Plattform för konst och intersektionell kulturanalys

Kultwatch 2024

Kära Kultwatch-vänner,

Under våren 2023 fick Kultwatch en ny styrelse!
Vi är ett taggat gäng som sedan dess jobbat för fullt för att snart komma tillbaka med full kraft under 2024. Vi tackar för ert fortsatta stöd och tålamod. Kultwatchs röst och plattform behövs mer än någonsin i dessa dagar.

Stay tuned!

Hälsningar från nya styrelsen:

Amanda Ferrada – Ordförande
Didem Yildirim – Med-ordförande
Nilo Zamiri – Kassör
Emelie Perdomo – Styrelseledamot
Olivia Berkowicz – Styrelseledamot
Paloma Madrid – Styrelseledamot

Med hopp och tillit

Kära läsare och följare! Kultwatch har det senaste året varit i transformation och den nuvarande redaktionella gruppen lämnar över arbetet till en ny redaktion. Vi har drivit Kultwatch i många år och det har varit både utmanande och fantastiskt. Vi har lärt oss otroligt mycket om organisation, redaktionell arbete och kulturens villkor. Hoppas ni har lärt er lika mycket. Vi är oerhört tacksamma över skribenternas och läsarnas förtroende och kärlek. Utan er ingen Kultwatch. Vi lämnar redaktionen med hopp och tillit om att en ny grupp kommer att ta Kultwatch till nya höjder.

Hälsningar från Redaktionen

Unga skribenter tar plats i skrivprojekt

Unga skribenter tar plats i skrivprojekt

Under våren 2021 ägnade sig kulturskribenter från Borlänge och i åldrarna 16-21 år, åt att etablera en redaktion på Dalateatern tillsammans med Kultwatch. 

 


Redaktion7 är namnet på skribenternas redaktionsgrupp och som gästade tidningen Dala-Demokraten. Redaktion7 har arbetat med texter utifrån föreställningen Inga känslor är också känslor, ett rörelsebaserat scenkonstverk av dansaren och koreografen Iki Gonzalez Magnusson.

Ett av syftena med projektet har varit att väcka intresset hos fler unga att skriva om kultur. Själva skrivandet kan vara en tröskel för många, och att skriva om kultur innebär ytterligare en sådan. Projektet baserades på workshops och lade stor vikt vid att skapa ett utrymme för skribenterna att närma sig skrivandet. Ett utrymme där olika erfarenheter, intressen och kompetenser fick ta plats. Lust och nyfikenhet blev ledord, för att motverka invanda tankar om prestation, narrativ, tema och form.

 

Textsamtal pågår. Foto: Macarena Dusant.

 

Under projektets gång var det relevant att inte lära ut ett specifikt sorts skrivande, eftersom vi alla bär på invanda mönster och normer. Därför har skribenterna fått arbeta med skrivövningar för att pröva sig fram till ett eget skrivsätt, ett prövande som inneburit att lära sig av varandra. En av workshoparna innebär textsamtal för redaktionen, där avsattes en dag för att läsa varandras texter och dela med oss av vår läsning. Vid ett annat tillfälle bjöds koreografen Paloma Madrid in att hålla en presentation, och som gav redaktionen en ingång till dansen och de normer som präglar svensk scenkonst.

 

Eftersom Redaktion7 var en redaktionell grupp fick skribenterna fick ta del av alla moment i en publiceringsprocess, från val av bilder till ordning på texterna och genomgång av formgivna texter. Så att skribenterna skulle ha förståelse för helheten och få inblick i redaktionellt arbete. 

 

Foto: Macarena Dusant.

 

Att använda skrivandet som ett sätt för uttrycka sig är viktigt att uppmuntra, eftersom det kan fungera som ingång till kultur och har ett stärkande funktion för många. Att skriva är att få utlopp för egna tankar och idéer. I projektet blev resultatet att skribenterna valde att skriva dikter, existentiella reflektioner, sagor, berättelser och intervjuer. Shahavali Safdari skrev om gränspolitikens villkor för människans rätt att existera; i Hanna Hindrikes dikt får läsaren ta del av ett Dalarna bortom det gulliga naturromantiska landskapet som platsen marknadsförs som; Lukas Skrindsta Holmgren gjorde en intervju med koreografen och regissören Iki Gonzalez Magnusson om kroppsnormer inom dansen; Maryam Hassan Mohamed berättar historien om Dalahästen; Jennifer Nyström lyfte fram ett ofta bortglömt yrke inom teatern – maskörens arbete; Thea Hertzbergs dikt tar upp relationen mellan lyssnandet och talandet; Josefin Viklund inspirerades av föreställningens titel och reflekterar kring hur känslor signalerar vem en är och konflikten i att förstå vilka känslor som är sanna och vilka som är falska.

 

Genom samarbetet med Dala-Demokraten kunde texterna som Redaktion7 publicerade fungera som en ingång till Inga känslor är också känslor där föreställningen kunde nå ut till fler. Då Inga känslor är också känslor var en skolföreställning fick den komma ut till andra som inte fick chans att ta del av scenkonstverket. För Dala-Demokraten blev det en chans att få kontakt med unga skribenter och som i framtiden kunde bli aktuella att skriva för tidningen. 

 

Från vänster: teaterpedagog Susanne Trolleberg, skribent Maryam Hassan Mohamed, skribent Shahavali Safdari, skribent Josefin Viklund, skribent Jennifer Nyström, skribent Hanna Hindrike, skribent Thea Hertzberg, skribent Lukas Skrindsta Holmgren, projektledare Macarena Dusant. Foto: Lisa Hugosson.

 

Ladda ned publiceringen i Dala-Demokratens kultursidor här:

Del ett

Del två

Del tre

 

Foto: Afrang Nordlöf Malekian.

 

Redaktion7 är ett projekt initierat av Kultwatch på uppdrag av Dalateatern i samarbete med Dalademokraten. Redaktion7 och produktionen Inga känslor är också känslor ingår i år två av det treåriga utvecklingsprojektet ”Stad & Land – i Dalarna och världen” som drivs av Dalateatern med stöd från Region Dalarna och Kulturrådet.

Projektet leddes av Macarena Dusant, Samuel Girma och Afrang Nordlöf Malekian. 


Toppbild: Från vänster: Thea Hertzberg, Josefin Viklund, Lukas Skrindsta Holmgren, Jennifer Nyström, Maryam Hassan Mohamed, Shahvali Safdari. Foto: Macarena Dusant

Myanmar: What can artists and activists do against overwhelming force?

Myanmar: What can artists and activists do against overwhelming force?

On 1 February, the military in Myanmar conducted a coup to take full control of the country again, only six years after relinquishing some of its power in a democratic transition. But what they could scarcely have been expecting this time was the sheer amount of resistance they would face, from a society – and arts world – that is radically different from a decade ago. In an interview for Kultwatch, music producer and activist Lone Kavan tells us how the protests are progressing, how art can be a voice in order to challenge the junta and what might happen next.


Hi Lone. Tell us about the current situation.

It’s really difficult to summarise. We know the SAC [the State Administration Council, the leadership of the military junta – Editor’s note] has been more aggressive than ever and has turned into a nationwide lawless, mass-killing junta. You go out on the street and protest – you get shot. You go out but just minding your own business – you get shot. You stay at home – you get shot or burned.

Security forces have been shooting, looting, burning and throwing grenades into people’s homes – it’s definitely clear now that they’re not specifically targeting riots or demonstrators but using blunt violence against civilians. As of 29th March, they have used RPGs in major cities and launched an air strike in Karen state. In Yangon, where I am from, they have been firing guns and explosives both daytime and night time in many areas – threatening people in some townships to get out of their buildings or they’ll burn them.

From the protestors’ side, they really don’t have enough equipment or technology. You can see even in videos many of them are wearing sandals, not having a shield or proper gear. Their weapons of choices are mainly slingshots, smoke bombs, Molotov cocktails and impromptu pipe air guns which are not reliable in terms of accuracy, range, intensity and effect. It’s obviously not equal combat on the ground.

 

A poster by Myanmar artist Blackdesign. A protester with one leg amputated stands, defiantly facing the assembled military force. Across the top of the image, the text “22222” is visible, representing the protest movement started on 22/2/2021.

 

So, what are protestors able to do? Is it still possible to organize protests despite and against such overwhelming force?

I do think that to some extent non-violent struggle is still a viable tactic, even in the face of all this. People need to be very cautious about not losing their lives, but some things are still possible. Although it has become a bit quieter in recent days, people are still banging pots and pans around the city every night. Silent strikes are also taken place. On Easter, protestors painted Easter Eggs with slogans to show their opposition against the coup publicly. The most interesting one for me was ‘htamein’ barricades (woman’s longyi or sarong) – people hung women’s clothing up in the streets to slow down security forces from entering. Because many in our male-dominated society, especially soldiers, believe that it can lessen a man’s spiritual power if one were to pass under it.

Another project that has been put together by audio artists is Operation Hanoi Hannah, which is a concept inspired directly from the Vietnam war. People are urged to put up Bluetooth speakers around the country to broadcast messages to demoralise the military.

 

 

What has the arts and artists been doing in terms of being part of the protest?

I would say visual artists have been at the forefront of the artist’s movement as many of them came up with designs for posters, artwork, prints or projections which are really important in getting the message across digitally and physically (for example, sticking slogans and poster campaigns around the streets, posting artworks on social media, projecting on the walls at nights, etc.). These have been very useful in encouraging public servants to join the civil disobedience movement or raising awareness about the current issues to the public or even pushing military and police members to reflect on their own morality and decisions.

For soldiers and police, we have seen artists posting photos of military leaders happily living in their bourgeois – high-class houses while the troops on the ground don’t even have enough funding for food. In the early days of the demonstrations, demonstrators found it effective to print General Min Aung Hlaing’s photos or paint portraits of him on the road to slow down the mobility of the soldiers (because in Myanmar culture, stepping on someone’s face is a huge disrespect and they certainly don’t want to do that to their leader). Aside from journalists and citizen journalists, filmmakers, videographers and photographers have been important in documenting or making artistic documentations of the events in Myanmar.

 

Can you give us some examples of music used in the protests?

This Gen-Z music video “Doh Ayay” (Our Cause) recently went viral:

And there are many songs people on the streets know by heart. You can hear people covering, singing these songs in almost every protest.

“Kabar Ma Kyay Buu” (Never Forget) – for fallen ‘heroes’ who fought for democracy (a reinterpreted version of “Dust in the Wind”):

“Thway Thit Sar” (Blood Bond) – a revolution anthem encouraging ‘brothers and sisters’ to resist (here in an Orchestral version):

“Alo Ma Shi” (We don’t want dictatorship) – a fairly recent song that came out during the coup:

“Revolution” – an inspirational and uplifting revolutionary piece:

 

In many protests around the world, social media plays a critical role. However, the junta has blocked a bunch of social media sites in Myanmar. How has that impacted your ability to organise?

Cutting off social media has definitely interrupted the information flow, especially on Facebook (and now Instagram, Twitter, etc.) where most exchange of information takes place. People had to find ways to get access to them via VPNs. If the mobile data is cut off, a handful of people (such as journalists/activists) have been able to use Thai/Chinese SIM cards to get access to the Internet. However, wireless broadband services have already been blocked recently (only Fiber internet is officially available at the moment). Needless to say, the situation is a lot worse in some ethnic states and remote areas.

So it’s alarming but at the same time, SAC would be digging their own graves if they plan to continue blocking the Internet for the long term as they still need to run their businesses. (For examle, Yangon Stock Exchange trading volume has already dropped by 60%.) During the first day of the coup, we couldn’t get access to the phone network at all for some time and people used some offline Bluetooth messaging apps to stay connected, but it’s not the easiest way. We can see many people are buying radios again as it’s harder to intercept radio.

In general, cutting of social media or internet is a huge disadvantage to stay connected. However, people have been organizing protests in a decentralized way and due to current circumstances, protestors are staying within their townships/districts and organizing protests very locally with neighbours – sometimes in old-fashioned ways such as word of mouth.

 

 

For an outsider, the different groups in the Myanmar political structure can be bewildering. Can you explain what some of them are?

The CPRH, or Committee Representing the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, is a committee representing the parliament. It is mainly made up of members elected by the majority in the 2020 elections. These people are now in other countries or hidden in undisclosed locations around the country, forming a competing government in itself, claiming to be the legitimate government of Myanmar. On March 31st, they released a first draft of a new federal constitution, or “Federal Democracy Charter”, that protestors have been demanding. They’ve also been fundraising and have already raised over 9 million dollars as of March 31st.

 In terms of political solutions, CRPH seems to be one of the ways out. It is clear that a majority of civilians elected the current members of CRPH in the 2020 elections. Technically, we don’t have many options to choose between as an opposition government against SAC, other than CRPH. If the international community would recognize CRPH as official, there could be some potential solutions as they will be able to act as a functioning government. It’s more proactive than nothing.

Personally, I’m a bit careful with CRPH because a majority of CRPH is made up of NLD members [former ruling party that used to be in a power sharing arrangement with the military – Editor’s note]. They’ve been trying their best but also been sloppy along the way – for example, they recently appointed Dr. Win Myat Aye as the new minister of Social Welfare. He was someone who claimed Rohingyas/Muslims burned down their own homes during 2017-2018 Rohingya crisis. This happened on top of their trust-building issues with EAOs and ethnic minorities.

Personally, I’m a bit careful with CRPH because a majority of CRPH is made up of NLD members

 EAOs – Ethnic Armed Organizations – are armed groups that represent different ethnic minorities.  Many trace their roots to the fight against British and later Japanese colonialism. During the fight for Burmese independence, these minorities from different regions were promised self-administered zones in exchange for joining the fight, but after 1947 and after a military coup in 1962 all approaches towards federalism was off the table. Instead, the military government started raiding these areas.

