Awaken Dreams. Decolonising Participatory Art through Communal Friendship

Gongora, Romeo. 2022. Awaken Dreams. Decolonising Participatory Art through Communal Friendship. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

My doctoral research is a thesis by practice. It consists of a body of artistic projects, visual documentation, and a written component in the form of a reflexive diary offering a critical account of the research. My work examines how to decolonise the concept of participant in participatory art. I argue for an alternative approach to participation, a reflexive practice of communal friendship that allows people with various positions of power to relate to others in a constructive way. The research builds on a theoretical framework of decoloniality and draws on radical pedagogical approaches from Latin American and other anticolonial writers. It is also inspired by my family’s experience of immigration from Guatemala to Canada, and its inflection on my identity as a second-generation Guatemalan growing up in French Canada/Montreal. My methodological approach combines participatory art practices with ethnographic and archival research. The outcome of my research consists of the artworks themselves and the reflexive diary, which draws on my previous art practice and a new body of participatory artworks from London (UK) to Montreal (CA).

This doctoral research adds to the field of participatory art by analysing the terms and conditions of participation in art from a decolonial perspective. By showing that participation is intertwined with a colonial matrix of power, my research puts emphasis on the artist’s willingness to go back and forth between reflection and action, and to (un)learn. I do not claim to offer a magical solution to combat the neoliberalisation of participation in art or to erase its coloniality. On the contrary, the results show that moving away from coloniality requires reflexivity, the redistribution of power and agency through self-criticality, as well as a continuous examination of one’s various positions of power as an artist. This is a valuable lesson for participatory artists in general, and particularly for those who come from a culturally diverse background or work with culturally diverse populations. More generally, my work shows that a critical examination of the discourses surrounding participation is necessary, as these discourses actively shape and regulate our work and identity.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


participation, friendship, participatory art, radical pedagogy, cultural diversity, racial representation, decoloniality

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



31 July 2022

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

02 Aug 2022 08:46

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 15:26


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