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Art & Social Space
Contemporary art, pedagogy and liberation.
by Marí­a Fernanda Cartagena

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Theology and liberation

In line with liberation pedagogy, liberation theology also addresses poverty in the continent. This theology also acknowledges the political dimension of its field of action. The theologian Juan José Tamayo-Acosta maintains that the political aspect had already been discussed by European political theologies, but Latin American theologians are not just another current in that tradition. “Their starting point is not abstract political reality but the situation in a dependent, dominated Latin America”, in which “the elements for analyzing the Latin American infrastructure are not mere external data of indirect, passing interest to theology; they are part and parcel of the business of theology…”.(4) This new way of engaging in theology begins with a critical appraisal of reality.

The liberation of theology was a paradigmatical process conducted in Latin America and meant expropriating the science from the exclusive domain of priests. Theology, viewed as a specialization or dogma and the designation of theologians as the sole voices authorized to speak of God, had led to a deep schism between faith-life and theory-reality. This theology is shaped around the recognition that everyone, the poor and oppressed in particular, are historical subjects capable of reflecting on and changing their own circumstances of injustice and inequity through their experience of God.

In 1968, in an atmosphere of expectation and desire to renew the church, the Second General Conference of the Latin American Episcopate (CELAM 2) was held in Medellín, Colombia. The Assembly declared itself in favor of a clear “preferential option for the poor” placing the liberation of all forms of servitude and salvation as the highest aspiration. This implied rethinking social and evangelizing processes in their entirety.

The Final Document of the Commission on Education, which was based on Freire’s ideas, made a harsh criticism of official education as the perpetrator of inequalities and supported a form of education promoting humankind in all its dimensions and making it an agent of its integral development.

At the Medellin conference, to elaborate on its pastoral reflection, this theology also sanctioned the theoretical-practical method of the Christian Worker Youth movement –SEE, JUDGE, ACT— developed by the Belgian priest José Cardijn at the turn of the twentieth century to form activists with an awareness of the preponderance of the spiritual over the material. The Christian Worker Youth movement had a strong impact in Latin America, and the appropriation of its methodology made it possible to engage in a critical interpretation of social, political and cultural reality. It was time to See, to train oneself to perceive daily life in depth by opening one’s eyes to the socio-economic and political reality of the people of Latin America; it was necessary to Judge, adopt a posture, discern in the light of faith; and to Act in response to the calling, the commitment, to spearhead actions aimed at change.

A clear example of that emancipatory, educational, and critical practice was the work of Monsignor Leonidas Proaño (1910-1988), a pioneer of liberation theology in Ecuador. Proaño created and promoted mechanisms that centered on community empowerment, grassroots organizing, awareness building and indigenous self-education. One of his most far-reaching projects was the Escuelas Radiofónicas Populares del Ecuador (People’s Radio Schools of Ecuador), designed to teach literacy to, create awareness among, rural populations. His challenge in building a community sermon lay in developing a method for communication, for which he dovetailed Paulo Freire’s method with that of the Christian Worker Youth movement.

Liberation pedagogy walked hand in hand with liberation theology in its criticism of the perpetration of predominant values and its questioning of the colonization of knowledge. They forged new ways of viewing and practicing education and theology in terms of the liberation of low-income strata as the only means of changing any hegemonic structure.

Liberation aesthetics

Several contemporary Ecuadorian artists have developed an acute sensitivity for dismantling the patterns of power related to the imposition of the colonial matrix in art or education. understood, According to Catherine Walsh, interculturality is a practice and project that promotes “contact and exchanges between cultures on equal terms; in conditions of equality (…) based on ongoing relationships, communication and learning between persons, groups, forms of knowledge, values, traditions, types of logic, different rationalities designed to generate, build and foster mutual respect and the full development of the capacities of individuals and collectives, over and above their cultural and social differences”.(5)

Pablo Sanaguano has devoted much of his art practice to working with native communities in the province of Chimborazo, where from an early age he witnessed their exploitation first hand. His skill for sketching served to initiate a dialogue with native people by offering to give drawing classes in neighborhoods and communities. Through this initial encounter he became aware of the weight of colonialism in the defeatist, impotent attitude attributed to their ethnic roots and poverty. He was also witness to the demeaning of native culture. Many admitted that they preferred to “sidle up” to the dominant culture, since “it is better to imitate than to be scorned”. During his early experiences Sanaguano conceived art as an opportunity for holding collective gatherings and learning, and above all as a possibility of cultivating humanity. The early workshops he organized were characterized by the open attitude shown towards and the value placed on speaking up, in which everyone had a voice and thus became equal players in a process: dialogue viewed through a perspective of equality, and stemming from the fact that each and every person has the attitude of an artist, a quality and value understood as inconformity, risk, the desire to change realities, shape other viewpoints, strengthen sensitivities and celebrate others’ differences.(6)

Sanaguano was trained in grassroots ecclesial communities in Chimborazo that followed Monsignor Proaño’s process, and subsequently traveled to France to study art at an academy that favored a reflective attitude over technical skill. In his workshops he follows the seeing, judging and acting methodology and believes that art fosters and strengthens this process through feeling, thus opening channels to emotions and affections.(7)

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