Some EAOs are small and some can be huge (starting from 100-200 up to around 25,000 soldiers). Some do protect their states, but some just want to keep their status quo. For a long time, the fight against the military government was like a theatre play, or like a game; for the military, especially, it was a great way to spread propaganda. It was everywhere in school when I grew up. Some of the EAOs are powers onto themselves, like the largest, the Wa Army, which also acts as a criminal enterprise growing opium poppies for heroin.

Some EAOs are on the fence when negotiating with the CRPH because they felt like their trust was broken with NLD in the past. For instance, during the administration period, the NLD was not effective in negotiating the self-administered zones that many EAOs still see as their main aim. Now they want to wait and see how the CRPH will proceed. They know that if this revolution was a failure, the ethnic groups will be the first and most affected by the brutal junta – not the mainland Myanmar. Yet, a few members of CRPH are still focused on releasing their leaders as the main priority. If anything, civilians have made it clear that their goal is to abolish the 2008 constitution and the current armed forces organisation, release the detained leaders and form a federal union.

 

 

What do you believe will happen in the coming weeks in Myanmar?

 For the coming weeks, I can speak for Yangon – things could be relatively be calm. Because as we’ve mentioned, it’s not an equal fight – the SAC will use more brute force and unfortunately more people will die. On 27th March alone, an estimated 114 people were killed around the country. (There are 500-600 deaths in total nationwide now.) Less people will be out on the street in Yangon.

However, this could mean a calm before the storm. We have been informed by several networks that some groups have left for the EAOs territories to obtain equipment and training. Some people, especially younger people (including youngsters I know) are starting to believe that non-violent resistance doesn’t work against the oppressive junta. They want to arm themselves and start initiating guerrilla attacks in near future. This is a likely scenario in the upcoming months.

Personally, I think there needs to be a balance between a non-violent and possibly counter-attack solution. The CPRH forming a national government and getting international support is one way forward. I also think the military have been surprised by the civil disobedience movement – that civil servants joined freaked them out. The solution for them is just more violence, cutting off communication and information, and that may not work in preventing it.

 


Lone Kavan is a music producer and production designer, whose most recent work was on the feature film Money Has Four Legs, which premiered at the prestigious Busan International Film Festival – a film about censorship in Myanmar that in a stroke of irony is now in itself being censored in the new political climate. During the current protest movement, he’s been primarily working with providing safe houses, funding and topping up phone cards for journalists and civil servants who have quit as part of the civil disobedience efforts.

Smoke in the Eye – A Space Invader in the Colonial Archive

Smoke in the Eye – A Space Invader in the Colonial Archive

In 2020, the artist Munish Wadhia took up an artistic residency in a space with deep roots in colonialism: The Match Museum in Jönköping. By the end, it was fraught by deep distrust, positions of power laid bare and a retreading of the very structures the art was meant to question. In an article for Kultwatch, Munish Wadhia discusses his experience with the Match Museum residency and connects it to a sweeping historical and theoretical context where the construction of whiteness still permeates the institutional framework art functions within.

 


 

In 1997, at art school in London, the experience of disorientation at being immersed in an institutionalised white space framed my practice and education. This triggered a sudden reaction to an everyday object, the illustration on a matchbox label, with the text “England’s Glory” and an image of a Victorian battleship. The banality of the matchbox label effortlessly carrying imperial nostalgia was disturbing. For me this minute everyday object echoed the eurocentric perspective of the art institution.

During my artist residency at the Match Museum (Tändsticksmuseet) in Jönköping in 2020, I had a similar alienating experience on encountering a white space. In this context, my artistic enquiry was treated as belonging to a specific interest; my questions were of a particular nature outside their universal concerns. Nirmal Puwar uses the expression “Space Invaders” to describe what happens when women and ethnically marked bodies enter spaces that are not designed for them: 

 

‘space invaders’ endure a burden of doubt, a burden of representation, infantilisation and super-surveillance.1

 

In this report, I share my experience of becoming the “space invader”, occupying a space that was not designed or intended for my arrival.

 

 

Background

It was in 2010 that my attention was drawn to matchbox labels again by a copy of the artist Ravi Varma’s illustration of the Hindu goddess Kali that had the words “Made in Sweden” in bold on a matchbox label. I had been living in Sweden for a few years and as part of my practice I was interested in tracing the historical roots of the prints of Hindu gods that hung on the walls of my childhood home in Leicester, England.

Hindu mythological prints have been one of many markers of tradition and identity for the diaspora community I belong to. Through a western gaze, these sacred images are essentialised and appropriated onto kitsch decorative objects. However, their aesthetic form has arrived through a complex history of colonial resistance, political struggle, and religious liberation. With the advances of print technology, a hybrid of influences from 19th century European painting and regional painterly traditions allow the Hindu gods to take shape and reach the masses. 

The artist Ravi Varma is renowned for his paintings of mythological tales with realistic depictions of Hindu gods. His use of the academic style, championed by the colonisers, performs what Christopher Pinney calls a “Sly Civility”2  appeasing the civilising mission at the same time as subverting the pictorial narrative into an anti-colonial resistance. In my artistic practice I use references embedded in these prints strategically to speak about my personal and private history and navigate the westernised gaze by dislocating the pictorial and symbolic elements. My work appears as landscape paintings and large-scale painterly installations bringing the exotic foreign and familiar into a shared proximity where the margins of difference become blurred.

 

Studio image. Photo: Munish Wadhia.

 

 

”Made in Sweden” an artist residency at the Match Museum in Jönköping

When I learned about the residency programme, “Made in Sweden” at the Match Museum in Jönköping I immediately enquired about the possibility of a residency and followed up with a proposal focusing on the historical overlap between the Swedish match industry and colonial India. I was interested in tracing how their paths cross to bring the Hindu mythological prints to Sweden more than a century ago and how ideas remain exoticised and foreign when they have occupied a space for so long. I was offered the residency from January 2020. The Museum defined the aims of the partnership as using artistic research as a process to raise questions and bring new understandings to the collection that would result in an art exhibition in September 2020.

During my initial tour of the museum, I encountered a display of illustrations of match labels in cabinets, complemented by advertising placards, where images of flora and animals blended seamlessly with racist tropes and colonial fantasies. Amongst these prints were the Hindu mythological prints I had come to investigate. In this environment where racism was perpetuated, images close to my ancestral identity were framed as exotic. 

I felt further out of place at the presentation of a large, framed certificate from the World Exposition of 1893 in Chicago,3 with a title celebrating 400 years of the arrival of Christopher Columbus to the Americas, to indicate the quality of the matches. Through the absence of any criticality, the museum forecloses accountability for the match industry’s part in shaping an idea of European superiority and the justification of colonialism. 

The entry to the museum is adorned with Solstickan merchandise, that symbolises the happy national narrative of a benevolent industry bringing the worker out of poverty with a spotlight on child welfare. The racist entanglements with this happy narrative were highlighted during my research when finding a propaganda film by the match company named “Indianer och blekansikten”4 persuading people to buy the Solstickan brand, in order to fund summer camps for disadvantaged city children, to give them the opportunity to go to the countryside and play ‘Indianer’. From statistics I encountered during my research5 I found out that child labour was still part of the match industry in India after it had been banned in Sweden. The benevolence given to some children is contrasted by the exploitation of others. The museum takes pride in presenting global international success yet fails to present or examine the political and industrial practices that brought these profits and wealth from European colonies. It justifies this by exclaiming their focus is on the local.

 

Image from the archive of Match Museum (Tändsticksmuseet).

 

In contrast to what was on display in the museum, hidden in the archive multiple and diverse narratives were present. I discovered a large number of photographs from factories throughout the world. In a photo album made as a 50th birthday gift to Ivar Kreuger, founder of Swedish Match6 by his staff in India in the 1930’s, an image showed a shop front with “SWEDISH MATCHES” written in English and Gujarati, my home language. Within the museum display these photographs and stories of people of diverse origins could not find space, yet racialized stereotypes of them were a natural fit.

Dan Hicks, a curator and author of “The Brutish Museums: The Benin Bronzes, Colonial Violence and Cultural Restitution”7 suggests the curatorial tendency of many museums is to racialize its audience as white: 

 

“the anthro museum not only enacts the so-called “primitive” as other; it also racialises the visitor and curator as white.”8

 

Unlike the anthropological museums he targets in his book, the Match Museum is not built through the brutal theft of objects. However, the same logic applies here, too. The displays of illustrations on match labels and advertising plaques with orientalised and exoticised depictions that present the Other as ‘primitive’ were produced and printed by the match company. As with the prints of the world fairs certificates their is an absence of critique and when viewed side by side these prints though starkly different in size and authority speak of a colonial complicity. A mind-set that naturally erases thousands of stories memorialised through photographic documentation in the archive.

 

 

Smoke in the eye

 

“While all can, in theory, enter, it is certain types of bodies that are tacitly designated as being the ‘natural’ occupants of specific positions. Some bodies are deemed as having the right to belong, while others are marked out as trespassers, who are, in accordance with how both spaces and bodies are imagined (politically, historically and conceptually), circumscribed as being ‘out of place’.“9

 

During the residency I raised questions in response to artefacts on display that symbolised a colonial gaze and orientation. I wanted an explanation of the specific artefacts with the aim of productive discussion about the industry and its relationship to imperialism and colonialism. However, this triggered an unexpected fragility and defensiveness that resulted in some small tensions. But I remained empowered by the opportunity of a platform to speak about these issues through the materiality and poetics of art. 

 

Munish Wadhia, 2020. Installation image from the exhibition “Smoke in the Eye: Rupture in the Colonial Archive”, Match Museum, Jönköping. Photo: Linda Söndergaard.

 

In my studio, I was experimenting with the specific red color Faluröd that is associated with Swedish romantic cottages and Sindoor pigment commonly used in Hindu rituals but also in constructing national identities and tradition. Significant is how the pigments share the same hue, and in the exhibition I attempted to set them into a relation of oneness, diffusing into a singular colour. In doing so, I was aiming to dislocate their essentialising difference and demythologise the psychological distance between the foreign and the familiar into a shared proximity. This formed part of a sound, film and painting installation making up the exhibition Smoke in the Eye: Rupture in the Colonial Archive.

In June, the museum informed me that they planned to commission a large billboard poster with international matchbox labels to be placed in front of the museum building to market my exhibition. I was invited to offer suggestions of my preferred labels. I requested they use an image that related to my work and practice. Without further consultation the museum proceeded with their idea informing me that they had chosen Indian match labels and refused to replace them with an image of my work. In response, I demanded my name not be associated with the poster. This took place even though I had been interviewed twice at the beginning of the residency by the municipality communications department and a freelance journalist to produce a text reflecting on my practice and initial research. I informed them of the contradictions I saw in the archive, how people of colour were represented through an exotic gaze and the hundreds of photographs of factories and workers that had not been included in the Museum narrative. I also emphasised that I did not want my biography to be the focus of any marketing, conscious of the risk of my ethnicity being used as a checkbox for diversity work and to formulate difference.

I arrived at the museum for a two-week install process in September with a feeling of empowerment and excitement over bringing the installation to life following eight months of work. A short walk into Jönköping centre later that evening robbed me of any power I had felt as I became emotionally paralysed by large, illuminated posters with the title “Ett kolonialt perspektiv, konstutställning av Munish Wadhia”10 and an image of a hand in a white glove inspecting Indian matchboxes. 

 

Photo: Munish Wadhia.

 

I demanded the posters to be taken down and initially they said it was not possible. Then, following consultation with the art workers organisation Konstnärernas Riksorganisation, who recommended I ask them to consult their legal team, they were reluctantly taken down, seven days after my request.

The white glove covering the hand in the posters behaves as a metaphor of the racialised nature of this action where whiteness speaks for and violates the brown body, an act of ventriloquism. This speech act silenced my voice, and later during a three-hour meeting, where I reluctantly described how racism impacts the brown body, revealing my trauma, they pleaded innocence and denial. After these incidents I asked that they publicly correct and compensate me for the misguided marketing and the misuse of my name. I also asked for a plan of action from the municipality and museum to start a working process on decolonising the museum display. The aim would be to recognise that there is a racist structure that the industry grew from and a racist inheritance that the museology is shaped around and, in recognising this, there is a direction of change to move towards that is empowering for all people.

The structure of power in this skewed partnership was made evident by the director of the culture department of the city’s municipality (Jönköpings Kulturförvaltning) who, rather than choosing dialogue to repair trust instead denied any responsibility and requested his lawyer to send me a short letter stating there were no legal grounds for my demands. This abruptly ended all communication even while my show was running. The letter was beyond reason an aggressive act of power and denial of responsibility. I had clearly become the “space invader”, and to complain and demand actions to address the issues that had surfaced through my residency was seen as a threat and an unwanted invasion of their occupancy of the position of authority.

 

Studio image. Photo: Munish Wadhia.

 

In trying to come to a closure with this experience a possible strategy of moving on  is by drawing upon Kehinde Andrews notion of whiteness as psychosis, with the important understanding that structures of violence cannot be broken if the violence cannot be seen.  

 

Slavery, genocide, and colonialism are foundation stones of Western modernity, and through neo-colonial economic policies and exploitation of developing world labor is the system maintained. The system is held together by ignoring the chasm between myth and reality, which is why Whiteness manifests itself as a psychosis…

…if we see Whiteness as a psychosis, then we understand that it is hallmarked by irrationality and a distinct inability to see reality in any other way than the distorted view it creates.11  

 

In regards to the artistic residency at the Match Museum this distorted view preserves a curated national narrative based on racialising the visitor as white. This simultaneously creates and denies the experience of the space invader,  and leaves no room for raising questions or bringing new understandings that can stimulate a movement towards change. 

