How can the ideas of timelessness and anachronism contribute to the decolonization of design practices in Latin America?
Latin American history is a woven pattern stained with the marks of colonialism and violence. Within this complex fabric, life often gains an absurd and surreal nature that blurs the line between fiction and stranger-than-fiction. Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s landmark book A Hundred Years of Solitude is a perfect example of this delicate balance.
Coloniality defines science and tradition, technology and magic. No wonder modernity is a process that positions those across the river in the center, and all others in the periphery. While Macondo has its own share of miracles—Remedios’ ascent to the heavens, Melquíades’ return from the dead and predictions of the town’s future, and the rain of flowers to mourn José Arcadio’s death—it is the miracles from the outside world—water made into ice cubes, false teeth, locomotives—that are seen as proof of the town’s backwardness and the other side’s development.
Design is one of the processes that fosters [the] artificial distinction between magical instruments and traditional knowledge. As a discipline born and established in Europe—and hence within the paradigm of modernity, progress, and development—design produces and perpetuates this epistemological and technological regime of domination. Granted, design literature often portrays Latin America as a place of non-design and thus of non-development before European epistemologies arrived with the establishment of the first (Western, tradition-oriented) design schools in the continent. In drawing clear borders between vernacular and industry, and tradition and expertise, it seeks to determine what design is by defining what it is not. Thus, design enforces the erasure of any non-European, non-Western, and non-modern modes of being in the world, in favor of a centralized gaze of what development should be.
Both fictional Macondo and real Latin America are places that are in a constant state of catching up, and striving to become modern by design. In doing so, they repeat the past in the present, while the future keeps arriving but is ultimately never there. Systems of coloniality of knowledge, design being one of them, force us to dwell in this process, by constraining our view of ourselves to that of the colonizer’s perspective.
Article published in June 2016 at XRDS:Crossroads, a magazine from ACM. The full text is available on this link.
Cover image by XRDS: All rights reserved.