Spiraling Time: Reflections on Leda Martins

On March 15 and 16, 2013, the Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley presented the symposium Spiraling Time: Intermedial Conversations in Latin American Arts. In the audience were students from Professor Julia Bryan-Wilson’s History of Art course Latin American Art Since 1920. We are grateful to them for sharing with us their reflections on some of the lectures and conversations they heard.  This post is from student Samuel Parks.

Leda Martins delivers a keynote lecture at Spiraling Time.
In her address, Leda Martins asked us to consider the varying aspects of time in Brazilian performance art.  Her lecture was different than most I have ever attended in its degree of participation.  Leda focused on experience rather than recounting events.  She did not just tell us about these great dances, she showed them, had us sing along, and even utilized three different performers throughout her lecture to draw us into the realm as the original viewer and not a listener of a secondhand account. 
            After the first dancer performed for us, Leda drew our attention to an important aspect of the dance that I personally had failed to pick up on: the spin.  She showed us over and over how central this element is to African-Brazilian art and explained how by spinning they are able to break the linearity of their own movement but more importantly of time.  This new conception of time stems from a strong ancestral connection, one that does not particularly coincide with the Western archetype of ancestral kinship.  In this dance the ancestors are present: present in the way that the dancers themselves and their future children are both present.  This concept was initially hard for me to wrap my head around, undoubtedly due to my own cultural bias, as I had never questioned escaping time in the way that Leda was now asking us to do. 
            Elaborating on the concept of time and ancestry Leda traced many aspects of this dance back to roots within Africa, where many Brazilians have ancestors.  The relevancy of these traditions from another continent became much clearer after Leda showed us how this culture deconstructs the time between them and their ancestors.  In fact when Leda showed us videos on her computer of many of these dances we could see the children, some of whom looked like they were barely old enough to walk let alone dance, performing complex dances in costume right alongside their elders.  In this way we were able to see how ingrained this concept of ancestry is; these children appeared to have a collective or communal memory.  That is, while they are fundamentally changed, as all things change, from their ancestors, there remains a vestigial cultural component that lives on inside of them.  In fact many aspects of this dance seemed to hold certain philosophical or religious places in their communities.  
            In regards to the religious aspect of these dances Leda made clear that these dances were concerned not with the church, but the sacred.  Her use of the two words seems to suggest that the latter was more pure, ingrained, and natural than the hierarchical and Western church that was imported from Europe and not completely free of corruption.  In fact Leda was adamant that this dance was not just a means of artistic expression either.  The dancing is merely a manifestation of a life philosophy, powerful enough to stop time and gentle enough to cultivate a beautiful dance.