 

 

Top image: Munish Wadhia, 2020. Installation image from the exhibition Smoke in the Eye: Rupture in the Colonial Archive, Match Museum, Jönköping. Photo: Linda Söndergaard.

 


Footnotes

1. Puwar, Nirmal. Space invaders: race, gender and bodies out of place. Oxford New York: Berg, 2004. p. 11.
2. Pinney, Christopher, Photos of the Gods: The Printed Image and Political struggle in India. London: Reaktion Books, 2004.
3. The early World Fairs, through exhibits such as human zoos were an integral part of celebrating European civilization as superior in opposition to the primitive Other. These tools in constructing the myth of the exotic foreign other were the justification for colonialism.
4. Indianer och blekansikten [Indians and pale faces] (1945), Indianer is the derogatory term in Swedish for indigineous people, https://www.filmarkivet.se/movies/indianer-och-blekansikten.
5. Svenska Tändsticksaktiebolaget, The Swedish match company: General staff rules for India. [Pärm.] [Illustr.], Bombay, 1929.
6. Between 1917-1932 Ivar Kreuger formed Svenska Tändstickor AB taking control of all Swedish match factories and expanding rapidly into a multinational company by providing loans to governments in exchange for match monopolies. He was primarily funded through US investors and the US stock market crash of 1929 revealed how he had grown the company through fraudulent accounting methods eventually leading to his suicide in 1932.
7. Hicks, Dan, The Brutish Museums: The Benin Bronzes, Colonial Violence and Cultural Restitution, Pluto Press, London 2020.
8. Private email correspondence with Dan Hicks.
9. Puwar, Nirmal, Space invaders: race, gender and bodies out of place. Oxford New York: Berg, 2004. p.8.
10. English translation, “A colonial perspective, art exhibition by Munish Wadhia”.
11. K. Andrews, The Psychosis of Whiteness: the celluloid hallucinations of Amazing Graze and Belle. Journal of Black Studies 2016.

Adoptionsprocessen

Adoptionsprocessen

Med sitt Instagramkonto, Stulen identitet, har Maria Fredriksson vuxit fram som en av de starkaste kritiska rösterna i den svenska adoptionsdebatten. I en serie teckningar skildrar hon de internationella adoptionerna till Sverige med ett obarmhärtigt mörker och en ständigt närvarande medkänsla med barnen. Först publicerade på sociala medier återpubliceras de nu på Kultwatch och har här också kompletterats med nyskrivna poetiska textrader.


 

En figur utan ansikte i blont hår och sverigedräkt, med en knapp med texten Absolut Censur, håller en hög blodiga pengar i ena handen. De rinner ner i en sparbössa med en koreansk Taegeuk-symbol och texten SWS. Med andra handen ger figuren slickepinnar till två barn som rasifieras som annat än vita. Ett barn till står i förgrunden och håller i en slickepinne. Hennes mun är övertejpad med två korslagda plåster. Hon tittar mot de andra barnen.

Det skall köpas i tid det som vårt skall bli.

Korea säljer patriarkatets dammråttor dyrt till ett barnhungrigt Sverige som tystar barnskrik med materiellt överflöd.

 

Fyra barn som rasifieras som annat än vita står bakom ett bord. Deras munnar är överklistrade med plåster i vit hudfärg, och ett barn har sina händer hopbundna. En figur utan ansikte, i blont hår och Sverigedräkt och två knappar (med "svt" på den ena och Adoptionscentrums logotyp på den andra) står också bakom bordet. Figuren är i färd med att klistra ett plåster med en svensk flagga på över munnen på ytterligare ett barn som står på huk uppe på bordet. Barnet gråter och stretar emot. På bordet ligger en tom ask med plåster i vit hudton och texten "Skin Aid", en ask med plåster med svenska flaggan på och texten "Swed-Aid", en flaska med texten "AB Wyte", ett rep och ett par handklovar.

Det skall tystas i tid det som tyst skall bli.

 

En figur i blont hår och Sverigedräkt, med knappar som det står AC och MFOF på, badar ett barn i en balja med svenska flaggor på. På barnet finns en koreansk Taegeuk-symbol målad. Figuren håller barnets händer hårt och torkar med en trasa symbolen, som färgat av sig på trasan. Bredvid barnet står en burk med texten "Vita Dej" och en sol på etiketten, och en burk med texten "Adoption Lotion".

Det skall blekas i tid det som svenskt skall förbli.

Olikhet får inte växa fritt, det skall liksom ett bonsaiträd beskäras både i rot och blad.

Om adoption ska bota svenskar från rasism måste avvikelserna hållas i schack.

 

 En figur i blont hår och Sverigedräkt, med två knappar med texten "MFOF" respektive "AC" på, står i ett rum med en midsommarstång utanför fönstret. På ett bord med en stor svensk flagga som duk står en köttkvarn. Figuren mal ner ett gråtande barn i kvarnen. Ut kommer gult och blått kött. Bredvid köttkvarnen står en kokplatta med en stekpanna på, där gula och blå köttbullar håller på att stekas.

Det skall lagas i tid det som färdigt skall bli.

Mal, trilla och stek så både ser och smakar det välbekant.

 


Toppbild, syntolkning: Samma bild som bild ett, se alternativtext. Teckning: Maria Fredriksson.

8 mars-intervju med Amalia Alvarez

8 mars-intervju med Amalia Alvarez

Varje år inför 8 mars intervjuar Kultwatch personer ur kulturvärlden som inspirerar oss kring deras relation till feminismen. I år har turen kommit till serieskaparen Amalia Alvarez, vars socialrealistiska seriealbum och enskilda serier ofta skildrar prekära kvinnoliv. Hon arbetar just nu på sin tredje bok.


“Gender Equality”, serie av Amalia Alvarez. Syntolkning: En person med feministhalsband blir intervjuad. Fråga: “Why are there so many whites that are managers on the Swedish media Radio?” Svar: “The recruitment of managers is based on merit, not skin color”. Fråga: “And why are there only white women among the middle managers?” Svar: “Because we have a gender equality polity here, actually.”

 

Vilka feministiska frågor är viktigast för dig?

De historier och kamper som kvinnor och transkvinnor med bakgrund utanför Europa för. Jag kommer från en kontinent där det fortfarande, trots ockupationen, existerar värderingar från en urgammal civilisation, som skulle kunna bidra mycket till diskussionen om feminism i Sverige och resten av Europa. Den eurocentrism och rasism som ofta finns i de feministiska forumen tillåter inte oss att utveckla frigörandet av sexualitet, kropp, livsvillkor och att hitta den plats som vi alla har i naturen.

 De gamla civilisationerna i Abyayala (s.k. Amerika) har de här koncepten klara för sig och de här värderingarna kallar vi ”El buen vivir” (det goda livet). Kvinnorna och våra familjer, våra livskamrater, våra söner, är också en del av den frigörande kampen som tog sin början för mer än 500 år sedan, med ankomsten av de handelsresande i död och lidande som kom från Europa. Det är viktigt för mig att vi själva berättar om vår feminism för att berika demokratin, sättet att se på världen och för att förbereda kommande generationer som kommer för en bättre värld för alla.

 

“Multiculturalism”, serie av Amalia Alvarez. Syntolkning: En person som bara syns från halsen till midjan. Hen har på sig en tröja med texten “Multiculturalism, each one in their place”. Hen säger: “We feel it’s important to discuss multiculturalism in art.” “But, the problem is…” “…that the discussion may become exaggerated, discriminatory, polarized, radical, aggressive, politicized, and greate a poor working environment.”

 

Hur använder du feminism i ditt konstutövande?

Som kvinna från Abyayala, med en mamma som är Mapuche och en pappa som är Lickanantay, och de lärdomar som jag fått i våra samhällen, från folk som jag, i prekära situationer, har jag inspirerats att våra fantastiska historier fulla av liv, kamp, motstånd och allianser måste visas upp för världen. För detta använder jag mig av verktyget serier. Jag är serieskapare, och genom det visuella narrativet kan jag föra fram miljoner av erfarenheter av kroppar som kallas kvinnor, och deras familjer, som bor i den här delen av Moder jord, Pata Hoiri, och som osynliggörs konstant.

Jag organiserar mig i ett kollektiv av kvinnor, där en majoritet är från Abyayala och ”indianer”. Vi tar tillvara och passar de historier som vi får från våra dagliga liv och jag har sedan uppgiften att presentera dem i serieformat. Det här kallar vi representativitet, där vi själva berättar kärnan i historien, och där vi känner igen oss i historierna och hur kollektivet kan känna igen historierna som våra. För oss är representativitet viktigt i de politiska antirasistiska serierna, för om vi tillåter att andra, som inte har lidit rasism, ska berätta våra historier, då kommer det som David Theo Goldberg och Philomena Essed kallar ”cultural cloning” att reproduceras och våra röster kommer att fortsätta att osynliggöras. De historier som jag tecknar är inte mina, de är resultatet av ett kollektiv. Jag tecknar historier om personer som osynliggjorts av den vita överhögheten.

 

“Fri entré”, serie av Amalia Alvarez. Syntolkning: En vit man med skägg och dreadlocks står med armarna i kors bredvid en skylt med texten “Fri entré för alla och invandrare 100 kr. Feminism och integration”. En korthårig ickevit person frågar honom: “Sorry… Skulle vi inte kunna prata om rasism?” och får svaret “Jamen herregud! Vi pratar om patriarkatet, manschauvinismen som invandrarmän håller på med. Ni kommer hit från ociviliserade länder och främmande kulturer, med hedersmord, sexism och våldtäkter… Inte om rasism!”

 

Vilka feministiska förebilder skulle du vilja lyfta?

Moder jord är min största inspiration, och sedan miljoner människor som jag träffar och lär känna genom deras dagliga kamper. Ett exempel är mina muslimska grannar som kämpar mot rasismen som vill göra dem till offer och kriminalisera deras partners och söner. Ett annat exempel är mina papperslösa transsexuella kamrater som konstant förföljs och som ändå tror att en värld utan hat är möjlig. Jag inspireras av ”Las mamai” från mitt land Lickana, från mitt folk Lickanantay, som gör motstånd mot förorenandet av luften, de heliga floderna, mot rasismen från nationalstaten som avhumaniserar oss. Jag inspireras också av ”Las mamai” i djungeln och bergen som har kämpat hundratals år, och ger sina liv för att skydda miljön. En kamp som Europa konstant försöker att gömma, för de vet att de verkliga hjältarna finns utanför Europa. Min inspiration är de svarta kvinnorna i Abyayala, de som ingår allianser med oss ”indianer” eller ursprungsbefolkningen för att försvara sina familjers liv. Jag inspireras av de ”indianska” mammorna som lider det värsta för en kvinna, stölden av deras barn. Detta apropå kampen som de gör i Wallmapu, i södra det som kallas Chile. Jag växte upp med kvinnor i prekära situationer, och de är de och deras kamper som inspirerar mig.

 

“Assimilering”, serie av Amalia Alvarez. Syntolkning: Två kvinnor pratar med varandra. En ser trött ut. Den andra säger “Vad konstigt att du lider av rasism. Jag är också invandrare och har aldrig blivit utsatt för rasism. Jag har till och med väninnor som du, indianer som kan bete sig som svenskarna vill, och de går inte runt och ser rasism överallt, de håller tyst, och jobbar utan att klaga, för när man är invandrare måste man göra som svenskarna gör, annars får man åka tillbaka dit man kom ifrån, bla bla bla…” Den första kvinnan lägger sig ner på bordet. Den andra säger: “Hallå!… Sitter du och sover?!…”

 

Serie av Amalia Alvarez. Syntolkning: En svart kille med skägg sitter med sin telefon. Han säger: “Autocorrect är pain ibland. Alhamdulilah blir avhandling. Mashallah blir mässhallen.” “och Sheytan blir Björn Söder.”

Toppbild, syntolkning: Självporträtt av Amalia Alvarez.

Sårbarhet ett privilegium reserverat för vita gärningsmän

Sårbarhet ett privilegium reserverat för vita gärningsmän

När knivdådet i Vetlanda inträffade i veckan skrev tidningarna nästan omgående om fallet som en misstänkt terrorattack, trots att det inte fanns några som helst bevis för att så var fallet. Kulturvetaren Airin Fardipour ser ett mönster i sätt brott beskrivs där den typen av beskrivningar är allt annat än ett sammanträffande.


Återigen är rubriksättning relevant att diskutera. I veckan som gått skedde ett knivattentat i Vetlanda, där polisen misstänker terrormotiv. Först dagen efter skriver Aftonbladet att den misstänkte är i dåligt skick och förmodligen narkoman som tycks varit i dåligt skick under en tid. 

Narrativet tycks alltid te sig annorlunda när gärningsmannen är den andre, det vill säga rasifierad. Då beskrivs denne slentrianmässigt som terrorist utan att man tar hänsyn till personens individuella bakgrund, motiv och mentala hälsa. Personen agerar då som en del av kollektiva terrorhandlingar, och dådet blir inte en isolerad apart händelse. 

När det rör sig om en ickevit gärningsman tenderar det att finnas terrormotiv utskrivet i texten oavsett om personen är skyldig till det eller inte. Inga försiktighetsåtgärder vidtas. Det finns heller inga spekulationer kring gärningsmannens eventuella psykiska hälsa, missbruk eller utsatthet.

Hur ska vi ha det? Antingen tycker vi synd om alla eller så tycker vi inte synd om någon

Så beskrivs inte gärningsmän med privilegier! Begrepp som dåd används, det tycks sällan röra sig om misstänkt terrorism med högerextrema motiv. Man är också mer förlåtande i sin retorik och menar att det handlar om ensamvargar med psykisk ohälsa som agerar ensamma. Det är ju synd om dem! De ses sällan som delar av rörelser med rasistiska motiv. Hur ska vi ha det? Antingen tycker vi synd om alla eller så tycker vi inte synd om någon?! Bristen på konsekvens är total. 

