13th Biennial Conference of the International Gothic Association: Gothic Traditions and Departures
The 13th Biennial Conference of the International Gothic Association (IGA) took place at Universidad de las Américas Puebla (UDLAP), in Cholula, Mexico, from 18th to 21st July, 2017. This was a very significant conference for the IGA because it was the first time to be held in Latin America, outside the usual venues of Europe and Canada. More than one hundred scholars from around the world gathered at UDLAP campus to discuss and celebrate the Gothic in literature, media, the arts, and culture.
The conference title suggested attendants and presenters to engage actively in thinking about Gothic both as a tradition and a departure from tradition. The main objective was to re-think the Gothic in our literary and cultural tradition. Departure also suggested an idea of movement, which was associated with the ever expanding global reach of Gothic beyond its traditional locations, themes, and forms, and prompted us to evaluate its re-inventions and expansions The topics and papers presented during the conference focused on re-visiting staple Gothic texts from the 18th, 19th, and the 20th century, but there were also plenty of proposals that aimed to examine the Gothic in other different textual forms and manifestations, such as cinema, television, graphic arts, sounds, and folklore. Moreover, the conference also reunited academics who explored the presence of the Gothic in Latin America, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. More than ever, Gothic has become more than just a fictional form; it is also a cultural manifestation that provides ground for artistic and political expressions of social fears and anxieties, yet simultaneously has become more recognisable and celebratory.
The conference included the participation of three guest speakers, who delivered insightful and thought-provoking lectures on different themes and topics related to the Gothic. Prof. Isabella Van Elferen offered an intriguing keynote address, where she prompted us all to think about Gothic in sonic terms. With a suitable range of examples from a contemporary Goth music repertoire, Prof. Van Elferen suggested we pay more attention to the concept of timbre as a constitutive musical element that is associated with the uncanny and the structure of being. Our second guest speaker, Prof. Maisha Wester, enlightened us with her revision of the supernatural and horror in Black Diasporic Gothic Fiction. With her claim that “the European mythic tradition only offers imprisonment for the Black subject”, Prof. Wester cautioned that reading these texts from a Eurocentric narrative tradition decimates the existence of the Black subject from a colonial (and post-colonial) perspective. Instead, she encouraged an approach that thinks of Black Gothic narratives which put the notion of the “other” into question, not just the Black subject but also the mythical narratives from the African Diaspora that are still alive. The third and last keynote address was provided by Prof. Aurora Piñeiro, who offered an incisive comparative analysis of contemporary rewritings of fairy tales in the British and Spanish American traditions. Prof. Piñeiro observed there is an effective transnational reworking and re-appropriation of fairy tale motifs in different versions of “Hansel and Gretel”, which led her to a Gothic reading of the darkest aspects of the tale as a catalyst for political enunciation in Latin American artists. Our three keynote speakers motivated us to keep on exploring different areas and approaches to various Gothic-related aspects, and also to help expand the interconnected possibilities of analysing the Gothic beyond the literary tradition.
The conference featured a series of cultural and social events that allowed the attendants to explore the Gothic in Mexico too. During the conference Welcome Toast, members of the IGA committees announced the Allan Lloyd Smith Award for outstanding monograph – which was jointly won by Marie Mulvey-Roberts and Tim Jones – and the recipients of the Association Postgraduate Bursaries. This year, these bursaries were awarded in memory of Diane Long Hoeveler, whose passing away in 2016 was duly noted by our academic community. The welcome toast was celebrated indoors, during a heavy (and suitably Gothic) evening thunderstorm, which caused the lights to go out for a few minutes during the awards speeches.
The conference featured the screening of the first episode of the short film series Los misterios de las monjas vampiras. Titled “Primer misterio: Las monjas vampiras contra el hijo de Benito Juárez”, and directed by Antonio Álvarez Morán, the audience enjoyed a showcase of Pre-Hispanic sacrifices, colonial nuns, vampires, and a postmodern homage to the classic Mexican horror films of the wrestler El Santo. Álvarez Morán and one of the members of the cast were present in vampiric attires to answer questions from the audience. Once again, Gothic was at the forefront of the discussion, as public and filmmakers engaged in a lively conversation about the inspirations and the production of this short film. The highlight of the discussion was the answer the guest actress gave when asked if she enjoyed playing the role of a vampire nun. In her own words: “Well, after all, inside every woman is little bit of nun and a little bit of vampire”. Álvarez Morán also put some of his artworks on display, so attendants were provided with a better context for his artistic themes and inspirations.
As is tradition, conference delegates enjoyed a banquet dinner and Gothic Disco night at Restaurante Hacienda Las Bodegas del Molino. Located in a 16th century manor, guests were led into the dining hall by guides dressed in colonial attire and showed the guests around the different rooms of the venue, spooky legends and all. The dinner consisted of traditional Mexican dishes, which included the famous mole poblano. Attendants spent the rest of the night dancing to classic Goth tunes and 1980s tracks until past midnight. The delegates’ lively energy on the dance floor guaranteed the success of the dinner and disco.
Last, but not least, five Gothic-themed piñatas were broken on the final day of the conference. The piñatas were showcased at the foyer in the auditorium every day, waiting to be filled with sweets and be broken by the eager attendants. Handcrafted by a local workshop from Cholula, the piñatas were featured in the shapes of a witch, a spider, a catrín, a catrina – both classical figures of the Day of the Dead –, and Black Philip from the film The Witch. This last piñata became a huge sensation, beloved by all who were sorry to see Black Philip destroyed in a very festive manner.
Overall, the past IGA conference in Cholula proved once again the commitment of our association to keep on exploring, discussing, and debating a wide range of topics and subjects that are of particular interest in the Arts and Humanities. We also hope that this conference held in Mexico may open the doors for a more extensive global research network that has been consistently encouraged by the IGA. This event truly confirmed the international aim of our association, and offered the opportunity for postgraduate students and young scholars to get to know the strength and reputation of our community.
We look forward to meeting again later this year in Manchester for a special one-off yearly conference to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. With the theme of Gothic Hybridities, this academic reunion will once again provide an ideal space for debate and networking, as it will bring scholars and postgraduate students from around the world to celebrate the Gothic in all its cultural, artistic, and literary manifestations.
Enrique Ajuria Ibarra
13th Biennial Conference of the International Gothic Association
Gothic Traditions and Departures
Universidad de las Américas Puebla (UDLAP), Mexico