What do they do with our stories, our bodies, and our bones? | Fresco #7: Río Paraná
Río Paraná is a pair of trans visual artists composed of Duen Sacchi and Mag de Santo. They are performers, writers, researchers, curators, and educators. In their work, they create projects and exhibitions that intersect with political imagination, social fiction, sexual dissidence, and anti-colonialism. We spoke with the duo about their most recent exhibition, “La Pisada del Ñandú,” in Fresco, our interview series featuring new voices in the world of visual arts. Designed at the memory site Ex ESMA, recently declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the exhibition is on display until February at the Haroldo Conti Cultural Center in Buenos Aires.
By Luciana Demichelis
How and when was Río Paraná born?
In 2016, in Buenos Aires, at a political assembly of trans people that brought together artists, unionists, and students, we met. We created our first artistic research project on positivist archives a few months later. We were concerned about the reception of positivism in Argentina and the institutionalization of sexism and racism. From there, we didn’t stop. Over time, we realized that Mag came with theoretical tools from LGBTIQ activism, queer movements, and feminism, while Duen had more experience with anti-racism and anti-colonialism. We changed our name, country, residence, and gender, but we’ve been working together for seven years.
Photobook: Farroupilha – André Penteado
Our first project was “Mi Pantera Criminal,” at the end of 2016 and throughout 2017. We received an Iberescena grant to go to the Lombroso Museum in Italy. We found incredible things, such as photos of sex workers in Mar del Plata in Turin, along with letters sent by Emilio Mitre to Lombroso, asking him to investigate if they were innate criminals or criminals due to their way of life. From this research, we wrote a play and performed it in a circus tent during an artistic residency at L’Estruch in Catalonia. However, that project wasn’t widely publicized. We would love to revisit it, but that’s how it goes with projects. Some have a long life, while others involve extensive research but have limited dissemination.
In reality, our first exhibition was in 2018, “¿Qué hacen con nuestros huesos?” in Spain. We researched a Frenchman who published a text titled “Journey to Patagonia,” where he described a series of events, including the desecration of Tehuelche graves, dismemberment of bodies, and acts of looting. During the research process, we came across an image of a skull with the name of Count Henry de Lavaux tattooed on it. This led us to the story of a Tehuelche man whose grave was desecrated and is currently unburied. He was classified as a possible “missing link for Darwin” and known as the “Patagonian giant.” His remains were exhibited in the Museum of Man in the center of Paris until 2009. The Tehuelche man’s name was Sakamata, and his family in present-day Chubut has been fighting for years to have his body returned for a dignified burial. Cristina Liempichun Sakamata is leading this fight, and last year, the French government accepted the Argentine government’s request to return the body. We made slightly illegal copies of the expedition photos of the Count and gave them to Cristina for use in the community. For the exhibition, we decided not to display these photos but to create jewelry with the name of the desecrator, a mortuary plaque detailing the violence committed by the Count, and a mural with maps that both the French and Argentine governments used to mark the areas they wanted to conquer.
What were the main challenges of the exhibition “La Pisada del Ñandú” at the Centro Cultural Conti in Buenos Aires, MAC in Panama, and La Virreina in Barcelona?
A common challenge was to create a visual presentation that did not exoticize transracialized communities. We focused on an ethical approach rather than the effectiveness of an image’s impact. This varies depending on the context of the presentation. In a position of power, like the streets of Barcelona, for example, we chose not to use images that focused on nudity or carnivals. In Panama, where the rights of trans people are still not granted, we are criminalized. Indigenous people working at the museum helped us better understand the context, and our approach was to collaborate with associations and individuals who could accompany and advise us. In Buenos Aires, the installation process was very long, and it coincided with election time when our lives were at stake as part of campaign proposals.
How did you envision the connections between decoloniality and the trans experience, transcending gender binaries?
The idea of transcending the binary isn’t particularly appealing to us. Instead, we focus on historical constructions surrounding what we now call body, gender, sexuality, and their affective, political, and social relationships. We aim to understand how historical conditions have transformed the body we inhabit. We emphasize the impact of colonialism and the coloniality of knowledge-power on us and explore how alternative ways of relating to the body, gender, and sexuality have existed alongside hegemonic ones. We investigate how these alternative narratives have been categorized, erased, recognized, and updated. We do this through historical documents (colonial archives, repression archives), identity archives created to validate our existence (trans memory archive, LGBTQ memory archive in Salta), and by examining the work of artists who put all these reflections into perspective.
What was the most striking feedback you received during your exhibitions?
Any comments, critiques, or articles that stood out?
There were several notable responses, ranging from the surprise in Spain regarding the existence of stolen documentary resources from indigenous communities and the difficulty of accessing them, something we take for granted here. Young museum workers from trans, indigenous, and Afro communities facilitated the powerful appropriation of the exhibition in Panama. There was also a bomb threat from far-right groups while we set up the exhibition at the CCHConti in Buenos Aires.
How do you envision creating new spaces to decentralize perspectives, a central theme in your exhibition series?
Many artists, researchers, curators, and cultural leaders in our country are working intensively to create ways to represent the uniqueness of our perspectives and artistic practices. The transformation of spaces, infrastructure, and the possibility of change is a long and complex social process. It’s not impossible, of course. “La Pisada del Ñandú,” for example, proposes small things to put into discussion and dispute. Even a small gesture like the need to paint walls, can completely challenge institutional structures, from a subjective to an economic level. The white cube is entirely naturalized and affects the legitimacy of practices and perspectives regarding artists and curators. On the other hand, we believe it’s worth experimenting with the idea of supportive, friendly spaces. Affirming that art and culture are rights for all is truly radical in these times.
How can an artist contact you if they want to introduce one of their projects for inclusion in one of your exhibitions?
The quickest way is through Instagram at @rioo_paranaaa or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit our website at sacchidesanto.myportfolio.com. To see the “La Pisada del Ñandú” exhibition in Buenos Aires, you can visit Centro Cultural de la Memoria Haroldo Conti (8151 Libertador Avenue) from Tuesday to Sunday until February. Admission is free.