Det gäller vita som dödat personer och begått brott i Sverige eller på sin utlandssemester, notera Calle Jonsson (som även efter att han kommit hem från Grekland dömts för misshandel i Sverige), en man som drogpåverkad dödade tre personer i Barcelona, Annika Östberg med flera. Listan är lång! 

Samtliga fall har genererat stöd och sympatier bland den allmänna opinionen/medier, och det blir inget vidare efterspel, eller spekulationer kring varför dessa ‘tenderar att agera såhär’, de har hamnat i kläm och bör förstås, bara för att nämna några. 

En vit svensk är i princip alltid oskyldigt dömd i någon korrupt och undermålig rättsstat någonstans utanför Sveriges gränser.

En vit svensk är i princip alltid oskyldigt dömd i någon korrupt och undermålig rättsstat någonstans utanför Sveriges gränser. I fallet Calle finns vittnen både i Grekland och i Sverige som vittnar om hans våldshandlingar men här skyddas av han av svensk preskriptionstid. Han anklagas även för förtal då han påståtts ljuga om tortyr i den Grekiska arresten, ännu ett brott han misstänks för.

När jag för något år sedan skrev till DN om varför de inte skriver om gärningsmän på samma premisser angående fallet i Tyskland där en man dödade personer med invandrarbakgrund, påstod journalisten, att dådet utförts av en man som misstänks lida av en psykisk sjukdom. Den mentala hälsan är alltid något som nämns, medan orsaken till rasifierades handlingar blir kulturellt/etniskt betingade.

Minns också när en kvinna från Sydafrika förlorade vårdnaden om sitt barn och gick under jorden i Sverige och svensk media och kändisar som Susanne Reuter tog kvinnan i försvar och svartmålade fadern och det Sydafrikanska rättsväsendet. En svensk kvinna kan ju omöjligen kidnappa sin dotter utan gör sitt yttersta för att skydda dottern. Likt ett omvänt Inte utan min dotter-fall den där den iranska kulturen systematiskt angrips medan den amerikanska kulturen framstår som överlägsen. Boken gavs ut passande nog under en tid då relationen mellan USA och Iran var som mest frostig.  (Vill man läsa mer om populärorientalism kan man läsa Magnus Bergs bok Hudud – ett resonemang och populärorientalismens bruksvärde och världsbild.)

När terrordåd sker inom ramen för högerextremism, agerar gärningsmannen alltid ensam, utan att man tar hänsyn till stämningar och växande högerextremism, rasistisk diskurs osv. Dessa ses som sinnesförvirrade individer, incelpersoner som aldrig granskas som grupp med kollektiva idéer och motiv. Icke-rasifierade personer slipper också ta smällen för gärningsmännens handlingar.

Det handlar det inte prompt om att alla ska klassas som terrorister, utan mer om att narrativen och att den efterföljande debatten skiljer sig åt. Våldsförövare bör bedömas på samma premisser.


Toppbild: Storgatan i Vetlanda. Foto: I99pema CC-BY-SA 4.0

En plats, ett rum

En plats, ett rum

Varför har vissa vänner dubbla Facebookkonton? Manusförfattaren Aman Niel skriver om en skavande existentiell kris i mellanförskapets och det dubbla medvetandets grumliga kölvatten.


34. Fredag.

Sommaren går mot sitt slut, det börjar bli bråttom. Måste bara säga det jag vill ha sagt.

 

35. Lördag.

Det är många tankar, många situationer som får ytterligare ett svårt i våra kroppar. Kan tex inte sjunga med när Håkan spelas, känns bara fel på nåt vis.

Och tänker oxå på språket. Särskilt när jag talar med grannar och kollegor. Tänker på att det inte får låta för mycket sådär, men heller inte sådär ansträngt. Du vet.

Och måste vara lyhörd. För att läsa in, läsa av. Alltid vara beredd på att parera, att svara.

Måste. För att överleva.

Vad mer. Juste. Du har kärleken oxå. Inte lätt.

Inte om man är typen som överanalyserar i alla fall. Men det går ju inte stänga av och kan liksom inte hjälpa att tänka att det är nåt som är skevt när hon berättar att hennes tre senaste pojkvänner är halvgambian, somalier och nu jag eritrean. Jag vet inte. Är det mig det är fel på? Gör jag fel som dömer henne?

Men det kan bli krångligt åt andra hållet oxå. Minns när jag bjöd ut henne, hon vackra. She did not approve. Hörde besvikelsen när hon undrade varför vi skulle gå på utställningen med bara vita konstnärer.

Och på det, så har du allt det svåra kring sex. För det blir snurrigt när exotifiering, konservativ hemkultur och porr överlappar. Inget bra recept.

Men så klart, det är inte bara vi som har svårt att hitta fram i kärleken. Det är alla andra oxå. För sån är platsen, tiden. VI blev JAG och skulle plötsligt inte längre vara guds barn. Det är en existentiell kris, som ingen vill prata om. Men alla känner det. Skavet. Även vi och det blir liksom ytterligare en grej. Som hindrar.

Och det där är ganska talande för våra öden. Bär samma tunga, måste orka genom samma utmaningar. Men har det där extra svåra som följer med kropparna. Flykten. Aa, flykten. Det där är ett eget kapitel. Vad säger man om det egentligen. Det är en sån konstig grej det föräldrar tvingades till. Att lämna allt. Sina hem, sitt språk. Och jag ser ju när jag skriver orden, att de är återanvända. Utnötta. Och jag känner det, att de liksom inte gör sorgen och kampen rättvisa.

Kommer ihåg en grej mamma sa till mig i tonåren. “Fåglarna sjunger inte för mig här, jag kan inte tala till dom här träden”. Det är vad flykt är. Det finns inga lyckliga slut för de som lämnat hem. Bara saknad.

Men ansvaret lättar ju inte för det. Måste ändå försöka försörja familj, sina egna här och ofta den stora där. Alla som är kvar i hemlandet och hoppas. På klänningen, på dom nya skorna. På kylskåpet.

Och för oss, barnen till de som flydde, väntar det stora okända. Måste ta oss fram och vidare i ny värld. I nya idéer. I ny ordning. Allt är nytt här. Inte bara för oss. Utan för människan.

Och vi får se hur det här experimentet slutar, men tills dess så måste jag ha nånstans att bo. Måste försörja barn. Så, man gör det man behöver.

Man plockar högskolepoäng, delar föräldraledighet och pratar miljökris. Livet är här och formas av idéerna här. Och det blir ett annat liv, än det föräldrars traditioner och seder förberett för. Och det där är smärtsamt, för mig. För dom.

Men vill ju inte göra illa dom. Tvärtom, vill möta deras stolta blick. Och det är just det som orsakar klyvningen. Det där dubbla som vi går runt med. Dubbla liv, dubbla personer. Känner tom vänner med dubbla FB-konton.

Yes, it is messy.


Toppbild, syntolkning: Barnen Nardos och Lamik kikar in genom ett fönster. Inomhus i halvmörker sitter Freweini, en medelålders kvinna, med ryggen mot barnen.

Svar från Sandra Harms, Miso Film och Fredrik “Benke” Rydman på det öppna brevet

Svar från Sandra Harms, Miso Film och Fredrik “Benke” Rydman på det öppna brevet

Den 10 november publicerade vi ett öppet brev från en grupp dansare och koreografer som riktade kritik mot filmprojektet The Meaning of Hip Hop som Miso Film och koreografen Fredrik “Benke” Rydman stod bakom. Den 13 november fick Kultwatch in ett svarsbrev av Miso Films producent Sandra Harms, som vi nu publicerar med ett kompletterande svarsbrev av Fredrik Rydman. Vi har också låtit originalförfattarna till det öppna brevet svara för att knyta ihop diskussionen.


Sandra Harms, Producent, Miso Films Sverige

Jag är inte, och har aldrig gjort anspråk på att vara, insatt i hiphop-världen. Det jag däremot gör är att producera film och TV. Historier som utspelar sig i olika världar som jag inte lever i. Jag har producerat en film om gatubarn i irakiska Kurdistan, jag har producerat en film om fängslade journalister, en tv-serie om trafficking. Ingen av dessa världar har jag någon personlig koppling till eller kunskap om. Det som däremot är viktigt är att göra sin research och vara ödmjuk inför att man inte vet, jag har lagt ner dagar och veckor i alla dessa projekt på att lära mig om världen historien utspelar sig i. Vi har inte hunnit dit än i det här projektet, det är fortfarande i sin linda. Filmen är alltså inte finansierad, castad eller bemannad med team.

Jag förstår att det finns en väldig massa ilska bakom detta brev som har med annat än vår film att göra. Strukturella orättvisor som återkommer gång på gång. Därför är det viktigt att definiera vad vår film är i nuläget:

1. Det finns ett manus som handlar om sex tonåringar i Stockholm som älskar att dansa det vi (kanske felaktigt) kallat hiphop. Den dansstil vi sett framför oss är det vi ser tävlingar i stil med Streetstar. Handlingen kretsar kring ungdomarnas liv, relationer, vänner och kärleken till att dansa. De har olika bakgrund, familjer och berättelser. Det är alltså en ungdomsfilm, inte ett porträtt av hiphop-/battlekulturen.

2. Det finns 4 personer i projektet i nuläget. Det finns inget produktionsteam, därför förstår jag inte kritiken att vi inte inkluderar folk med rötter i kulturen. Självklart vill vi göra det!

3. Ingen casting till filmen är gjord, ingen skådespelare är tillsatt. Vi har precis startat castingprocessen.

4. Vi gjorde ett stort misstag i den vilseledande arbetstiteln “The meaning of hiphop”. Tanken var att den syftade på ungdomarnas perspektiv, vad det betyder för dem att dansa. Men vi insåg att titeln gav en felaktig bild och vi tog bort den direkt. Vi ber om ursäkt att titeln provocerat.

Projektets bakgrund: Lisa James Larsson har skrivit manus till, och ska regissera, filmen. Idéen kom från en danstävling för ungdomar som Lisa besökte och tyckte var en inspirerande arena för en film. Att porträttera olika världar som inte är hennes egen, är något Lisa har stor erfarenhet av och är väldigt skicklig på. Både hon och jag har följt Benke och det han gjort under lång tid. Vi ville att hans talang, erfarenhet och kunskap inom dans skulle bli en del av den här filmen och därför kontaktade vi honom. På vårt första möte med Benke enades vi om att bjuda in olika dansare och koreografer från hiphopscenen i filmen för att differentiera de olika karaktärerna, något vi fortfarande planerar att göra. Benke har bl.a. kontaktat en av avsändarna till ert öppna brev, men hen har avböjt att vara med.

Vidare tyckte Benke att vi borde byta titel på filmen. Det höll både jag och Lisa med om men eftersom vi ville komma igång med castingen och redan hade tagit fram en affisch med “The meaning of hiphop” på så lät vi den stå. Det var mitt beslut och det var fel, dock bestod felet inte i något annat än en vilja att komma igång med castingen. Hade jag förstått till vilken grad titeln skulle provocera hade vi självklart stannat upp och hittat en annan titel.

Generellt tycker jag det bästa sättet att göra skillnad är att kontakta källan till problemet. Ni menar att det är jag och Miso Film. Vore inte det bästa att då kontakta mig med en vilja att samarbeta och förändra? Det är jag väldigt öppen för, både i detta projekt och generellt. Men ingen av er har kontaktat mig innan detta öppna brev kom ut, ingen är intresserad av att ta reda på fakta innan kritiken läggs fram. Jag är helt medveten om att vår bransch och vår värld innehåller strukturella orättvisor som vi måste hjälpas åt att förändra. Vi vill verkligen inte ha en mer polariserad värld, vi måste bli mer medvetna och inkluderande. Men tycker ni att det är det ni bjuder in till med detta brev?

Jag tycker att ett bättre sätt hade varit att kontakta mig. Ta ett möte. 98% av positionerna i det här projektet är fortfarande lediga så det finns alla förutsättningar att tillsätta rätt personer på rätt platser och vi vill verkligen göra det.

Avslutningsvis skulle jag vilja ställa frågan: är det bättre att vi (jag och Lisa) låter bli att göra en film om ungdomar som dansar hiphop för att vi inte har rötter i kulturen själva? Är det bättre att vi, som så många andra, enbart berättar historier om den vita medelklass vi själva tillhör? Vad händer då med representationen både bakom och framför kameran? Vi vill samarbeta med er och andra som besitter kunskap och erfarenhet vi inte har. Hur ska kulturer kunna sprida sig och blandas om man bara får gilla och porträttera den man själv tillhör? Det är ju genom kultur man lär sig förstå andra perspektiv.

Jag ser den här frågan som så mycket större än detta projekt och vill gärna diskutera den. Om det verkligen ska bli en skillnad så måste det finnas en samarbetsvilja.

Niki, eftersom du står överst som avsändare, jag hoppas du vill ha en dialog med mig? Jag ser fram emot att ha det med dig. Kan vi ses och prata om hur jag och projektet kan bli bättre?


Fredrik “Benke” Rydman, koreograf

Först vill jag skriva att både jag och teamet bakom filmen står på samma sida som ni gör ideologiskt. Min avsikt har aldrig varit någon annan än att göra detta jobb på bästa sätt med avseende på de aktuella frågorna.

Jag vill också slå fast att jag inser att jag inte är fullärd vad gäller de problem ni tar upp, och vill i och med kritiken ta vara på tillfället att reflektera och öka min förståelse.

