Light installation by EMS artist Rebekah Crisanta de Ybarra.
Nepantla is a nahuatl word that means the “in-between space”. Nepantla is a central concept of Aztec metaphysics, which describes our existence as one filled with polarities and dualities, with a ceaseless flow of energy between them. It is between the spaces of light-dark, feminine-masculine, life-death that nepantla exists, and profound changes occur. The Aztecs believed the earth itself to be in a nepantla state, with ever changing landscapes and constant movement. With everything on this spectrum of creation and destruction, including people, it is likely that nepantla was used as a compass for human behavior, encouraging equilibrium among the dualities and a centering of energies toward harmony.
The concept of nepantla has spoken greatly to modern writers such as Gloria E. Anzaldúa, who have channeled its underlying meaning to not only make sense of life, but to describe the displacement felt by indigenous and other disenfranchised peoples. As a self described “..third world lesbian feminist with Marxist and mystic leanings,” Anzaldúa very much lived in the in-between. In her early work, she used nepantla to describe her experience of moving between worlds of class, sexuality and race, while never exclusively identifying with one or the other. Eventually nepantla became part of her more expansive conocimiento, a theory that spurs transformation through “self-reflection, imagination, intuition, sensory experiences, rational thought, outward-directed action, and social-justice concerns”. Within conocimiento there are seven non-linear step of transformation described by Anzaldúa, beginning with a traumatic event that takes you out of your reality, then moving into the displacement of nepantla, and ending with a shift in reality.
As indigenous people we have all been in the state of nepantla, walking “the path of conocimiento.” We navigate multiple worlds, speaking more than one language, and balancing opposing worldviews within us. At the intersection of what is audible and visible, modern and old, natural and artificial, lost and reclaimed, being and doing, perhaps there are answers about where we stand, and where to go next. After all, nepantla is only a beginning stage of Anzaldúa’s theory, and to the Aztecs nepantla inherently implied movement.
Reynaldo Lara, Curator