about the interconnected artistic, social, political, and cultural movements flowing underneath and beyond the nation-state, what she calls “embodied alternatives” emanating from queer, youth, trans-feminist, Indigenous, and anticapitalist perspectives.
Gómez-Barris’s Transnational Americas Studies takes on four case studies in her monograph. Chapter 1 centers on Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux, whose album “1977” became the soundtrack to the nation’s 2011 student movement. While acknowledging how the album spoke to Chile’s specific brand of disaster capitalism, Gómez-Barris looks more to Tijoux’s diasporic identity as a platform for “sonic political disruption,” creating transnational solidarities across global spaces of occupation. Similarly, Chapter 2 looks beyond the historic fight for nation-state recognition of LGBTQ+ legal rights to instead outline a cuir archive of critique and sociality from the sotanó, or sexual underground, a concept drawn from trans artist and activist Pedro Lemebel. Gómez-Barris’s deliberate use of the term cuir asserts Lemebel’s archive as emerging from a space of enunciation outside of Anglo-American queer discourses. Through in-depth analysis of Lemebel’s writing and performances as part of Las Yeguas del Apocalipsis during the 1980s and 1990s, the chapter offers a critical disruption to generational and temporal divides in histories of resistance enacted by cuir and trans publics.
In Chapter 3, Gómez-Barris turns to art’s potential to expose the realities of what Sayek Valencia has termed “gore capitalism,” the ways in which violences enacted on marginalized bodies are commodified within capitalist systems. Here, Gómez-Barris considers how recent works by Indigenous art collective Post-Commodity, Mexican artist Teresa Margolles, and Guatemalan artist Regina José Galindo expose the disproportional vulnerabilities and disposabilities of those who inhabit the US/Mexico border. In her final, culminating case study, Gómez-Barris reads Patricio Guzmán’s 2014 film The Pearl Button as conceiving land and sea, not as territories divided and administered by geopolitical power, but as memory keepers: embodied witnesses to the extended histories of colonial violence.
As a whole, Beyond the Pink Tide proves the generativity of Gómez-Barris’s Transnational Americas Studies, emerging from but ultimately not reducible to Chilean practices and identities. This is scholarship that shows what we miss, both aesthetically and politically, if we allow nation-state territories to dictate the scope of study. Perhaps ironically, the weakest of the book’s chapters is the one that focus on a borderland between nations: the case studies organized around the US/Mexico border. Whereas in other chapters, Gómez-Barris centered on one primary cultural agent, their social impacts and theoretical resonances, in this chapter attentions are divided between three different artists whose works are somewhat overshadowed by a preoccupation with contemporary border scholarship. All are part of a vast undercurrent of artistic practices that expose the ongoing violences of border policing, but by the end of the chapter it was not clear to me how they offer what Gómez-Barris describes as “critical hope” in their “remixing” of the practices of dehumanization. Including works that seek to transform both perceptions and the physical experience of the border through art—for example Judi Werthein’s Brinco (2005) or The Transborder Immigrant Tool by Electronic Disturbance Theater 2.0/b.a.n.g. lab (2007-ongoing)—may have helped demonstrate this key takeaway.
Nonetheless, Beyond the Pink Tide is an invaluable resource for regionally-focused scholars seeking to expand their methodologies beyond reductive disciplinary parameters. Gómez-Barris’s ability to distill complex concepts and link new modes of thinking to easily understandable case studies makes her chapters readily adaptable for students, and educators will appreciate the short summaries and guiding questions included in the table of contents. Those concerned with the study of visual arts of the present will welcome the challenge to static definitions of politics found throughout the text, as well as the ongoing assertion of art’s ability to move beyond the visual and imagine alternative futures. Read in the wake of intersecting social, economic, and political upheavals that transcended ideas of the nation-state in 2020, perhaps the most energizing aspect of the publication is its call to move beyond narratives rooted in disillusionment and failure towards the generative optimism located in social creativities. I, for one, would welcome a second edition that allows Gómez-Barris to reflect on the impact of recent events—moving us beyond yet another tide.
- Quoted by Elizabeth Blair in “What Do We Mean When We Talk About ‘Latino Art’?,” NPR Code Switch. Accessed June 1, 2023. https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2013/11/25/246139726/what-do-we-mean-when-we-talk-about-latino-art