March 6, 2017

More than a Muse: Aireana

Aireana, founded in February 2003, is the first – and still the only – organized lesbian group in Paraguay. Their name comes from an expression in Guaraní, an Indigenous language, meaning ‘Bring it into the open, please’. Aireana advocates for the human rights and greater social visibility of lesbians, and against the discrimination that they confront in the politically conservative context of Paraguay. They work from a feminist and cross-movement perspective, and merge political advocacy at the national, regional and international level with the production of feminist cultural and media content aimed at providing safe spaces for lesbians’ voices and challenging stereotypical gender roles.

One of the main tools in their work is the ‘lesbian-feminist cultural space ‘La Serafina’ (1).  Established by Aireana, ‘La Serafina’ functions as a meeting space for conversations, lectures and debates as well as a venue for concerts, performances and storytelling . The space is designed for and by lesbians, but welcomes all who support the project, and is intended to serve both as a space for relaxation and casual gatherings (there is a café and restaurant open on weekends) and a space of organizing and resistance.

Aireana works to create a ‘culture of change’ and promote culture and arts as a means of political expression: they organize ‘Cultural Fridays’ at ‘La Serafina’, with movies, exhibitions, and concerts; hosted a radio program from 2008 to 2014; create dialogue and raise awareness through debates, workshops, and panels; and organize a film festival, ‘Festival de Cine LesBiGayTrans’, that prompted requests for the films to be screened at other events throughout the region.

From 2012, Aireana has explored the use of music in its work with the creation of a ‘Batucada’ ensemble, called ‘Tatucada’, which means both ‘the animal’ and ‘the vulva’ in Guaraní. Its Batucada is a sub-style of samba which uses different kind of percussions (including drums, tambourines, and metal tubes) to produce repetitive and rhythmic sound. The particularity of Aireana’s Batucada ensemble is that it is entirely composed of lesbian and bisexual (as well as some ‘heteroflexible’) women and articulated as a space for their integration, participation, visibility, presence and articulation with other social movements in Paraguay. Aireana’s batucada ensemble had their first public outing during the March 8th demonstration in 2013, and more lesbians joined the march for the human right days in December of the same year. By taking part in different marches, for instance the march on International Labour Day, members publicly declare their sexual orientation at the same time, making the statement that lesbians can be and are active citizens. In the words of Aireana “the Batucada has magic, because in moments of tension, it set us free… it offer us an space to do activism from other scenario, in the streets, in the open air and surrender by many people where we promote the visibility of lesbians generating learning and exchange.”

With its mix of arts and cultural production and advocacy, Aireana is a perfect example of how merging arts and activism can be effective to initiate change. By supporting lesbians self-expression in a conservative environment and dismantling the stereotypes on lesbians (making their discrimination look ridiculous) they seek transformation on all levels, personal and public.

(1) https://www.aireana.org.py/quienes_somos_ingles.html

Meer Dan Muze (‘More Than a Muse’)

On March 8th, International Women’s Day, Mama Cash is organizing ‘More Than a Muse’ festival, with 19 venues throughout the Netherlands showcasing female artists of all kinds. You can find the full program at www.meerdanmuze.nl

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