Beyond the Pink Tide: Art and Political Undercurrents in the Americas, by Macarena Gómez-Barris
Reviewed by Taylor Eggan
I first encountered Macarena Gómez-Barris’s work quite recently, in the midst of research for a project on ecology, phenomenology, and settler colonialism. Seeking out scholarship that considered alternatives to the perceptual modes that buttress settler colonial ways of being and knowing, I found myself increasingly drawn to decolonial thinkers and activists in and of Latin America. At some point in this research I came to Gómez-Barris’s exceptional book, The Extractive Zone (Duke University Press, 2017). Organized around “five extractive scenes of ruinous capitalism upon Indigenous territories,” the book examines each of these scenes via multiple engagements with decolonial theory and local phenomenologies as a way of thinking otherwise about particular social and geopolitical sites subjected to the violence of extractive capitalism. In its decolonial commitment to thinking beyond the social ecology of extractivism, Gómez-Barris’s book proves crucial for understanding and unsettling the coloniality of Nature.
In some ways Gómez-Barris’s more recent book, Beyond the Pink Tide (University of California Press, 2018), continues the important work of The Extractive Zone. Like the earlier volume, the later one remains thoroughly invested in the diverse strains of decolonial thinking that continue to emerge from the Global South. Beyond the Pink Tide also remains engaged in uncovering what in The Extractive Zone Gómez-Barris referred to as “submerged perspectives.” That said, whereas the earlier work emphasized more localized ways of sensing, knowing, and being, Beyond the Pink Tide takes a more transnational approach to uncover a range of art and political “undercurrents” that flow through(out) the Americas. In this sense Beyond the Pink Tide proves more ambitious than The Extractive Zone, for in addition to revealing submerged perspectives, it also boasts a broader aim: to encourage the development of what Gómez-Barris terms Transnational Americas Studies (TAS). As she describes it, TAS names a modality of academic and artistic research that “learns from the intersections and crosscurrents of interdisciplinary formations and pushes beyond the Cold War architecture of area studies” (11). TAS also encourages thinkers, artists, and activists to consider broadly “how the history of internationalism has always been intertwined with Black radical political critique and the quest for Indigenous sovereignty as well as creating and initiating alternatives to capitalism” (17).
In her own contribution to TAS in Beyond the Pink Tide, Gómez-Barris seeks out alternative sites of social life that exist—and even thrive—beyond the normative structures of the nation state. She does so by assembling a rich, living archive of artists, intellectuals, and activists whose work persistently refuses the framework of the state and state-centered politics, and instead centers underground perspectives and forges solidarities between marginalized communities both locally, regionally, and throughout the Global South.
The title of the book derives from the use of the term “Pink Tide” to refer to a host of experiments in “radical political democracy” that took place throughout Latin America over the past twenty years. Despite the extraordinary promise of the Pink Tide and the range of progressive policies governments were able to materialize during this period, the tide of radical democracy has begun to recede, giving way to various troubling turns, including neoliberal encroachments on and extractivism in Indigenous territories as well as retrenchment of social and political protections for LGBTQI+ communities. For Gómez-Barris, the Pink Tide’s broken promise reveals the shortcomings of reliance on state politics to imagine alternative futures. As political waves oscillate ceaselessly between Left and Right, the nation state cannot respond in robust and sustained ways to the credo, famously articulated in the 2001 slogan of the World Social Forum, that “Another world is possible.” In recognition of the limited possibilities of the state, Gómez-Barris urges artists, intellectuals, and activists to move “beyond” the Pink Tide, and to conjure otros mundos that “imagine politics beyond the narrow confines of the nation.”
The book itself features an introduction that delineates the outlines of Transnational Americas Studies, then proceeds through four chapters.
The first chapter investigates South-South solidarities through the figure of Ana Tijoux, a Chilean mestiza musician whose work is at once grounded in the global African diaspora and yet also, through collaborations with other artists, forges links with other struggles in the Global South, such as the struggles of the Palestinians. The South–South solidarities that play out in Tijoux’s music have, in turn, provided a soundtrack for widespread Latin American social movements, such as the student anti-debt movement.
