Amilcar Packer

Photographer, visual artist, philosopher


From your point of view, what are the main questions and problems of the Global South?

I will begin with two statements. The first is from Chilean poet Vicente Huidobro: “The four cardinal points are three, North and South.” The second is from Swedish-Argentine artist Runo Lagomarsino: “If you don’t know what the South is, it’s simply because you are from the North.” I like both of these very much, but, at the same time, I think that I see things a bit differently.

The “Global South” is a term that has been used to replace – in a more politically correct manner – the use of terms such as “Third World,” “underdeveloped countries” or “developing countries.” This is a way to generate a supposedly less colonialist and subservient denotation, and a priori, a potentially emancipative one. But, as with these terms, just like the term Latin America, which I would like to bring into the discussion, the “Global South” is extremely problematic, simplistic, ambiguous and too general a concept. It establishes supposedly objective, scientific criteria, such as language and/or global hemisphere (etymology, compass and the equator), which, in reality, conceal crucial historical-social-political-economic-racial contexts that for centuries have been violated by colonial systems – and that I may add, are still pertinent – and capitalism in its various manifestations. Part of Canada is French-speaking, a Latin-based language, but it is not considered part of Latin America. There are an estimated 41 million native Spanish speakers in the United States – that is more than 10% of the total U.S. population and equivalent to the entire population of Argentina. Yet this is not enough for the United States to be considered part of Latin America. It should also be recalled that Puerto Rico, commonly referred to as the 51st State of America, is said to be a “Free associated state,” and Spanish is its official language.

In other words, the nation states that “did well,” that are part of a select group of countries considered to be developed and that are located in the Southern Hemisphere of the planet, such as Australia and New Zealand, are not considered to be part of the “Global South.” Norway is a country that spent a good portion of its existence under the domination of Denmark and was later given as a present to the Swedish court. In the 19th century, more than half of the population migrated because of hunger and poverty, and it was only after the 1950s that the country “bought” its entrance into the “civilized world” by means of petroleum extraction. In my mind, there is every reason that Norway should be considered a former colony, since a large portion of its native populations (the Sami) were attacked and expelled. They speak a language that can be thought of as a general language, a sort of Danish “creol”. And they were exploited for centuries by other nations.

So, the majority of the states in the “Global South” are in the planet’s Northern Hemisphere. And that said, Latin America and the Global South do not refer exactly to that which they formulate. This is not a mere detail, because the epistemic positioning of being (from) the “Global South” places countries, peoples, groups, individuals, regions and cultures in a subservient position right from the start. This is somewhat implicit in the question, since some places, some bodies, some historically marked “things” are predetermined by definition through “questions and problems” – questions which as such must be resolved.

It is as if being part of the “Global South” would necessarily mean being in a position that demands some type of explanation, justification, response or search for a solution for and because of its precariousness, poverty and violence. Or, alternatively, it requires some kind of prideful almost nationalist self-affirmation. Both processes occur with regard to the reference par excellence to the “Global North” and the reverence attributed to it. The “North” is considered the “guiding light,” the direction to follow, the right path, etc. The word usage reveals the colonialist grammar that is implied in the term “Global South.”

What determines a place in the “Global South” is not geographic positioning, being located in the Southern Hemisphere, or the absence of sin, to paraphrase [Brazilian singer] Ney Matogrosso. Just as what determines a place in the “Global North” is not to be located in the Northern Hemisphere. I don’t know, perhaps we should speak of the “Colonial South,” “the Colonized South,” the “Genocidal South” and the “Imperialist North,” “the Beligerant North.” Or better yet, abolish this geographic polarity, for which to a large extent a possible resolution would be a sort of reversal or inversion of poles, as if the “Global South” could one day become, turn into the “Global North,” and thus provide alternatives that could “save” itself and the planet from violence and generalized destruction.

So, to answer the question: For me, one of the fundamental issues of the regions, countries and people grouped together into the “Global South” is precisely having to regularly respond to a colonial epistemology, loaded with variant and generalizing terms, compositions and geopolitical foci that are imposed on them as a condition of existence. I believe that this situation impedes formulations that can deal with the local complexities, tensions and specificities, which can produce self-determination in a dynamic manner in the imagination of possible emancipators whose ethos is capable of establishing mechanisms for a sustained predominance of social justice.

What purpose does the “Global South” serve? Whose interests does the “Global South serve? We could continue this line of questioning, but let’s say tautologically, that, in my mind, the most fundamental problems and questions regarding the “Global South” have to do with the fact that part of the world has been transformed into the “Global South.” This causes the South and particularly the “Global South” to become the problem and not something that has problems to resolve. The South, and more specifically the “Global South” as part of the South, will not save itself, it will not save the Global North and much less the world.

Where are the gaps in the South-South dialog? ?

