The Marco Polo Syndrome

It has been very inspiring to read about Jose Bedia’s work by Gerardo Mosquera in the context of the Marco Polo Syndrome.

By practicing palo monte in Cuba,  an Afro Cuban cultural complex of Kongo origin, the Western artist “appropriates “primitive” techniques but not in order to reproduce their programmes: he creates elements with them that articulate his personal discourse and iconography.” Because he is creating Western culture from non-Western sources, he is making a step towards de-Europeanisation.

The reason why this is important is because Art and Culture have been defined from a European standpoint or Eurocentrism which is the main “symptom of a disease that perceives whatever is different as the carrier of life threatening viruses rather than nutritional elements.” This is what Mosquera defines as the Marco Polo Syndrome.

Bedia’s art is relevant in the context of the Kongo culture itself, far from any foreign or European references. He opened himself to the so-called ” primitive” cultures – that opened themselves in return – in what he has called a “voluntary transculturalisation in reverse: from his “high art”education to a “primitive” one.”

The problem with Eurocentrism is that it is rooted in colonialism and colonialism stopped traditional societies in their natural progression, instead it imposed forcefully a different way.  The result is that today, these societies struggle to deal with their own issues and have also adopted the problems of the West. For example, in Trinidad & Tobago, 9/11 was felt as if it had happened in Port of Spain. It  was lived as a Trinidadian disaster, people adopted it, they owned it.

Eurocentrism has also affected the West in that there is no connection capable of transforming this unhealthy relationship  into one where both sides benefit of their own interests and values, in a global situation. But this is changing and the critique of Eurocentrism is part of the possibility of a global dialogue among cultures.  Artists being adopted by other cultures and adopting other cultures to create a narrative satisfactory to the West and the “primitive” in its pure form are a big part of the dialogue.

I will conclude with a beautiful quote from Mosquera: “The cure for the Marco Polo Symdrome resides in overcoming centrism with enlightenment from a myriad of different sources.”

Sophie Meyer 2012


About mysticfighters

I am a filmmaker currently exploring rituals rooted in the Caribbean especially stick fighting. Based in London I have worked with broadcasters and press agencies as producer and director for news, current affairs and culture.
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