Sandra Harms, producent på Miso film har svarat på en stor del av kritiken i ett brev till Kultwatch.se.

Jag vill komplettera genom att ge en bild av hur jag ser på mitt arbete i detta projekt. Som koreograf till en film som gestaltar naturalistiska karaktärer, till skillnad från många scenproduktioner då man ofta jobbar med förhöjda karaktärer, är det viktigt att med hjälp av dansarens egna material bygga karaktär, koreografi, och mejsla fram den personens berättelse. I denna film fungerar jag mer som en guide och coach i rörelserna, snarare än att dansaren skulle lära sig mitt material. Det vore kontraproduktivt att sudda ut dansarnas egna uttryck. Förhoppningen var att med kunskapen hos personer (dansarna/skådespelarna själva och andra) som är väl förankrade i kulturen, tillsammans med min erfarenhet kring komposition, kamerarörelse, gestaltning av emotioner i rörelse och karaktärsutveckling åstadkomma något nyskapande och berörande.

Precis som i förarbetet inför vilken föreställning/film som helst måste man även här sätta sig in i ämnet då människor i en kultur skall gestaltas. Jag har aldrig sett det som att jag är tillräckligt insatt i den kulturen, så det har hela tiden varit självklart för mig att att göra det arbetet grundligt.

Givetvis har jag som en person i teamet möjlighet att påverka, och det gör jag också. Allt efter bästa förmåga, men man kan alltid göra bättre. Det vill jag.

Eftersom jag tror att samtal och samarbete är en viktig väg framåt, och för att föra detta i rätt riktning, vill jag bjuda in till en öppen diskussion där jag kan lära mig att bli bättre på att, i mina sammanhang, bidra till att motverka det vi får kritik för. Med utgångspunkt hur verkligheten ser ut kan vi tillsammans diskutera konkreta exempel på hur vi tillsammans kan påverka i rätt riktning. Jag vet, det är inte er uppgift att ge mig information, jag kommer även söka den på andra ställen, men om någon vill medverka på ett möte i närmsta framtiden så är jag tacksam.

Maila mig på benke@houseofshapes.se så kommer vi överens om en tid och plats.


Slutreplik från skribenterna bakom det öppna brevet

Inledningsvis så vill vi understryka att det, precis som ni beskriver, handlar om ett strukturellt problem. Ett återkommande mönster där dansare och kreatörer som rasifieras blir exkluderade ur produktioner som denna och i vanlig ordning går idéarbetet och den rådgivande positionen till en vit man som i decennier, tillsammans med en rad andra helvita aktörer, institutioner och produktionsbolag, har kapitaliserat på Hip Hop-kulturen. Vi hade uppriktigt sagt hoppats på ett annat svar från er. Vi kan inte se att ni på Miso Film har tagit till er av kritiken eller ens förstått det vi utförligt problematiserade.

Vi har framfört att vi anser att vikten av att ha rätt typ av spetskompetens och upplevda erfarenheter från kulturen är avgörande vid produktioner av detta slag. Här faller det ansvaret först på produktionsbolaget, men även hos den tillsatte, att kunna urskilja på expertis och sätta rätt person på rätt plats. Det finns ingen skam i att avsäga sig ett uppdrag som sträcker sig utanför den kompetens som en besitter. Detta belyser även den maktstruktur och ordning som genomsyrar kultur- och mediesektorn, samt problematiken i hur vitheten i decennier har tagit, och fortfarande tar sig friheten att appropriera kultur i medvetenhet om att strukturella privilegier tillåter att en kommer undan, men avsaknaden på individuellt ansvar är minst lika problematiskt.

I referens till hur det historiskt och kulturellt har sett ut inom kultur- och mediesektorn, och den strukturella systematiken kring vilka som tillåts att gestalta och kapitalisera på icke vita/västerländska kulturer, arv och erfarenheter, behöver vitheten tänka om och ta sitt yttersta ansvar. Vidare handlar det om huruvida det överhuvudtaget finns en trygg plattform för rasifierade aktörer från Hip Hop-kulturen i relation till den rådande vithetsnorm som dominerar sektorn. Här ber vi er att inte falla i fällan av att bemöta kritiken med bräcklighet och ursäkter utan att istället vara öppna för att lyfta blicken och initiera ett omfattande jämlikhetsarbete där mångfald och inkludering är en av ståndpunkterna i ert arbete och organisation.

Det bör alltid ligga hos avsändaren att vara införstådd i frågor som rör representation, inkludering, whitewashing och kulturell appropriering. Istället finner vi oss i en situation där enkla bortförklaringar förväntas att godtas. Ni har oreflekterat önskat att vi ska lösa era problem, i synnerhet efter att ni offentligt fått kritik, vilket medför ännu ett lager av vithetens maktmissbruk gentemot personer som rasifieras. Vi som har skrivit brevet ser fram emot en förändring kring dessa frågor, inte bara i filmbranschen utan i samhället som stort, och vill avslutningsvis uppmana till att fler ifrågasätter den systematiska exkluderingen av personer som rasifieras inom den svenska kultur- och mediesektorn.



Niki Tsappos
– Dansare, pedagog, projektledare

Andreas Sanchez – Dansare, pedagog
Fredrik Quiñones – Dansare, koreograf, skådespelare
Talia Gallegos Fadda – Dansare, projektledare
Nils Theren – Dansare, pedagog
Stina Theren – Dansare, grafisk designer, fotograf
Marvil Iglesias – Dansare
Fredrika Burvall – Dansare, projektledare
Brian Madika – Dansare, koreograf
Ida Inxi Holmlund – Dansare, koreograf
Anita Basha – Dansare, pedagog, projektledare
Julian Joujou Namroud – Dansare, pedagog, projektledare
Chatchai Rasrisut – Dansare, pedagog


Toppbild: Ny affisch för castingen till filmprojektet. Titeln “The Meaning of Hip Hop” har tagits bort från den föregående versionen.

Delivered Home with No Eye Contact

Delivered Home with No Eye Contact

Delivered Home with No Eye Contact, an exhibition at Greenhouse in Rotterdam, 7-12 October 2020, curated by Juljia Muckutè, consists of a series of paintings by artist Diana Al-Halabi. They portray screenshots from video calls which Al-Halabi had with her family and friends back in Beirut, Lebanon while in the Netherlands. In the following text Muckutè asks Al-Halabi a couple of questions about the artist’s relation to home, phones and video calls.


[15:43, 9/24/2020]

Julija Muckutè: Can you really see someone through a screen?

Diana Al-Halabi: Not really, a screen speaks more of where we are, rather than whom we are, or how we are. It is tiring to have virtual reality, but it is much more convenient than if I would have traveled abroad to do my study back in 1900 for example. I would be sending my friends and family letters, which nonetheless would be valuable, but also ghostly.

 

Why do you facetime instead of calling?

— I need to see people in their settings, and I need to show them my surroundings. I don’t want any of us to become  ghosts stuck in a labyrinth of memories. Unfortunately, even though I video call when I want to look into their eyes, I still find myself looking at their eyes and never into them. The impossibility of eye contact in a video call leaves you with the imperfections of technology and confronts you with the reality of distance. A phone can never break that distance, and we find ourselves neither here nor there. This is exactly why I decided to paint those video calls. I used to say that whoever didn’t migrate or live abroad, or has never been a refugee, can never understand what it is to have the dominance of this rectangular format of socializing in one’s life. Then the Covid-19 pandemic came to our lives, and almost everyone became a migrant in their own homes, dialing video calls almost all the time.

 

What role does the phone play in how you see where you belong?

— The phone is both a blessing and a curse. Everything related to it makes me have dual realities. On October 17th 2019, a revolution began in Beirut. I had only been in Rotterdam for one month and a half,   so I was very fresh in the city, and seeing what was happening in Beirut was heartbreaking. My phone was constantly in my hands, even during seminars. I was refreshing my Facebook feed every minute to stay connected to what was happening in the streets of Beirut. The phone can split one’s life into two places, and that is both beautiful and exhausting. I once asked my friends to have a video call with me from inside the protest. So physically I would be walking in the streets of the Netherlands with people greeting me with a smile (given that it is sunny and they are in a good mood), while on my phone I would be looking at tear gas and people running for their lives. Disturbing no?

 

Very! Where is your home?

— At first, I didn’t think that this question would be difficult to answer. Since my arrival here in Rotterdam a year and a month ago, I haven’t visited my hometown yet, and a lot have happened since: a revolution, inflation, a pandemic and a blast that killed over 300 people, injured thousands, and destroyed half of the city (my home included).

So where is home? Is it here, in a city where I am still trying to find my favorite café and cheese? I don’t think so yet. Can home be a place that has changed immensely since I left? I am afraid to find out the answer, as well as I am afraid of going back to visit. Perhaps I don’t want to have the answer to this question, as it might be that I have no home anymore or  at least until further notice.

 

Installation view. Photo: Diana Al-Halabi, 2020

Top image: Installation view. Photo: Steven Maybury, 2020

 

Stoppa approprieringen av Hip Hop – Öppet brev till Miso Film och Fredrik “Benke” Rydman

Stoppa approprieringen av Hip Hop – Öppet brev till Miso Film och Fredrik “Benke” Rydman

I ett öppet brev adresserat Miso Film och koreografen Fredrik “Benke” Rydman skriver flertalet representanter från Hip Hop-danscommunityn om filmbolagets förhållningssätt till sin kommande film i relation till kulturell appropriering och strukturell exkludering. Det efter att pionjärer från communityn återigen uteslutits till fördel för vitheten, som väckt starka reaktioner.


Vi, representanter från den svenska Hip Hop-danscommunityn, kontaktar er, Miso Film och Fredrik “Benke” Rydman, för att adressera den djupa och omfattande problematiken med er kommande film “The Meaning of Hip Hop”.

Efter en kollektiv granskning av kommunikationsunderlag (flyer och tillhörande audition-video material), som synliggör att ni verkar i helvita rum med en avsaknad av närvaro av personer som rasifieras och utövare av den battlekultur som ni önskar att porträttera, har starka reaktioner väckts hos Sveriges Hip Hop-dansare. Det som hittills kommunicerats ut uppfattas som en stark karikatyr och ickeautentisk gestaltning av Hip Hop-kulturen.

Valet att göra en film som tar avstamp i en svart kultur med influenser av latinamerikaner utan att faktiskt inkludera en enda person med respektive rötter i varken produktionsteamet eller processen är illa nog. Att vidare tillsätta en vit koreograf med tydlig brist på anknytning och erfarenhet av battlekulturen är otroligt problematiskt. Dessa är val som upprätthåller en återkommande rasistisk maktstruktur inom kultursektorn där vita personer tillåts att fortsatt kapitalisera på svart kultur och appropriera dess historia utan att faktiskt inkludera den omfattande kompetens som existerar bland konstnärer som rasifieras. Icke-vita kroppar generellt, likväl som icke-västerländska kulturer, anses vara mindre förtroendeingivande av vithetsnormativa institutioner. Rasism är inte alltid en medveten tanke eller handling, och därför sker det för ofta, och i många olika sammanhang.

Historiskt i Sverige har Hip Hop och battlekulturen sällan porträtteras, än mindre i svensk film, och de få tillfällen där kulturen givits medialt utrymme har det ofta varit en felaktig framställning. För att nå autentisk kredibilitet, hög konstnärlig kvalité och en rättvis gestaltning av kulturen, dess historia och representanter, så krävs rätt personer på rätt plats. Vi förväntar oss att en representation, som är i linje med kulturens upplevda erfarenheter och i konsultation med betydelsefulla mentorer, tas i beaktning för att säkerställa dessa mål. Men även för att skapa en trygg och säker arbetsplats för de unga personer som kommer att arbeta i denna filmproduktion, fri från exploatering, utnyttjande och förminskande av erfarenheter.

Vidare ställer vi oss frågan, Hur säkerställs tryggheten för alla unga dansare och skådespelare som rasifieras när dessa kommer att behöva infinna sig i en arbetsmiljö med total avsaknad på relaterbara erfarenheter, och där deras historier tolkas och justeras av vita personer utan inblick och förståelse i deras verklighet och historia? På vilket sätt kan dessa ungdomar garanteras en fördomsfri arbetsmiljö, trots att det är deras berättelser som är av tyngd i gestaltningen? 

Fredrik ”Benke” Rydman är en av få, men ändå uteslutande vita, koreografer i Sverige utanför den moderna samtida dansen som av strukturen tilldelas möjlighet och kapital att jobba med stora produktioner på regelbunden basis, och därför ser vi det som extra viktigt att en sådan person tar sin plats och sitt ansvar i samhällsdebatten gentemot kulturen som han utger sig för att representera. Han får direkt förtroende och stöd av Sveriges, uteslutande vita, konst- och kulturinstitutioner där strukturen inom den svenska kultursektorn tillåter priviligerade individer tjäna på marginaliserade röster och erfarenheter, och samtidigt exkludera dessa från sin rättfärdiga plats. Ett tydligt demokratiskt övergrepp som belyser problematiken av orättvis resursfördelning. Hip Hop har kommersialiserats både inom musik och dans sedan länge och har genererat i enorma summor som direkt landat i vita businessfickor istället för hos kulturens utövare, skapare och pionjärer. Denna destruktiva cirkel har Miso Film och Fredrik “Benke” Rydman nu möjlighet att bryta genom att sätta rätt personer på rätt plats.