Chapter 2 turns to what Gómez-Barris refers to as the queer “sexual underground” and the embodied politics of the specific, Latin American modality of lo cuir. Centering the work of the gay and trans performance artist and poet Pedro Lemebel, and particularly their manifesto titled “I Speak for My Difference” (“Hablo por mi diferencia”), Gómez-Barris endeavors to push beyond the politics of recognition for LGBTI+ folks and ask, “What spaces and voices challenge the heteronormative violence of nation-state politics?”
Chapter 3 shifts the scene to the US–Mexico border and investigates the work of conceptual and performance artists such as Teresa Margolles and Regina José Galindo. Emphasizing the forms of violence that emerge “in the shadow of border capitalism,” Gómez-Barris engages these artists’ work to reflect on how the normalization of violence at the border—and, indeed, the violence of the border itself—enforces particular conditions of living and dying, particularly for those made most vulnerable by statelessness and other forms of social, political, and economic marginalization.
The final chapter widens the lens in order to examine historical legacies of colonial incursion, emphasizing how those legacies at once enacted genocidal violence against the Ona, Selk’nam, and Yeguen peoples, and also shaped the cartographic imagination of Tierra del Fuego. Gómez-Barris centers Patricio Guzmán’s 2014 film, The Pearl Button, which meditates on the colonial (re)mapping of Chile that has resulted in a geopolitical imaginary that envisions that nation as a long, skinny territory definitively bounded by the Andes and the Pacific Ocean. Against this, Gómez-Barris (via Guzmán) engages with Indigenous environmental imaginaries that envision Tierra del Fuego as an archipelagic territory that extends beyond land–sea borders, encompasses the sky as well as the earth, and hence “reorient[s] our view toward land, sea, sky, and starlight.”
Given the range of thinkers, artists, and discursive as well as geopolitical topographies engaged in the book, it may come as a surprise that Beyond the Pink Tide comes in at a relatively short 113 pages (excluding endnotes). The book’s brevity is one of the characteristics it shares with the other volumes published as a part of the University of California Press’s series, “American Studies Now: Critical Histories of the Present,” edited by Lisa Duggan and Curtis Marez. The statement of purpose for the series explains that “American Studies Now offers concise, accessible, authoritative, e-first books on significant political debates, personalities, and popular phenomena quickly, while such teachable moments are at the forefront of public consciousness.”
An academic series that attends to urgent matters is an admirable and worthy project, particularly given the traditional demands of academic publishing that make for excruciatingly long turnaround times for books. The emphasis on accessible writing also strikes me as valuable, and Gómez-Barris clearly takes accessibility seriously in Beyond the Pink Tide, which takes good care of the reader through relatively jargon-free prose, a glossary to define the unusual terms that do appear, and frequent recapitulations of the argument. The book even opens with an “Overview” that outlines the concerns of each chapter with guiding questions and lists of key concepts and personages that appear within each.
Yet for this reader, the “quick”-ness of the book’s turnaround also felt evident in ways that sometimes worked to the volume’s detriment. Gómez-Barris’s writing is remarkably concise, and yet the confines of space and time nonetheless curtail a depth of analysis that feels necessary to draw out the many affiliations, solidarities, and artistic-cum-theoretical modes of thinking, perceiving, and being that she schematizes throughout the book. The moments of sustained analysis that do appear are generative and spot on, but too often (for me, at least) the writing felt more gestural than analytical, as if to indicate the richness of the field without fully elaborating it. As someone with a background in copy editing, I also couldn’t help but notice more editorial oversights than should reasonably appear in such a slim volume. Perhaps most egregious was the consistent misspelling of essential intellectual figures such as Achille Mbembe, spelled “Membe” on numerous occasions (73), as well as Jodi Byrd, spelled “Jody” (89), which is a tad ironic since Byrd provides an enthusiastic blurb on the book’s back cover. Of course, these are ultimately editorial issues and not meant to reflect negatively on Gómez-Barris. They simply indicate one challenge of accelerated publishing timelines for complex objects like books.
In the end, though, these qualms do not erode the value of Beyond the Pink Tide as a work of contemporary relevance and urgency that opens the door to Transnational Americas Studies. It’s a wide-ranging and visionary book that should be read, taught, and then opened out into further research and writing.
Gómez-Barris, Macarena. Beyond the Pink Tide: Art and Political Undercurrents in the Americas. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2018.
———. The Extractive Zone: Social Ecologies and Decolonial Perspectives. Durham: Duke University Press, 2017.