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Yazmín Crespo Claudio

bare-knuckle, counter practices in "la isla del en canto"


Yazmín Crespo Claudio

with Oscar Zamora

In this conversation for LA ESCUELA___, Puerto Rican architect, researcher, educator and historian Yazmín Crespo Claudio establishes a dialogue with Nicaraguan architect, academic and researcher Oscar Zamora, in which from a three-round structure they shape a boxing exercise of questions and answers, in which topics such as the importance of the study of public space from a critical perspective and its approach from intersectional strategies.

CONVERSATIONS | Yazmín Crespo Claudio: bare-knuckle, counter practices in "la isla del en canto"

Round 1

Oscar Zamora: When did your interest in boxing begin?

Yazmín Crespo Claudio: Boxing is a national sport and an intrinsic part of the country's culture. It has always represented the existence and resistance of Puerto Ricans. I learned this as a teenager when I watched fights with my family and in the carports of neighbors and friends. Sporting activity is the only instance where Puerto Rico is recognized on equal terms with the rest of the world's nations. From Macho Time, Titomania, Miguel Cotto, Amanda Serrano, to Krystal Rosado, there are more than 30 world champions in professional boxing. I have practiced and competed in various sports but always return to boxing. To the hustle, the excitement, and the outcome.

Garvin Sierra: La Isla del En Canto, 2020.

Courtesy: Yazmín Crespo Claudio.

What is bare-knuckle? How do you (bregas) grapple? Against what?

When and how did Puerto Ricans start to grapple? Arcadio Díaz Quiñones asks this question in his book of essays, El Arte de Bregar. He explains that the verb "bregar" floats, wise and amusing, in the multiple scenarios of Puerto Rican life, from the island to the diaspora. Puerto Ricans are constantly struggling, vulnerable, and alert. Grappling is, one might say, another kind of knowledge, a method for navigating everyday life where everything is precarious, changeable, or violent, as it was in the 20th century and, I would add, in the 21st century. And from this other knowledge, bare-knuckle (a puño limpio) is a way of grappling from combative scenarios—a decisive action to recognize and be recognized.

Boxing is called the "sweet science" because it is a sport that requires the pugilist to be tough, forward-thinking, and tactical. Boxing is about questions and answers. Battle or sparring refers to a form of training that uses rounds to claim, occupy, engage, and situate spatiality from feminist spatial responses. Bare-knuckle promotes (fights for) equity in all scenarios. More than anything, boxing is a metaphor for opposition, a battle between two bodies representing opposing ideas and values.

Why are counter-pedagogies important?

Facing architecture is about confronting the processes of education, planning, and construction of the ways we live and the multiple ways we are regulated and segregated. Radical pedagogies must fight against the invisibility of Black, Indigenous, and racialized people. These pedagogies must address the problems that arise from class struggle, impoverishment, and the precariousness to which marginalized communities are subjected. Opposing wherever necessary has much to do with surviving and starting anew.

Pedagogy is political. We must take up the first line of defense for the country, stirring imagination and possibility.

I co-founded taller Creando Sin Encargos (tCSE), a colectiva based in Cambridge and San Juan, Puerto Rico, which has been working on design, research, and academic activism since 2012. Our methodology is horizontal, and we are interested in the social aspects of architecture and design from an intersectional, decolonial, and critical perspective. We aim to analyze experiences along with spaces, images, and objects.

At the 13th International Architecture Biennale of São Paulo, we presented the process and results of the Workshops Arquitecturas Colectivas (WAC) in La Perla (2013), Puerta de Tierra (2017), and Barrio Obrero, San Ciprián (2021). Co-design and build projects were developed in public spaces in these workshops, supporting existing community initiatives. This is done in collaboration with residents (children, youth, and leaders) of the communities, other designers, volunteers, and students of art, architecture, and design. The purpose of the WAC is to create spaces of equity where all voices are heard.

Therefore, I manage the classroom as a research space, a horizontal space, and a learning community. I do not see the classroom as separate from other social work. I am an academic activist concerned with "revolutionary imagination." It is necessary to connect the classroom and studios with spaces of exclusion and with historically subalternized, silenced, and marginalized groups.

¡Basta! Chess game designed by Vladimir García, Agencia de Diseño Armada, 2018.

