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Body/Images – Foreign/Gazes: (Feminine) Territoriality and Corpography in Latin American graphic narratives (2019-)

Jasmin Wrobel, RA 4: Literary Currencies
Postdoctoral Research Project

Over the last two decades, graphic narratives have become a prominent artistic space of feminist resistance in Latin America. Although the comics scene is still dominated by male artists and readers, women are increasingly using the medium to question and de- and reframe hegemonic and heteronormative social structures and visualities. They are, moreover, challenging and re-appropriating lines imposed not only by their male peers but also by colonial and ‘Western’ art traditions. As Tim Ingold (2007) argues, the ‘imposition of lines’ is a modus operandi of colonialism, which “proceeds first by converting the paths along which life is lived into boundaries in which it is contained, and then by joining up these now enclosed communities, each confined to one spot, into vertically integrated assemblies.” Such ideas were recently taken up in relation to graphic narratives during the international conference ‘Crisis Lines: Coloniality, Modernity, Comics’ (City, University of London, 9-10 June 2021). Drawing on Boaventura de Sousa Santos’s (2007) reference to the ‘abyssal line structuring of Western Modernity’, this project will develop and expand on these interventions by exploring the anti-colonial potential of comics and graphic narratives by Latin American women.

The examination of (neo)colonial relations, (neo)extractivism, and reproductive rights in Latin America is taking place in a region whose history and geographic toponomy is marked by the allegorical ‘feminization’ of lands and territories. Comics, at the same time, is a medium in which women’s bodies have historically been subjected to the (White) male gaze. Nevertheless, or rather precisely for this reason, the graphic language of comics, with its hybrid and multimodal nature, allows for a critical but also ironic and playful way to subvert hegemonic visual and textual traditions, one reason why it has become such a highly effective tool for diverse political movements. The Argentinean marea verde [‘green wave’], for example, the campaign for legal, medically assisted and free abortion, not only visually appropriated urban landscapes but also – in combination with the movement’s hashtag #quesealey – circulated virally over social media across the world in form of caricatures, comic strips and other graphic forms, inspiring other women’s movements both in Latin America and beyond to follow in their footsteps, both politically and artistically. Such digital comics are also a reminder of the importance of these graphic interventions for shaping a ‘digital collective body’, one that complements the ‘bodies in spaces’ that are so important for protest culture in general, and for feminist protest culture in particular, not least in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has produced an increase in gender-based domestic violence. The project also asks, then, how women’s comics contribute to (feminist) protest culture and political resistance in Latin America.

Against the backdrop of a (globally) growing market for comics created by women – a phenomenon that the Spanish scholar Ana Merino (2008, 2017) has referred to as “feminine territoriality”, this project consists of two (main) parts. First (A), it will trace the ‘conquest’ of both physical and social ‘territories’ within a male-dominated art scene: what platforms for comics creation and consumption by women have been created over the past twenty years? What role does social media play and what networks and collectives have been formed to create new and more inclusive gatekeeping strategies in the digital age? And how have transnational collectives like Chicks on Comics, co-founded by Colombian-Ecuadorian artist Powerpaola, shaped the way for similar initiatives? 

The second, more extensive (B) part of the project will explore how this “feminine territoriality” is not just related to the establishment of new publication platforms and networks but also – on a discursive level – to the way Latin American female comic artists challenge the hegemonic, (neo)colonial gaze in their work, particularly through self-drawn corporealities, and the way they symbolically and explicitly cross imposed (territorial and artistic) lines, incorporating their art into current political movements. How are corporeality and territory juxtaposed and graphically (dis)entangled in their works and what role do autobiographic genres play for such ‘embodied’ histories? What transmedial dialogues are created with colonial art traditions where the female, Amerindian body has often been exoticized and eroticized? How are different epistemologies and ‘body-knowledges’ being explored in Latin American women’s comics, and what tensions arise from the confrontation of the ‘colonial’ and the ‘political’ body? And, finally, how do these representational and artistic approaches connect and relate to (feminist) political movements in Latin America?