“Rasifierade scenkonstnärer har i alla tider systematiskt fått kliva åt sidan för att ge plats åt vita och ibland har vi också fått överlämna vår historia och vårt arv att porträtteras av någon vars hud är några nyanser ljusare”.
– Ninos Josef, Den Svenska Dansscenen och vithetsnormens blindhet, Kultwatch 2017

Vi ifrågasätter er casting och research kraftigt och kräver att ni tar in personer med levda erfarenheter av kulturen såväl som erfarenhet från att jobba med filmproduktion. Sverige har många dansare och koreografer med djup erfarenhet av Hip Hop och battlekulturen med förståelse, förmåga och legitimitet, men främst expertis och erfarenheter förankrade i kulturen. Vi förväntar oss därför att ni gör om och gör rätt!

Avslutningsvis undrar vi, Vilka är ni som anser er ha rimliga kvalifikationer att bedöma hur vår historia ska gestaltas?

Avsändare,
Niki Tsappos – Dansare, pedagog, projektledare, mc

Andreas Sanchez – Dansare, pedagog
Fredrik Quiñones – Dansare, koreograf, skådespelare
Talia Gallegos Fadda – Dansare, projektledare
Nils Theren – Dansare, pedagog
Stina Theren – Dansare, grafisk designer, fotograf
Marvil Iglesias – Dansare, pedagog
Fredrika Burvall – Dansare, projektledare
Brian Madika – Dansare, koreograf
Ida Inxi Holmlund – Dansare, koreograf
Anita Basha – Dansare, pedagog, projektledare
Julian Joujou Namroud – Dansare, pedagog, projektledare

Sandra Harms från Miso Film och Fredik “Benke” Rydman har svarat på det öppna brevet. Du kan läsa svaret här.


BILAGA

Problematisering av namnet  “The meaning of Hiphop”
Även om “The meaning of Hip Hop”, efter yttre påtryckningar, påstås att endast vara en arbetstitel och koreografen nu uttrycker att filmen inte alls handlar om Hip Hop utan istället ungdomarnas relation till deras föräldrar, så är fortfarande musiken, koreografens inspiration till rörelsemönster och hela kommunikationsprocessen direkt kopierad från Hip Hop-kulturen (eller en kommersialiserad version av Hip Hop). Filmatiseringen och dess berättelse, om att åka till New York och battla, är en direkt koppling till Hip Hop-kulturen.

Att frånsäga ursprung från en kultur/genre och samtidigt kategorisera den med ett neutralt övergripande namn såsom “dans” eller “contemporary” är ett vanligt förekommande mönster av övergrepp på andra, ofta svarta, kulturer som tillämpas för egen vinning inom danssektorn. På så sätt lyckas personen i fråga undgå ansvaret att förmedla kulturens kärna och ge cred till kreatörer av historisk tyngd. Vitheten plockar det som passar den bäst och lämnar ute det som inte passar, därmed skalar man av till eget behag. Kulturen förminskas och dess uttryck anpassas till vita rum och publik, som dess autentiska utövare i sin tur måste kämpa med att frigöra sig från, ett tydligt exempel på whitewashing.

Bristande Research
Den svenska dokumentären “Martha & Niki” från 2016 följer två svarta kvinnors resa inom Hip Hop-kulturen och hade kunnat ligga till grund för det researcharbete som (inte) gjorts. Dessa kvinnor battlar, dömer battles, koreograferar, skapar och lever kulturen över hela världen men får trots det inte samma möjligheter eller uppdrag att representera på hemmaplan. Detta på grund utav den vithetsnorm som råder inom kultursektorn och den ojämlikhet och rasism som genomsyrar våra kulturinstitutioner, vilka exkluderar konstnärer som rasifieras från möjligheten till konstnärlig fördjupning och utveckling.

Kommunikationsmaterial – Tokenism
Valet att porträttera en ung svart man på kommunikationsmaterialet visar på full medvetenhet om Hiphopens ursprung och identitet. Representation i bild är essentiell, men när representation av minoriteter bara sker i symbolik och inte i den verkliga handlingen, synliggörs den skeva maktfördelningen i relation till exploateringen av icke-vita kroppar, även kallat “tokenism”. Det är ett kritiserat verktyg som upprätthåller status quo av den vita normativa makten.

“Om du inte har någon som representerar dig i de vita rummen så kväver du ditt hopp om att bryta den normen. Om kreativa rasifierade ungdomar ska behöva tackla en norm för att hitta en samhörighet och representation eller om professionella scenkonstnärer ska behöva leta sig utomlands för att hitta ett utrymme, så har vi ett strukturellt problem.”
– Ninos Josef, Den Svenska Dansscenen och vithetsnormens blindhet, Kultwatch 2017


Supporters av brevet,
Robert Wägar – Dansare, danspedagog
Ingrid Mugalu – Etnolog, samordnare och Dansare
BamBam Frost – Dansare, koreograf
Maele Sabuni – Dansare, DJ
Stina Bojling – B-girl, Dansare, danspedagog, projektledare
Tobias Marin – Projektledare , danspedagog, dansare
Melinda Jacobsson – B-girl, dansare, danspedagog, projektledare
Ashkan Alinejad DJ Combat – Dj, musikproducent, dansare
Mona Namér – Dansare, koreograf, pedagog
Erik Linghede – Dansare, koreograf
Ninos Josef – Dansare, chefredaktör och utvecklingsstrateg
Afra Hosseini – Dansare, danslärare, projektledare.
Tarika Wahlberg – Dansare, danspedagog, koreograf
Yared Tilahun Cederlund – Dansare, danspedagog, musikproducent
Bianca Traum – Dansare, skådespelare, koreograf
Sashdilla – Dansare
Kaide Gonzalez – Dansare
Kevin Wedin – Dansare
Rebecca Livanou – Dansare
Emelie “Empo” Enlund – Dansare, koreograf.
Emelie Kazemi – B-girl, dansare, danspedagog, projektledare
Linda Johansson – B-girl, dansare, projektledare
Teres Sellberg – B-girl, Dansare, projektledare
Joanna Cholewa Chrona – Dansare, koreograf, producent
Ama Kyei – Dansare, koreograf, pedagog
Zerjon Abebe – Dansare, koreograf
Catarina Mateja – Dansare, koreograf, producent
Theresa Gustavsson – Dansare, koreograf, producent, pedagog
Eddie Yalman – Dansare, projektledare, MC
Maria “Decida” Wahlberg -SCo-creative; rörelse, regi & organisation
John Morales – Dansare
Donald Sjölund – Dansare
Anna Marsh – Dansare, danspedagog
Malin Ekwall – Dansare, danspedagog
Binita Kharel – Dansare
Louie Nagode Indriana – Dansare, skådespelare
Viivi Forsman – Dansare
Linnéa Sonka – Dansare, koreograf, projektledare
Clive Rudd – Dansare
Hilmir Thor Thorisson – Dansare, ÅSA Folkhögskola.
Ludvig ”Switch Rock” Karlsson – Dansare, ÅSA Folkhögskola.
Jason ”Timbuktu” Diakite – Artist
Isatou Aeysha Jones – Black Lives Matters Sweden
Hawa Sanneh – Film producent, filmregissör
Rodrigo Bernal – Artist
Broder John – Artist
Cleo – Artist
Lilla Namo – Artist
Mc Habit – Artist
Minna Lindahl – Projektledare av Up North.
Annette Taranto Fuller – Dansproducent, danskonsulent
Lionel Cabrera – Filmfotograf
I know what you did this summer

I know what you did this summer

I know what you did this summer. And other slogans from the protests in Belarus 2020


 

The Belarusian presidential election of August 9th 2020 sparked massive protests across the country. The results, which attributed 80% of the vote to Alexander Lukashenko, are thought by international observers to be falsified. A large number of Belarusian citizens shared this skepticism, taking to the streets to express their disbelief in the official count and to support the opposing candidate, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.

 

The protests have continued every day for almost three months. Protesters are demanding free and fair elections, a cease to the brutal police violence that they’ve seen since the beginning of their demonstrations, freedom for detained protesters, and an end to Lukashenko’s regime. The protests have been accompanied by large strikes and a series of marches organized by women, seniors, and people with disabilities, respectively. Citizens and community groups have also organized petitions and financial support. Despite the severe situation, participants have produced an impressive array of creative slogans and catchlines.

 

Kultwatch publishes a selection of photographs from the independent Belarusian news portal Tut.By, that has been reporting on the ongoing situation. In retaliation, government officials revoked their media credentials for three months beginning in early October.

 

“Your Uber Discomfort has arrived,” accompanying a drawing of a pre-charge detention car used by police to detain protestors. The slogan alludes to the Uber taxi service’s comfort options.

Photo: Dariya Buryakina.

 

“Sanya, this is not your wave,” written on a surfboard.

Sanya, together with Sasha, are the most common nicknames for someone called Alexander (or Alexandra). The diminutive versions are normally used for children and younger people, close relatives, friends, and familiar relations. The use of a nick-name, rather than Lukashenko’s full name, can be read as condescending and intentionally disrespectful. It can also be viewed as a remark on the president’s own habit of addressing people rather impolitely.

Photo: Dariya Buryakina.

 

“Sveta [Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya] is my president and Masha [Maria Kalesnikava] is my queen.”

While referring to Lukashenko using the diminutive version of his name might express a certain disdain, supporters here seem to convey their warm attitude towards his opposition by using affectionate nicknames for them.

Photo: Olga Shukaylo.

 

“Sisters never walk alone” – a slogan that was used by detained sisters Inga and Veranika Lindarenka. It was also used in one of several women’s marches, where the participants dressed in white and held flowers to mark the peaceful nature of the demonstrations. The slogan also makes implicit reference to the patriarchal language used by Lukashenko, who stated that women are fragile and unsuited for politics.

Photo: Dariya Buryakina.

 

“The airborne forces are with the people” and “Lukashenko and Ermoshina to the SIZO, Omon – do your job!”

Protestors call for both the self-proclaimed president as well as Lidia Ermoshina, member of the Central Election Commission of Belarus, to be locked up in a detention centre. They are asking the special police force, Omon, to perform their duty.

Photo: Dmitriy Brushko.

 

Lukashenko as a playing card. The cyrillic letter “В” (V) stands for valet, equivalent in Slavic playing cards to the Jack. It may also mean “idiot” or “fraud” in prison slang.

Photo: Dmitriy Brushko.

 

“A hero of our time” – a reference to Mikhail Lermontov’s novel with the same name and its anti-hero Pechorin – and “Okrestina, Zhodino – our [hearts] are with you.”

Okrestina and Zhodino, the street name and city, respectively, where two of the most notorious detention centres are located. Arrested protestors have testified about the abuse and massive police violence they suffered when taken to these centres.

Photo: Dariya Buryakina.

 

Workers of the Minsk Tractor Factory, MTZ, are responding to some of the pejorative names attributed to them:

“We are no sheep, no cattle, no little folks – we are the workers of MTZ and there are not 20 of us, but 16 000!”

Photo: Olga Shukaylo.

 

“Sanya, take off your Corona”.

“Korona” means crown in Russian.

Photo: Dariya Buryakina.

 

“Fight like Masha”, “All you need is law”.

Photo: Olga Shukaylo.

 

“We have to be protected, not beaten up.”

Photo: Vadim Zamirosvkiy.

 

Protestors holding documentation of injuries received during detention, as well as written reports of what they experienced. Two of the testimonies read: “When they realised that [he] was a pianist – they started to break fingers,” written in Russian, and “They submerged me in cold water when they asked me to [unreadable],” written in Belarusian. Russian and Belarusian, related languages, both belong to the East Slavic language group and are the two official languages of Belarus. Russian is dominating, while Belarusian is being more commonly used within the opposition. Opponents Tsikhanouskaya and Kalesnikava are using the Belarusian version of their names, while Lukashenko is using the Russian form. 

Photo: Dariya Buryakina.

 

“Stop genocide” and “I know what you did this summer”.

Photo: Olga Shukaylo.

 


Top image:  “For love”. 

Photo: Dmitriy Brushko.

The Infrastructure of Amnesia

The Infrastructure of Amnesia

Coloniality off the road – from Massawa to Asmara and Addis Ababa

 

In 2019, architects Soroor Notash, Mauro Sirotnjak and Mouna Abdelkadous travelled to Ethiopia and Eritrea to investigate how the legacy of colonialism has shaped the living environment in the two countries. Beyond the heritage Modernist buildings of Asmara, lauded by the West and UNESCO, lies the physical framework of the country, its colonial infrastructure. Charting how shifting ideas conceal continuing economic systems and material hierarchies, the writers dive deep into history, geography and geopolitics to try to understand what, exactly, lies beneath the contemporary post-colonial story. 


The emergence of structural amnesia 

Like many other mythical stories that become part of the process of building a nation or a people, so-called ‘Western civilisation’ has used infrastructure as an important basis of its myth. In order to explore the politics, industry and economy hiding behind this myth it is necessary to look beyond the symbolic and mythological meanings assigned to infrastructure. 

 

In many colonial projects and practices, the notion of civilisation is widely used in order to legitimise exploitation. A closer look on the heritage of so-called Western civilisation – a series of logistical and infrastructural objects – shows that it was primarily built for extraction of goods, displacing cargo, land and people to serve capitalist ventures. This was paralleled by the creation of a series of institutions that enabled the colonial apparatus to install its power and supremacy in distant territories, far away from the capital of the colonial power.1 These infrastructural objects and networks are still being used in favour of a hegemonic structure, be it Eurocentric or other, that corresponds to the narrative of development,2 using the modernisation process to justify exploitation. 

 

At this moment, we point out how questioning the purpose and process of developing infrastructure might provide better insight into the reasons for colonial and imperial relations being maintained even now. We are looking for the mechanisms that facilitate exploitation and hinder the change of power relations. A process of falsification of the past has been going on, leading to what we call a structural amnesia. This structural amnesia plays a crucial role as an obstacle for any kind of change in the persistent perceived hierarchy.

