by Beláxis Buil 12/1/2019
I would say that most of my life has circulated Anthropological interest. My upbringing consisted of studying many types of religions due to my father’s flailing tendency to jump from one to another as he searched for the ‘right one’. Our transitions between so many types of belief systems opened my consciousness to observe and understand how different, yet how similar cultures and religions really are. But, it was also the constant state of flux between his religious explorations that caused me to feel really alienated, when I compared myself to others in social settings. We were different. My role in a social settings, or rather, within social circles constantly shifted between the etic and emic. It was through cultural relativism that I desired to synthesize my differences and similarities towards other individuals, groups and cultures that were outside my own. However, that empathy or desire to connect was not reciprocated-at least, it did not seem to be the case. Many times I felt frustrated by the other’s lack of interest to understand who I was, my culture, practices and beliefs, or even include me into their social circle. It was precisely these frustrations and at times forms of alienation that pushed me to become super anti-social. But, it was also my antisocial tendencies that drew me in closer to people, allowing my naivete and curiosity in others to spark forms of interconnectedness with individuals, groups, communities and cultures far from my own. I redefined my marginalization by empowering my ‘otherness’.
Today, as a visual artist, choreographer, curator and writer I integrate Anthropological research in my practice to properly educate myself with necessary information that could benefit the way I approach a case, person or community, or body of work . For example, a few years ago I was approached by an ambassador of the Sahrawi community who resides in one of the refugee camps in the liberated territories of Morocco. Ambassador Melanin Slama sent an email asking if I could connect with the Sahrawi community so that I could represent their community in the United States. Of course, I was delightfully flabbergasted and honored by the invitation, yet, frightened by the amount of responsibility I sensed to this duty. In time, the ambassador and myself became quite great friends. I researched the history of the Sahrawis and began connecting with experts in African diaspora, regional analysts residing in Africa, diplomats residing in the refugee camps within the liberated territories of Morocco and Algiers, and a professor at Florida International University who specializes in identity-politics, diplomacy and political philosophy. I helped organize a few radio talks in Miami intended to bring attention to the political issues the Saharawi’s face. Eventually, in 2018, my daughter and I were invited to participate in an artist residency organized by Artifairiti, a Spanish non-for profit organization whose focus is dedicated to helping the Saharawi with educational program exchanges between international artists and the Saharawi community: not only bringing visibility to their pressing issues of displacement, lack of support from the United Nations (due to the persisting political divides between the government of Morocco and the Saharawi- the UN must remain neutral) - but more importantly, Artifairiti provides a space for the foreigner to create a real relationship/partnership with the community. The artist(s) is granted a first hand experience to connect with various members of the Saharawi community who contribute to the local political infrastructure, education and field of medicine. Through these connections, I was able to understand who they were, learn of their history, live their daily life in the desert, and witness first-hand how modern the Saharawi woman is. I choose to work specifically with a reformed, self-titled group of feminist Saharawi women who oppose the veiling of the body, advocate for women's rights at United Nations conferences, and demand the need to reform public policy by including women leadership during governmental conferences-where decisions are made.
I had the opportunity to interview with one of their lead activists Zarga and an amazing Algerian journalist Wahiba, who interviewed some of us for the Algerian news station. Additionally, I was asked to join the activist Zarga, the founder and director of Artifariti, Fernando Pererira and an educator from Tanzania, Africa, Silvero Silvestre at a United Nations site in Tifariti, Africa. It was during this conference with the group at the United Nations site that we addressed the pressing issues of kidnappings of journalists who spoke out on the injustices the Saharwis faced from the Morrocon government, the need for the United Nations to support the liberation of the Sharawi community and the significant role women play in the shaping of the social-political infrastructure of the community. Throughout the course of our visit, I felt completely aligned to a higher calling. Since then, I have continued to think of ways to nurture my Anthropological and diplomatic interests in social reforms and assisting others to globally spread their stories to a larger audience. Some of the stories the Sahrawi women shared with me receive limited press or are somehow restricted. I started this online magazine, UNAFRAID to publish the works of women across the globe working in the arts as practitioners, journalists, writers, educators and activists addressing body, gender and identity-politics in various, sharing their distinct stories and voices to readers outside their culture. By contributing to the publication, these women are actively participating in a role that can dispel misleading social narratives on who they are, and who we are as women, whilst providing an inside look into the many faceted similarities we all, somewhat, universally share.