Personal reflections on agora’s first south-south residency, by Naomi Russell

by Espaço Agora
Monday, 08 April 2024

This is a personal post about an important milestone for espaço agora now. Idio Chichava (pictured above and below), a Mozambican choreographer arrived in Buenos Aires from Maputo in the early hours of Saturday morning. He’s the inaugural espaco agora now south-south resident. This realises a desire to create south-south lines and exchanges.

In 2021, we gathered as a team, with five artists, including Tamara Cubas, representing the network, to co-design the values that would underpin how we work. Tamara said: “Because the economic centres are in the [Global] North, South American artists have a relationship which is always North / South… It is important to shift those connecting lines that are always with Europe and create new ones which connect South-South, Latin America and Africa. Both continents have a colonial past in common and there are ways of living and of knowledge-making that can be exchanged.”

This first south-south residency is hosted by our Buenos Aires partner Planta Inclan led by Juan Onofri Barbato and Elisa Carricajo. I first met Juan in 2022. He immediately said “I love the vision for agora, I want to be part of it.” He has been true to his word and fulfilled that early promise already x100 times. We need more Juans, who, even when working in incredibly challenging contexts, walk their talk, keep their word, and are persistent in pursuit of purpose.

espaço agora now has been created from an urgency for new and radical models in our field. All of us trying to do this face obstacles. We experienced many obstacles to make this first small step for the south-south axis for agora. The visa took time, so the residency was delayed. We worked really hard to raise a minimum of funding. A funder who define themselves as ‘pioneers in trust based philanthropy’ offered us 50.000 euros saying ‘agora is exactly the sort of thing we should be funding’. We planned to dedicate this money to starting south-south. Perplexingly, when we went to meet them to discuss the formalities of partnership we were informed they’d spent the money – so we started over.

The majority of our community as independent artists and freelance cultural workers are precarious. When we ‘green light’ activity we want to do it in a way that does not perpetuate precariousness.

I believe that those of us trying to do new things need to come together and find ways to combine forces. To start from a mindset of generosity and abundance. To resist the scarcity myth that ‘there’s not enough’, ‘we have to make tough choices’. This is a blackmail imposed by those who have power and resources. We try to value what we have and find ways to do the things we want to do with it. We often fail. What’s most important is that now, in 2024, we have succeeded in starting south-south.

If you are reading this and could help power more south-south residencies and knowledge exchanges in the future, please reach out. You can read more about our first steps at the Planta website (in Spanish). I am very proud.

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