The answer above informs much of the answer to this second question. Implicit in this question is the understanding that there is an existing South-South dialog, and that there are gaps in this dialog, as well as the fact that these gaps can be located in some place. Thus, I believe that we have the responsibility to at least make clear what we understand by “dialog;” what “South” we are speaking of when we say “South-South;” and what do we mean by “gaps.”

We begin with the gaps because perhaps is it easier. If I understand well, “gaps” here indicate something missing, a deficit, a problem, a defect, an opening that, whether purposely or not, remains open and that, who knows, can, could, or might be filled in one day. This gap may also be a blank or white space: fill in the gap or leave it open. Perhaps we could call the gaps here “whites’ spaces,” those who have the luxury or the privilege of not responding, of remaining silent, of not being marked, but to be a type of ontological support, the brand material.

This gap as whites’ space once again brings the same logic I was talking about above: that there is something wrong and needs to be resolved, filled in. And this is normalized and becomes fact. In the same way the gap to be filled in appears as an opportunity (for whites?), and in the world in which we live, this is a business mindset. With this comes the risk of thinking that the gaps are there to be filled in, and further, taken as an opportunity for capitalization. So the colonially marked bodies and territories are thought of (once again) in term of what they could potentially supply, as an opportunity, in their lacunar character.

From “dialog” we expect conversation, a relationship, link, exchange, partnership, collaboration, or treaties, agreements. All of this in a certain dialogical reciprocity that would not be based on asymmetrical power relations, inequality and subjection. By South-South in the present context we thus speak of relations between countries and regions, agents, authors, groups, collectives, associations, institutions, companies, and government of those who are stipulated as being from the “Global South”: from South America, Central America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East and a good portion of Asia. These are countries that were at one time called under-developed, or developing, Third World, which were colonized and which experienced colonial wars and/or wars of integrated global capitalism, whose economic systems and forms of labor organization were and are based on slavery and segregation, and whose borders, among so many other things, were imposed by the empires of the “Global North,” in unilateral agreements and treaties without the consent of the people who live there and who in some cases still dare, risking their lives, to live there.

To speak of “South-South dialog” brings something of an idea of a relationship between peers, between equals or at least those who are supposedly similar. But, if what binds together the “Global South” is precisely the colonial situation, the subservience, the subjugation, the imposition of the condition of underdevelopment, the precariousness of infrastructure and political organizations, as well as the financial poverty, the economic, social, racial, political and cultural violence, how is it possible to establish a dialog between peers if the condition imposed is one of subjugation and destitution? You are put in a position of having to accept that which is imposed to be able to speak, to be able to speak about this, only about this and based only on this.

The “Global South” status necessarily creates a position of indebtedness, lacking something, lacunal. To speak of the “Global South” is a way of perpetuating the imposition of a historically lacunary situation, evoking something deficient and defective, for a good portion of the planet. We must think that perhaps today there are more relations between Brazil and South Africa than between Brazil and Peru, than between São Paulo and Manaus, or between Jardins and São Miguel Paulista. In other words, you can live as if you are in the “Global North” while in the “Global South” and engage in intense and regular “South-South” dialogs with someone who lives the life of the “Global North.” In other words, are these polar divisions sufficiently precise and critical tools for dealing with the complexity of the colonial remains, of extractivism, of the worldwide expansion of capitalism and particularly of the financialization of the world? It appears to me to be essential to think that the processes of decentralization and of combatting the asymmetries of power are neither axial nor linear or between opposing groups. For this reason, one must no longer accept generalizing geopolitical coordinates.

How does the episode “Urgencies,” in which you participated, relate to these gaps and problematics?

Well, this progression of answers is like a domino effect. Urgências! is one of the initiatives that we began to organize in 2016 in partnership with the Goethe-Institut São Paulo, as part of the Program of Autonomous Cultural Actions (P.A.C.A.), which began in 2014, and which now includes the participation of Suely Rolnik, Tatiana Roque, Max Jorge Hinderer Cruz and myself. The Urgências! sessions should thus be seen as part of a series of actions that as of now includes the Public Seminar: Micropolitics, which was organized between 2014 and 2016 by Max, Acácio Augusto and myself, and the various presentations we’ve given since 2015 in the Casa do Povo [House of the People] and their recordings, which are available online at:https://vimeo.com/user6047650, as well as the texts published in the Jornal Nossa Voz (Journal, Our Voice).

These are small gestures that we hope can contribute to public conversation as a politics of production of subjectivity, ways of forging and disseminating tools for critical intervention in the local reality and which perhaps will resonate beyond this. The P.A.C.A. has a partnership with the Goethe-Institut São Paulo and, in this, is part of the Episodes of the South, that is, it is one of the episodes. But our activities do not focus on the “Global South,” nor do they elaborate on the “Global South” or use this terminology. We also do not think of an axial or geopolitical privilege of and for the discussions that we are trying to promote.

Amilcar Packer is the Coordinator of P.A.C.A. (Program for Autonomous Cultural Action). He was nominated for the PIPA Prize in 2012. His works in video and photography comment on the limits of the body and its relationship to space.