In the trudge of past and present imperial and biopolitical histories, the decolonization of spaces and minds finds its genesis with/in bodies – the unmappable zones with the potential to produce and spread pleasure, pain, and ideologies. Over the course of history, normalizing hegemonic forces have subjected bodies to oppressive regimes of control and surveillance. Not surprisingly, such violent acts of normalization have also found fertile ground in Western Art History with its conventions of what art “looks” like, and where and how it is supposed to be presented and consumed. In the 1960s, a group of Brazilian artists took upon themselves the daunting task of challenging and subverting those norms. At the forefront of this project was Hélio Oiticica (1937-1980) with his artistic experiments that begin in the ’60s.
In his desire to fuse art and life, Oiticica began to do away with fixed notions of “the body,” “the art-object,” and “history.” The breaking with these singularities to expose the chaotic web of relations of being-in-the-world can be experienced through Oiticica’s Parangolés. One may compare a Parangolé to a colorful cape, or a form of free-flowing wearable sculpture that allows participants to feel and create what might exceed discursive boundaries. They can be made out of anything: plastics, metal, cardboard, fabric, leather, and/or whatever one’s memory-imagination desires.
They can hang over the participant, sit atop their head, be raised up like a banner, propped up as tents, or in any other mode of bodily exploration. When performed with, the Parangolé unearths a contact zone through touch, music, and play that holds within itself a promise for collective catharsis and political activism. In this sense, Parangolés allows for the creation of new political spaces, formations, and radical futures.
The Parangolé and participant activate one another, thus subverting the notion of a “body-subject” that exists apart from “the art-object.” Since what bodies do and feel when gathered together is unpredictable, we must be willing to get out of our comfort zones in order to reclaim the physical and symbolic spaces produced by hegemonic forces that attempt to confine relations between our own bodies and the bodies of others. Oiticica’s Parangolés shall make this possible.
Since changing the voices and modes of representation is always desired by those relegated to the margins of society, we may then ask how can the quotidian foster radical inclusivity despite the hold of geographical and socioeconomic restraints? The time is always now and the place is always possible for bodies to evoke the power and spirit of the Parangolés.