Posted by Luisa Fernanda Alarcón Criales , MA Student at Tisch
Recipient of the Tinker Grant 2021
Posted by Luisa Fernanda Alarcón Criales , MA Student at Tisch
Recipient of the Tinker Grant 2021
I applied for the CLACS Tinker Foundation Field Research Grant to attempt to examine if La Feria de Cali 2021 performances collectively mourn the recent wave of death and police brutality over the summer 2021 uprisings in Cali, Colombia. La Feria de Cali 2021 main theme was “Death” and was divided in 6 days that were named: December 25 “Esperanza” [Hope]; December 26 “Optimismo” [Optimism]; December 27 “Autoreconocimiento” [self-recognition]; December 28 “Esperanza” [Hope]; December 29 “Resiliencia” [Resilience]; December 30 “Caleñidad” [To be from Cali]. I was looking forward to making a comparison with the archives of the first version of La Feria de Cali in 1957, which started after a colossal explosion killed 4,000 people and injured 12,000, in order to make a close reading of performances of death, spectacles of violence, and to expand the concept developed by Diana Taylor “percepticide”, but within the concept of the Colombia endless war. I wrote a little bit each day about my thoughts after coming back home.
December 25, 2021
Feria de Cali - Salsódromo (Esperanza) [Hope]
La Feria started with salsa dance groups from all over the city. La Feria had a theme in common which was “death”, but for this very specific day, the performances were divided in chunks that represented overall “hope”. The route is organized as a parade. On one side you have grandstands, and for a big portion of the route, on the other side, there is a dirty water canal. I purchased tickets to be in la graderia (grandstands), and I was located in about the middle of the route, so in front of me was the canal. Each ticket was $108,000 pesos about 30 dollars, which is a lot of Colombian money to have access to a sitting area. People who cannot afford the sitting area show up very early and stand on the other side of the canal. However, further down the route, the parade encounters another street far from the canal where people stand on either side of the road for free. The parade lasts around three hours, but people remain standing for long hours a day under sun and rain hoping to get the best spot on the sides of the road that are for free.
The dancers were amazing, but they were dancing on asphalt. Women were dancing in high heels, so sometimes they openly displayed how tired and in pain they were. They caressed their knees, and tried to stretch their feet at any given moment. There were two performances that I was able to see completely and that impacted me the most, since there were many performances happening at the same time. They both were very remarkable and meaningful. One of them in particular caught my attention because it started with a person representing a dead body that was later on resuscitated by one of the salsa dancers. Throughout the salsodromo the salsa music that they were playing was all about death and hope, so I made a playlist to later on close listen to it.
People were drinking and cheering tremendously on the performers, but I did not overhear anyone speaking about the specific themes represented at La Feria or about the overall theme of death, even though they were openly displayed and announced before they started each performance.
Salsa al Pascual
Later on I went to the concert, in which the performers from the salsodromo were present as well. This time there was no specific reference to the theme “death” nor “hope,” but all of the orquestras invited to perform throughout La Feria were present there. The concert was from about 8pm to 3am. Some of the most iconic and most popular salsa orquestas were present such as Maelo Ruiz, Guayacan Orquesta, Los Van Van de Cuba, Los Hermanos Lebron, and many others. All of these orquestas performed all over the city for free throughout the rest of La Feria, but in this one concert with all of them together, they did charge the public for entrance. At about 12 am, some of the dancers from el salsodromo enter the arena to perform. They later on danced for a few moments with audience members, and left.
December 26, 2021
“La Fiesta de mi Pueblo” (Optimismo) [Optimism]
This time different groups from all over Valle del Cauca were invited to participate in the parade. This event took place in the same location as el salsodromo, but I decided to experience it standing on the side of the road this time. Since the theme was optimism, all the groups had a kind of carnival spirit. Some had live music playing and different traditional types of music and dances were taking place. Most of the groups were displaying flags from the towns they were coming from. There was one interaction that caught my attention, which was a dancer who threw her skirt at the police’s faces. I thought of it as a politically interesting move that was smartly camouflaged in the choreography, and I am captivated by how ephemeral the act was.
December 27, 2021
“Ciudad Alegría” (Autoreconocimiento) [self-recognition]
On the day of “self-recognition”, I went to Ciudad Alegría, for which the Universidad del Valle was in charge and took place from 10am to 6pm. There was information about the animals and plants that we have in the city, a variety of games for kids, and fun math and science experiments for all ages. Thinking in Cali geographically in relation to the recent set of events, and what constitutes Cali as a city, monuments became a big part of my focal point. Within the strike over the summer 2021, the monument to Sebastian de Belalcazar, a colonizer who allegedly is attributed the discovery of the city was thrown down by the Mizak Indigenous Nation. This statue was located in an affluent neighborhood that oversees the rest of the city from the west. Right in front of it to the east, the city was uprising, at the same time that a monument to resistance was being constructed by the people who were taking part in the strike. As Sebastian, who was pointing out to the east with his finger was coming down, a huge fist was coming up at the heart of the uprising. And for the first time, the city is now looking at the east that directs us to rise to the sky. So I am wondering, how can we really self-recognize ourselves as people from Cali, Colombia without fully acknowledging and taking responsibility for our past, present and future?
