Carlos JosÃ© PÃ©rez SÃ¡mano is not known for working with large, established institutions.
The 36-year-old author from Mexico City, with graduate degrees in Creative Writing and Publishing from Rosemont College, has built his career as a freelance writer since 2007 when he published his first book, working closely collaboration with indigenous populations while exploring the versatility and intersections between identity, mythology and decolonization.
PÃ©rez SÃ¡mano started a literacy project with the people of Luo in northern Tanzania. He has published four books of fiction, poetry and creative non-fiction with Editorial Ad Zurdum, a publishing house in Mexico that he co-founded.
He recently wrote a scene for the Orchester de l’OpÃ©ra national de Montpellier, France, about fluid identities and the decolonization of Mexican heritage based on the myths surrounding Moctezuma, the late ruler of the Aztec Empire. His anthropology-based workshops have been produced in Argentina, Italy, Spain, India and the United States.
As the Penn Museum’s first artist in residence, PÃ©rez SÃ¡mano says he finds himself “creating new communities” with a venerable institution that has faced a community backlash over his racist collection Morton Skull and his handling of human remains in the aftermath of the MOVE bombing.
The museum and the University of Pennsylvania apologized for both incidents and called the Morton Skull Collection “unethical” and suggested it was the result of “racist and colonial practices.” They also issued a statement on the remnants of the MOVE bombing, apologizing for allowing them “to be used for research and teaching.”
In his role, which began in March, PÃ©rez SÃ¡mano runs a series of writing workshops that begin with an open day in Spanish on September 18 and include other events until April 2022, when his residency end. Called âUna raÃz compartidaâ – One Shared Root – the free program is designed to reflect through poetry on the concepts of immigration, identity, loss and belonging in diasporic communities.
In partnership with local Latino leaders, the workshops will take place at the museum and in locations around the city, encouraging participants to tap into their own personal experiences, to share their connections and interpretation of the artifacts in the museum’s Mexican and Central American gallery. .
The Inquirer spoke to PÃ©rez SÃ¡mano, who has lived in Philadelphia since 2016, about his vision for the series, the strategies he plans to use for the workshops and what it means to be the first artist in residence at the Penn Museum. .
I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I feel so honored and proud. There are so many artists here with such interesting careers, who have more community outreach and perspectives better known than me. So, this distinction makes me wonder: what do I bring to the table that I am the one here? On the other hand, I feel fear because of the expectations I have to meet and the ways in which I have to represent the communities. [Latino and other people of color]. It’s a big challenge, and the way I approach it is to focus on what this opportunity offers us.
Well, beyond amplifying the voices of the community, this opportunity gives us the chance to listen. Nowadays we have all of these platforms to immediately deliver ideas, content and art to, but we don’t connect with people to the point where they would share their feedback with us or become extremely personal with each other. others. Today more than ever there is this false sense of isolation, rooted in the fact that we don’t listen to each other. So, by listening to others more closely, intimately, we will begin to rethink the things we say, as we learn to connect with other realities and the experiences of others. This is where writing comes in, as a profession that transcends people’s thoughts around these topics.
I had the same question from the museum. [Laughs] Poetry is an instrument to question our use of language and words, and in doing so, we question our reality. Most people think of poetry to be a very subtle and harmless genre. On the contrary, it is very political and disruptive, as it seeks to change a reader’s perspective on life. We change our reality when we start to think things differently, to name these thoughts in a different way, and as a result, we understand other realities better and create new ones. So we will listen and learn through writing. It’s a social experience.
The museum did not choose a migrant Latino artist at random. The museum is afraid because it deeply questions its identity and its purpose. It is a century-old institution based 100% on colonialism, when white men dictated the narrative around an object they stole and took from others. Now that we are learning to decolonize our identities and question authority, migrants, Latinos and other members of the American community hold these great institutions like the museum to account, causing them to collapse, adapt or reframe.
It would have been a huge blow to society if the museum had not had the courage to appoint an artist who had independent experience to criticize them deeply. This uncomfortable circumstance of questioning the identity of the museum is what it takes to make a difference. Because when we stagnate, we perish over time. Identity is a river not a lake. So when the museum questions its identity and communities question their identity, there is a strong connection that could lead to a real conversation about who we are and where we are headed.
I have the great responsibility of building bridges and roads. We tend to create all of these walls around us instead of imagining the ways we can connect. We know that communities are not static. They can be created anywhere and transformed in many ways. That’s what I’m here for.
Community leaders play an essential role here. They have been feeding and helping community members for a very long time, so no one has a better sensitivity than them. With their support, we have put in place the logistics and programming necessary to host the free poetry workshops and open houses in Spanish that we look forward to offering. I am really excited about the book we look forward to publishing with the poems we produce during the workshops.
The most important of all goals is to encourage people to transcend fearlessly. Do not be afraid of poetry, opinions and criticisms of others, our past and our history. We all take risks with this residency program, as we question our identities and open ourselves to this dialogue and its uncomfortable feedback. If we are to meet at some point along the path, we must all follow the path.