Courtesy: Yazmín Crespo Claudio.

Round 2

What does a decolonial practice in Puerto Rico entail?

Spaces are not neutral; they teach and shape us. Developing theories and proposing a practice from the feminist perspective of architectural design and urbanism in Puerto Rico implies a decolonial stance. Knowledge must be situated in community and intersectional experiences and initiatives, in an inclusive and multidisciplinary pedagogy, and in a constant negotiation of public space in the face of precarity resulting from a neoliberal focus. It implies creating counter-narratives that confront the status quo in design.

Re-occupying, re-writing, un-learning, and decelerating unrestrained growth are some of the guidelines that shape a new approach based on careful and detailed observation, the exchange of knowledge, respect for natural resources, situated knowledge (Haraway, 1988), and breaking with social and spatial constructions associated with gender, ethnicity, class, or sexual orientation. These are visions opposed to a patriarchal society that makes the holistic perspective of women visible. Thus, projecting counter-narratives of architectural pedagogy insists on a local framework that objects to the global Eurocentric vision and affirms the visibility and use of space, which can emerge from traditions, situated knowledge, participatory processes, and the body in motion. A critical exercise that projects the de-hierarchization Arturo Escobar writes about (2016) in his book Autonomy and Design: "The Realization of the Communal," questioning "the role of academia in the new visions of design" and "of course to propose the de-hierarchization and de-elitization of knowledge, that is, epistemic decolonization as an integral element of these visions" (Escobar, Autonomy and Design p. 248).

For example, like the colectiva taller Creando Sin Encargos, other organizations such as La Maraña, founded in 2014, also use participatory action-research methodologies and co-creation in self-managed spaces with Puerto Rican communities. Particularly, the Post-María Imagination project in the Mariana neighborhood of Humacao addressed the immediate need for potable water after Hurricane María in 2017.

Round 3

Why are words and actions (strategy and tactics) important?

Because words and actions materialize in our active participation in public places where bodies and "cuerpas" (a gender-inclusive term) transit. The footwork in boxing is one of the most important aspects. It allows you to advance towards your goal and retreat. It's a game of inches; the bodies are constantly in motion. For Noemí Segarra, a Puerto Rican movement artist, "urgent dances" become a critical stance. The passerby redefines the act of protesting. The street, the plaza, the sidewalk, and the public space are essential platforms for the struggle.

And the fight must be an intersectional strategy. For example, the following tactics are already present on the island: participatory processes, lateral production (from co-creation to theory and dissemination), citizen participation, adaptive reuse, ecological awareness, self-construction, and occupation. These are decolonizing because they function as destabilizing agents against a capitalist vision of production-consumption; they are pluriversal and, in most cases, relational. These tactics and others are vital for transforming architectural practice and education.

I emphasize the importance of the Colectiva Feminista en Construcción in mobilizing Puerto Ricans during the 2019 Verano Boricua protests. Their struggle stems from a long tradition of radical black feminism and references such as the Combahee River Collective (founded in 1977), the Black Panther Party, the Young Lords Party - "I have Puerto Rico in my heart," Los Macheteros (Ejército Popular Boricua - ¡Viva Puerto Rico Libre!), and of course, the Black Lives Matter movement. I highlight that the diaspora must be part of the fight for the future of Puerto Rico.

Tools and strategies for participatory community design. 'Escuchando sus voces' exhibition.

Credits: Omayra Rivera Crespo, Mari Mater O'Neill y Edwin Quiles. Cortesía: Yazmín Crespo Claudio.

Education must provide the tools to create alternative models of practice, to create new spaces of action and structures of emancipation. It should help students develop and improve their critical thinking skills, teaching them to ask inescapable/solid/critical questions to find alternative/radical/out-of-time answers.

This means fostering a mindset driven by indignation and care from an ecology of knowledge and abandoning normative approaches that seek to solve predetermined typologies/programs. In this way, we can design ways of being in the world, perhaps in opposition to the architectural object.

Following in the footsteps of Gloria Anzaldúa, we need to develop theories that highlight ways to navigate between our experiences and the need to form our own categories and theoretical models.

On the ropes! In the ring! In academia! And in the streets!


Online Lecture
Wednesday, July 03, 2024
6:00 PM (GMT -4)
Via Zoom
Open for registration