December 28, 2021
“Cali Viejo” (Esperanza) [Hope]
There was a lot to untangle at this parade. There were beautiful comparsas, dances, and music presented to the audience. I got to see some of my old and new friends perform. As I am at the parade under the rain and mud, I am thinking about the concept of necropolitics, the commoditization of death and how this whole armed conflict here in Colombia is based on. I was deeply shocked that the naturalization of violence has reached a point in which a shotgun has been turned into a humorous act as part of the representation of the “Old Cali”. Or how a couple fighting and marrying each other, and fighting again becomes what people feel they identified themselves with. A lot of questions are popping up such as, who made these choices? How were they made? But I also think I have a lot already at this point in the research that I need to start connecting back with readings, and that I need to rewatch and rethink where they are standing and what they are representing or not.
December 29, 2021
“Tarde cultural” (Resiliencia) [Resilience]
A lot of different events were happening at the same time this day; however, I chose to be at “Tarde Cultural” in La Loma de la Cruz where folklore dance and music performances were taking place. La Cachada dance truly grabbed my attention. It is a staged machete fight after the dancers allegedly are faking being drunk on stage. This particular dance displays violence in a comical way that engages the audience to dance with them at the end. I was invited to dance and was truly caught up with the moment, and a funny picture we took at the end. But thinking critically about this dance and its implications with Antioquia, Colombia, where it comes from; a lot of questions regarding “percepticide” and spectacles of violence that Diana Taylor has worked around came through. I wonder how performance contributes to the naturalization of violence, or does performance zoom in the bigger issues to help them be noticed?
Later on that night, I went to the “urban” concert in which Hendrix B was performing. Hendrix B and Junior Jein had sung together a very beautiful and heartbreaking song in the name of the 5 children that were killed in Llano Grande in 2020. However, Junior Jein was killed in 2021 in the midst of the uprising. So having Hendrix B perform that particular song was of transcendental importance that speaks directly to the current wave of violence that the city is experiencing, and particularly in the Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities. His performance entangled with the theme of the day “resilience” is something that I need to think further about.
December 30th, 2021
“Caleñidad” To be from Cali.
It was the closing day of the Feria de Cali, so I decided to walk around the center of the city where all the Christmas lights were displayed. There were big signs right outside the Mayor’s office that read Te Queremos Cali [We love you Cali]. There were a lot of street vendors, and definitely the city had this festive air quality that just six months ago was impossible to foresee. However, I have to say that this sign, in which I took a smiling photo, makes me look into how the city is actually doing and what love looks like to the state. Throughout the uprising the traffic lights were taken down, and the stations where public transportation transits were burned. Over six months later, this remains to be the everyday reality. Multiple traffic lights have not been put up, and most of the public transportation stations are abandoned, especially the ones located near my house towards the north/east of the city. People have found ways to help themselves economically and provide such a needed service for the community, so they have been standing where traffic lights are missing and redirecting traffic as much as they can to avoid accidents, and asking drivers, motorcycles, bicycles, and walking neighbors to spare money in exchange. Plus, the conditions of the street asphalt are absolutely deteriorating. There are so many holes that drivers are constantly struggling between avoiding the holes and bumping into each other. It is an imminent threat for bickers, motorcycles, and people who are walking by. All of this is happening as one of the main events of the city is taking place; therefore, the economy of the city “mobilices”. Is this a form of systemic punishment to Caleños who were uprising?
January 17th-19th, 2022
In order to access the city archives, I needed the public offices opened. So I had to wait until the very last days of my trip. I spent most of my time throughout these days at the Secretary of Culture, the Bank of the Republic, and at the Departmental Library. I found truly helpful people who guided me through and gave me access to a lot of useful information. However, many of the offices were closed since the new contracts by the
state were starting in mid-February to the beginning of March, but I couldn't wait until then. Therefore, I went through the newspapers archives, the history of the very first neighborhoods build in Cali, the historical archives of the bomb that killed over 4000
people, the archives of the decrees signed that contributed to the creation of La Feria de Cali, and overall all the books in the relation to La Feria that I was able to access. Thankfully, a lot of the material was available online, but for almost all of it I had to take pictures with my phone.
I was also not able to access the archives at Instituto Popular de Cultura as I would have liked it because like other public institutions, it was closed. I have their email address, but so far I have not felt that I need to reach out to them, as I was able to gather quite a lot of data.
Overall, it was a stressful experience to go over the archives mainly because everything was working halfway through since most people had not had their contracts renewed then. I think in the future, I will take into consideration the fact that public institutions have different schedules throughout the holidays. Perhaps, I should have come back during spring break in order to fully access the broad amount of information that offices running at full capacity might have to offer. However, I think for now I should be fine with what I got.