 

The remaining italian monument in the sea of the Port of Massawa “ ALA D’ITALIA INFRANTA” (“The broken wing of Italy”) from 1934 in Massawa. Photo: Soroor Notash. February 2019
The remaining italian monument in the sea of the Port of Massawa “ ALA D’ITALIA INFRANTA” (“The broken wing of Italy”) from 1934 in Massawa. Photo: Soroor Notash. February 2019

Colonial legacies – developing interdependencies 

As part of the Decolonizing Architecture program at the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm, we travelled to Ethiopia and Eritrea to visit former sites and buildings dating from the period of Italian colonisation and occupation.3 Another key contextual element of the trip was the declaration of Asmara’s inner city as a UNESCO heritage site in 2017. The two-week-trip held in February 2019 aimed to strengthen research on architectural decolonisation within the contemporary postcolonial context. 

 

Besides the visit of the buildings and sites, the focus was put on the exchange with the researchers, architects and activists working on restoration and cultural heritage sites, in order to understand their challenges in both Addis Ababa and Asmara. While in Eritrea, we had a short visit to the port city of Massawa on the coast of the Red Sea. The road trip from Asmara to Massawa was a tense experience of the landscape and provided new perspectives and insights into the meaning of the colonial interventions, through our physical presence and movement in the territory.

 

The process of visiting and engaging led us to widen our perspective from mainly the architectural narrative to a broader discussion on the politics connecting architecture, heritage and infrastructure. Coming back from the trip, we came upon a press release from the EU on its plans for investments in that very road from Massawa to the Ethiopian border, calling it “Roads to peace: EU supports reconnecting Eritrea and Ethiopia.”4 This raised many questions and thoughts for us, one of them being the relation between Europe and Africa. We wondered what the remnants of the ‘goodwill’ European approach might be, given Paneuropean Union founder Coudenhove-Kalergi’s statement in the 1930s that ‘Europe’s mission in Africa is to bring light to the darkest of continents …Europe is Eurafrica’s head, Africa its body.’5

 Europe’s mission in Africa is to bring light to the darkest of continents …Europe is Eurafrica’s head, Africa its body.

The intersection of contemporary EU policies regarding the two countries that signed a peace treaty in July 2019, and our research on the former colonial relations with these same countries, suddenly started to overlap.

 

Tracing back the intensified European presence in the territories around the so-called Horn of Africa and the Red Sea, it goes all the way to the dismembering of the Ottoman Empire in the late 1800s and the beginning of the 1900s.

 

Following the nominal abolition of slavery6 that was passed by law throughout the 1800s in many countries, deeming it not to no longer be of moral and civilisational value, the massive land grabbing of Africa started. With two newborn European nation-states – Italy in 1861 and Germany in 1871 – the quest for colonies and control of land in Africa became a matter of nation building. Thus, along with other European countries, the process of enlarging the market space for their economies, and eventually providing new living space for their citizens through the projects of colonisation accelerated. Subsequently, the tensions and conflicts of interest between colonial powers became more intense. The Berlin Conference7 paved the way for the elitist European diplomacy, capitalists and political groups to partition the African continent into spheres of interest, and eased the exploitation of people and land, to serve their interests. Infrastructure such as railways, roads and ports were of crucial importance in order to bring extracted goods to the coastal cities that would cater to European economies through maritime routes. Construction of the Suez Canal from 1859 to 1869 is perhaps the largest of many infrastructural endeavours that were serving European economic interests at the time.

 

Focusing on the Italian case in relation to present day Eritrea and Ethiopia, it is useful to bring up the context of Italian colonisation that was intensely practiced from the 1880s. At that time, after failed tendencies of expansion towards Libya and Tunisia due to French and British predominance, the Italian kingdom started to develop the colonisation project in what was called ‘Africa Orientale Italiana’ – the area nowadays covering Eritrea, Somalia and Ethiopia – a project which lasted up until the second World War. Due to close relations with the diplomacy of Allied forces in WWII and the capitulation of Italy in 1943 that led to the renouncing of colonial lands, the Italian colonial adventure in Africa was neither properly addressed in the global narrative of history, nor in the frame of Republican Italy after 1946, resulting the colonial history falling into national amnesia.

 

Fiat Tagliero building, Asmara, completed in 1938 during Italian fascist period. Photo: Soroor Notash, February 2019
Fiat Tagliero building, Asmara, completed in 1938 during Italian fascist period. Photo: Soroor Notash, February 2019

Inherited amnesia

In 2017 a large part of the city centre of Asmara was listed as UNESCO heritage, the description of its authenticity being: 

 

“Asmara’s combination of innovative town planning and modernist architecture in an African context represents important and early developmental phases of town planning and architectural modernism that are still fully reflected in its layout, urban character and architecture.”8

 

The relation between modernisation and colonisation is not questioned in UNESCO’s motivation, although it is the main reason why this architecture is present in the city. We visited buildings constructed during the Italian colonial occupation between 1893 and 1941 in Asmara, some of which were built under the fascist period (1922-1941).

 

Citing the criteria: “The site has also preserved its historical, cultural, functional and architectural integrity with its elements largely intact and generally in relatively acceptable condition,” it is admitted that many of these buildings with their modern architecture have remained intact and frozen in time. This reinforces a narrative about the modern architecture that is quite detached from the lives of people, implying a desire to be modern at any cost. What does it mean to strive to be on the global map of cultural heritage, to have UNESCO mark a large part of a city centre that was built as a colonial device, where people were separated on the basis of race? 

 What does it mean to strive to be on the global map of cultural heritage, to have UNESCO mark a large part of a city centre that was built as a colonial device, where people were separated on the basis of race? 

This separation is also very obvious in the motivation, which describes how “Asmara’s urban layout and character (…), taking into account local cultural conditions created by different ethnic and religious groups, and using the principle of zoning for achieving racial segregation and functional organisation, bears exceptional witness to the development of the new discipline of urban planning at the beginning of the 20th century and its application in an African context, to serve the Italian colonial agenda.” 

 

The actual heritage we might talk about here is not the remnants of progressive architecture and urbanism from the colonial period – when the colonial society actually relied on the racial segregation and exploitation of local labour forces – but rather the persistence of the value system from the same colonial centres. The discourse of human scale urbanism and architecture in the criteria does not seem to come from historical distance or naivety, but rather from the colonial and imperial character of UNESCO itself.

 

This becomes strikingly visible when we perceive the infrastructure that enabled this very architecture to be erected in this area. The symbolic paradoxal invisibility of the whole network of roads and rail lines, although blatantly present and used today to a great extent, carries a much higher value in witnessing how the colonial project came to exist in its operative terms. Focusing on architecture and urbanism in the name of cultural and universal human values, as defined by UNESCO, actually promotes the (European) genius of creation that was enabled by the colonial apparatus – an action that neglects and subordinates the violence against the local population and their resistance to the laying out of these ‘human scale’ colonial projects. 

 

The colonising process is thus being efficiently framed and neutralised within symbolic heritage and ‘universal values,’ in exchange for international recognition and access to heritage funds, and subsequently incomes from the tourism industry. Therefore, we propose to counter this amnesia by turning the focus on the very infrastructure as heritage that conveys a much wider story of the relation between the colonial centre, local communities and the extent of its appropriation in the ‘post-colonial’ period.

 


The road from Asmara to Massawa. The railroad is not in use. Film: Soroor Notash,February 2019

Colonial infrastructure networks

The Italian occupation of the port of Massawa, in today’s Eritrea, was part of a military plan to back up the British troops in Sudan, ensuring their primacy as well as production of cotton for their own economy. Pushing back the Egyptian officials from the port town, Massawa became an entry point for the Italian military troops in 1885. They were soon followed by families recruited by the Italian government as settler colonial groups, being trained to expand their presence mostly through agricultural activity. The aim was to start production to enable the self-sufficiency of colonies and export of agricultural products to the motherland.

 

Side by side with military control, civic administration started to impose its governance through devious negotiations with the local population to nationalise the land through a legal framework in favour of Italy. Thus the infrastructure, still widely acclaimed to be bringing prosperity to the people of Eritrea, was starting to be laid in order to serve the advancement of Italian military troops inland, towards Ethiopia and Somalia, but also to provide the coming settlers with an environment for establishing the new Italian society. Roads and railways are perhaps one of the most visible and extensive infrastructural networks being built in that period that still persist to this day. 

 

Following the progressive occupation of Eritrea, the colonial capital was shifted from Massawa to Asmara in 1897. There, the image of the Italian provincial centre was being built by constructing a new administrative network, medical institution, new elementary schools reserved only for Italians (with few exceptions), sewage and water systems, as well as a new marketplace. Massawa’s infrastructure was on the other hand enhanced to serve its operative role as a strategic harbour for the import and export of goods and people. In Asmara, electrical illumination arrived in 1904, following the regulation plan in 1901 for controlling the ever-growing built environment.

 

In 1914, Italy asked Great Britain for help in gaining permission from Ethiopia for the construction of a railway from Eritrea to Lake Abaya (renamed Margarita by the Italians), and later Somalia, to ensure exclusive economic influence in the areas where the railway would go.

Infrastructure in this sense was crucial, as the new man was the Italian architect and engineer, a builder of the road, the railway and all supporting networks to the military plan to conquer Ethiopia.

With the coming of the fascist political group into power in 1922, the colonial project and ideology included a social, political and economic plan that was supposed to give way to the new Italian man – a spirit that should be manifested through all spheres of the Italian empire, from economy to the physical realm.9 Infrastructure in this sense was crucial, as the new man was the Italian architect and engineer, a builder of the road, the railway and all supporting networks to the military plan to conquer Ethiopia. Thus, civic life was always doubled with military presence. Public works, agriculture and civic organisation were all part of a plan to impose a racial superiority and racial separation conceived by the fascist elite, enforced violently and with bloodshed whenever the local population was not collaborating.

 

However, state-led colonisation was always accompanied by the private, capitalist ventures also being incentivised by the state, providing a more solid base for the plan of a new society. This is especially evident in Somalia, where the first envoy was a private capitalist society that was used as an example for other Italian agricultural workers who were supposed to produce food for the motherland. These private capitalist companies remain crucial in the continuation of colonial relationships even after the fall of the Italian Empire, as many of those entrepreneurs will have their economic activities roughly unaltered and backed by the Italian state, even after 1947 when Ethiopia was recognised as an independent country by the new Italian democratic government.

 

Italy’s prime minister visiting Eritrea and shaking hands with Isaias Afwerki in Asmara, 2018. https://www.meltingpot.org/Nuovi-imperialismi-in-Eritrea-Gli-interessi-economici-nell.html
Italy’s prime minister visiting Eritrea and shaking hands with Isaias Afwerki in Asmara, 2018. https://www.meltingpot.org/Nuovi-imperialismi-in-Eritrea-Gli-interessi-economici-nell.html

 

Coming back to contemporary politics, the visit of the Italian prime minister to Addis and Asmara in 2018 – during which the delegation visited the AMCE-IVECO car factory (70% in Fiat ownership) in the Bole district of Addis Ababa – shows the contemporary routes of industry and capital which need to be overlaid with symbolic images of architectural heritage. For example, the relationship between the Fiat Tagliero building in Asmara and the ruined Bank of Italy in Masawa can be best understood through the contemporary infrastructure connecting them.

 

This kind of inequality is a way to ensure the future regulation of the neo-colonial infrastructure between Europe and Africa in the trade and war system. The architectural context then becomes the theatre of politics and business, which is a politics of excluding and exploiting the native population, resources and space of Eritrea and Ethiopia.

 

“ ‘Africa: A European Necessity’. Issue of L’Européen. Revue des Marchés et des Affaires autour du Marché Commun (September/October 1958), featuring a statement by commissioner Robert Lemaignen on Eurafrica and the association of the African colonies.” Eurafrica, p.245.
“ ‘Africa: A European Necessity’. Issue of L’Européen. Revue des Marchés et des Affaires autour du Marché Commun (September/October 1958), featuring a statement by commissioner Robert Lemaignen on Eurafrica and the association of the African colonies.” Eurafrica, p.245.

From the Eurafrican project to the European Union

The geopolitical concept of Eurafrica was one of the components of the creation of the European Economic Community (EEC) by the Treaty of Rome in 1957.  Despite the historical rupture caused by decolonisation, the geopolitical and colonial structure of the Eurafrican project continues to exist.10 During the negotiations for the Eurafrican project, the protagonists of the project were mostly the European political elite such as Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi11 and Paolo d’Agostino Orsini di Camerota12. Likewise, the Italian government  was also supporting the idea for the potential economic profits and a possible opportunity to send the most impoverished Italians to the so-called ‘Dark Continent’. A possible explanation for European support for and relevance to the Eurafrica concept might be the self-evident European dependence on African resources (i.e. raw materials, gas, agriculture, etc…), even after decolonisation. Therefore, understanding the Eurafrican project contributes to illuminating the transition between colonialism, decolonisation, and post-colonialism, providing new insights into African and European relationships.

 

In February 1957, the European Economic Community, the precursor to the EU, decided to invest millions of US dollars for the initial five years to create a ‘common market’ between the European empires and the African countries. We argue that the creation of a ‘common market’ between European and African lands was instrumentalized by the colonial countries as a method to perpetuate their exploitation. In particular, these financial investments were a way to develop infrastructure and keep the so-called ‘interdependence’ between former colonial states and their colonies. During this period, colonial politics were shaping the infrastructure with the help of architects and engineers who were serving the colonial interests and the colonial network creation. The emerging treaties and associations during the 1950s lead us to a deeper understanding of the colonisers’ profound theoretical and political expectations from the planned financial investments for infrastructure in Africa, by the use of the Eurafrican notion. In this respect, financial investments and conceptualisation of the African countries as a part of the EEC might be considered a way to attract African territories, generating a historical amnesia surrounding colonisation and oppression, and sustaining European profits.  

 

The treaty of Rome was an important milestone in the Eurafrican project, having been created to unify European countries and African colonies and solidify the economic interdependence between them during the negotiations in 1956. Moreover, we can sum up by saying that the Treaty of Rome could be considered as a way to prevent the decolonisation and emancipation of African countries that should stay under European hegemony to secure future European exploitations. Besides, in common Western history, the main function of the Eurafrican project and its colonial designation was erased from the map once the wave of independence of new nation states in Africa started, but the colonial trade connections still exist. Eurafrica and the common market with African countries were only created to serve European interests in moving into a global economic order.

 

Moral & political chart of the inhabited world: exhibiting the prevailing religion, form of government, degree of civilization, and population of each country / by W.C. Woodbridge, 1827. Copyright: Cartography Associates. David Ramsey Collection.
Moral & political chart of the inhabited world: exhibiting the prevailing religion, form of government, degree of civilization, and population of each country / by W.C. Woodbridge, 1827. Copyright: Cartography Associates. David Ramsey Collection.

 

Human development index in 2017. Based on data from UNDP. www.OurWorldInData.org/human-development-index
Human development index in 2017. Based on data from UNDP. www.OurWorldInData.org/human-development-index (CC-BY)

(Geo)politics of aid 

As Hansen and Jonsson argued in their book, the disappearance of Eurafrica from the conscious history of European integration has helped foster amnesia and has also secured the continuation of colonial power structures. The colonial discourse has then been replaced by a so called ‘partnership’13 and has been legitimised under notions such as ‘human rights’ and it is moreover presented as a ‘partnership of equals,’ set to eliminate ‘the traditional donor-recipient relationship’ between the two continents14. This is exactly how European investments in African countries are termed nowadays, as shown in the chart below.15 But a closer look at the situation reveals that the so-called partnership is far from equal and African countries are not benefiting as much as is described.16

 

Excerpt from press release regarding the exchange between African countries and EU, China and US “Strengthening the EU’s partnership with Africa” https://ec.europa.eu/commission/sites/beta-political/files/soteu2018-factsheet-africa-europe_en.pdf
Excerpt from press release regarding the exchange between African countries and EU, China and US “Strengthening the EU’s partnership with Africa” https://ec.europa.eu/commission/sites/beta-political/files/soteu2018-factsheet-africa-europe_en.pdf

 

From the beginning of the formation of EEC, “aid was oriented toward financing of infrastructures and was markedly biased against industrialisation… so the association did not mark a major departure from the historical pattern of colonial development. “Consequently “they [African territories] remain (…) what they were: agricultural appendages to Europe.”17

 

Even though the EU’s investment in the road from Massawa to Asmara is announced in the name of improvement of the condition of human rights, it at the same time turns a blind eye to this very aspect, being dependent on the forced labour that the government of Eritrea will most likely use for building this road.18

 

Today, in the making of the new political constellations, it is interesting to look at the stance of European diplomacy, manifested in the visit of the Italian delegation being the first ‘Western’ one after the peace agreement between Eritrea and Ethiopia in 2019.

 

The press release issued by the European Commission in February 2019, bearing the name ‘Roads to Peace,’ can be read as another attempt to establish the former extensive trade relationship between the countries. The fact that the EU will finance a new road from Massawa to the Ethiopian border resembles the older colonial organisations of capital and market. Reading statements such as “This will boost trade, consolidate stability, and have clear benefits for the citizens of both countries” and “…improvement of human rights… pursuing development cooperation to tackle root causes of poverty19 with a decolonial gaze, it is obvious which side is dictating the direction and nature of development. Ignoring the fact that the root causes of poverty are often the mechanisms behind building infrastructure itself, once operated from the colonial, today from the neocolonial centres, what this discourse actually does is rewrite and negate the history of colonialism, feeding the structural amnesia.  

 

Ruin of the Bank of Italy building, Massawa, completed in the 1920s and heavily damaged during the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The cranes show that the harbour is in use despite all ruined buildings around. Photo: Soroor Notash. February 2019
Ruin of the Bank of Italy building, Massawa, completed in the 1920s and heavily damaged during the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The cranes show that the harbour is in use despite all ruined buildings around. Photo: Soroor Notash. February 2019

Blind spots of the decolonial gaze

While the focus of our research has been colonial infrastructure and its recurrence today in different forms, it is important to point out the incomplete picture of the political processes, both locally and globally, that were shaping the region of the Horn of Africa after the period of Italian occupation. Moreover, the complex layering of local Eritrean struggles in relation to Ethiopian supremacy throughout the years needs further confrontation with foreign interests – the British, American, Soviet, Israeli and UN –  being enacted in the region. The geopolitical situation of a country such as Eritrea, on the line of global maritime routes through the Red Sea, also needs to be considered when positioning international relations within local politics.

 

The complex situation in the aftermath of Italian colonial presence and the global political landscape after WWII led into the conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia, which is another main aspect into which we lack insight. The bullet marks in the building of the former Bank of Italy in Massawa bear witness to a story that needs another gaze to understand and a wider approach to encircle.

 

Infrastructure plays a crucial role in imperialist politics, along with state loans and extraction of national resources in colonial territories. The mythical value of infrastructure as a symbol for progress and development has been mainly serving the economical and political interests of the colonial states and has also helped in justifying underlying violence.  

Infrastructure plays a crucial role in imperialist politics, along with state loans and extraction of national resources in colonial territories.

Even though the historically written colonisation period is supposedly over in many parts of the world, we can agree that coloniality20the systemic matrix of power – has been happening parallel to the process of modernisation.21 

 

We are now facing a number of new questions that outline those parts missing in our inquiry.

 

How are we going to understand the transformations after decolonisation? What are the risks of maintaining a Western gaze in addressing these questions? What are the tools to understand these issues without falling into the white-man’s-burden trap?

How has infrastructure been appropriated after decolonisation? Has decolonisation ever happened in terms of sovereign and powerful nation states? The nation-building process has seemingly worked as a tool for preserving global capitalist networks and power.

 

Can the impoverishment that so many formerly colonised countries are facing today be described as a result of shifting the colonial/imperial power from former coloniser states to today’s economical ways of colonising?

 

What does it mean to have a national heritage while those who inherit it are not included? What is the relationship of the inhabitants to these buildings and how are they reappropriating them?

 

The list of questions can continue, but the fact that complexities and unfolded histories are there leads us to a more cautious conclusion, remaining humble and open to other perspectives and a broader insight.

 

Instead of conclusion

Throughout the development of this article, starting from the journey and the visit to the architecture from the colonial era, to the understanding of the power structure that is ongoing and effectively making itself invisible and therefore persistent, one of our challenges has been in how to understand the complex situation whilst avoiding typical simplifications. 

 

In brief, the colonial countries used infrastructure as an instrument to create the so-called (Western) civilisation myth during their invasions and conquests. But in fact, the colonial presence mainly served the extraction of goods, displacing cargo and capitalist ventures in the colonised territories. At the same time, construction of this infrastructure was used to pretentiously highlight so-called development and progress. 

 

By celebrating imported ‘modernisation’, colonial powers have been trying to justify their hegemony and falsify their occupant history through maintaining structural amnesia in the narration thereof. By dealing with the road from Massawa to Asmara and Addis Ababa we are questioning the neocolonial infrastructural investments and their possible benefits to the former colonialists in favour of strengthening their hegemonic relations to Africa.This highlights that when discussing infrastructure we need to be aware of its relationship to colonialism, and thereby counter historical amnesia.

 

Amnesia is at the core of the official historical narrative (mechanisms) of coloniality. By questioning the construction of this narrative and turning back to facts, it is revealed that ‘amnesia’ works as a cover for quite accessible historical facts that bring out the suppressed local histories and struggles. Interestingly, several colonial heritage sites have been identified as possessing universal humanitarian values by UNESCO, thus consolidating and globalizing their symbolic value. In the case of Asmara, this colonial heritage has obtained international recognition, funds and subsequently tourism. 

 

The way that we have broken down these colonial issues into manageable parts to understand them, should be seen as a way to reach different aspects of what is a many-sided complex entity. The risk of simplification is, however, always hanging over us, thus we want to acknowledge possible misformulations in our reasoning.

 

Every narrative serves specific interests, and by questioning and re-searching beyond and beneath it, the likelihood of coming across changes to the ‘story’ is quite high. The story of post-colonial relationships goes beyond the simple good-evil and master-slave dichotomy, and that is the main challenge while constructing new narratives. The need for another paradigm to re-think and re-narrate is then even more urgent.

 


  1. In this article we focus on what is considered as “exploitation colonialism” which means “that colonizers go to a “new” place and dominate a local labor force in order to send resources back to the metropole.” (Tuck, McKenzie, & McCoy, 2014; see also Hinkinson, 2012).
  2. Trying to find another definition for “development” that goes beyond this narration we prefer to use Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s description: “I am asking us to allow the concept of development to overflow the interplay of capital and colony. This makes room for an acknowledgment of complicity—folded-togetherness—rather than see “development” to be conceptualized as good or evil or both after colonialism. I am asking for us to see that development as sustainable underdevelopment has a longer history and perhaps even that this history is beginning to make itself visible as the pat- tern of globalization explodes economic growth into developing inequality. I am suggesting that the conceptualization of development must be unevenly inter- disciplinary—statistics and political science folded together, complicit—with the disciplines of subject-formation, the humanities.” (Spivak in Political Concepts, 2018. p.127)
  3. Italian invasion to the Horn of Africa led to colonization of Eritrea in 1890. During Mussolini Ethiopia was occupied by Italy from 1936-1941.
  4. https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/IP_19_868
  5. Hansen, Peo and Jonsson, Stefan, “Eurafrica”, p.38
  6. The sequences of abolition of Atlantic slave trade didn’t mean that it actually ceased. Apart from so-called illegal slave trade to countries such as Brazil it also meant that already enslaved people’s work force was going to be used in African territories in order to produce products that were crucial for the ever rising demand of raw material in industrial countries.
  7. The so-called Kongo-conference took place in Berlin in 1884 and participants included representatives of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Denmark, Spain, United States, France, United Kingdom, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Sweden-Norway and the Ottoman Empire
  8. https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1550/
  9. As it can be read in the motivation of UNESCO-heritage Asmara is an “outstanding example of the transposition and materialization of ideas about planning in an African context”. https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1550/
  10. Hansen, Peo and Jonsson, Stefan, “Eurafrica”. Conclusion: Ending Colonialism by Securing its Continuation. In Eurafrica: The Untold History of European Integration and Colonialism (pp. 239–278)
  11. In the early 1920s, Richard Nikolaus Eijiro, Count of Coudenhove-Kalergi was the founder of the Pan-European movement.
  12. TEMP
  13. See Federica Mogherini, the EU’s chief diplomat stating “We are already strong political partners, the next step is to be true economic partners and deepen our trade and investment relationship.” in September 2018: https://twitter.com/eu_eeas/status/1040567579910320129. Note the hashtag #EUAfrica and how it rhymes with Eurafrica.
  14. Hansen, Peo and Jonsson, Stefan, “Eurafrica”, p. 276.
  15. https://ec.europa.eu/commission/sites/beta-political/files/soteu2018-factsheet-africa-europe_en.pdf
  16. https://www.dw.com/en/eu-investment-in-africa-europe-racing-to-catch-up/a-45500068 and https://www.dw.com/en/eu-africa-free-trade-will-create-more-imbalances-say-critics/a-45018168
  17. Hansen, Peo and Jonsson, Stefan, “Eurafrica”, p. 274.
  18. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/08/world/europe/conscription-eritrea-eu.html
  19. https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/IP_19_868
  20. Definition of coloniality according to Anibal Quijano as “the living legacy of colonialism in contemporary societies in the form of social discrimination that outlived formal colonialism and became integrated in succeeding social orders”
  21. See “The darker side of western modernity” by Walter Mignolo, 2011

Soroor Notash, Mauro Sirotnjak, and Mouna Abdelkadous are three architects, based in Stockholm, Zagreb and Paris. 

 

Our collaboration started in 2019 while doing our artistic research in “Decolonizing architecture”at the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm. Our collective work revolves around common interests related to the conception of heritage, infrastructures, urban policies, the colonial past and present in specific physical and political context, in relation to our architectural responsibility.

 

Living in three different cities, we have worked together through skype-meetings to elaborate the collective thinking which has led to a non-linear unfolding series of discussions. While trying to relate to our rather different everyday life realities, most of the discussions are shaped in the tension between our common interests and different day-to-day contexts.

 

Working on a collective text we combined research on political and economical issues, architectural archives and alternative media to investigate questions of coloniality and infrastructure in the context of the road from Massawa to Asmara and Addis Ababa. Considered as part of our research process, this article can be seen as a still image of our ongoing work.


Top image: The road and railway between Asmara and Massawa carved into the mountains. Photo: Soroor Notash, February 2019

Belarus 2020

Belarus 2020

I Belarus har polisvåldet brutalt slagit ned fredliga demonstrationer efter presidentvalet där Aleksandr Lukasjenko anklagas för valfusk i ett land som kallas för Europas sista diktatur. För Kultwatch skriver konstvetaren och reseledaren Katerina Zolotova om de belarusiska kulturarbetarnas aktioner och protester som pågår runt om i landet. Zolotova har tidigare publicerat specialnummer om Belarus och Ryssland.


 

Blodiga ansikten, blåslagna kroppar, skallskador och kulhål. Utanför Konstpalatset i Minsk har belarusiska konstnärer ställt sig på rad och håller upp fotografier av svårt skadade människor, skador de fått när de deltagit i fredliga demonstrationer och protesterat mot valfusket. “Regimens konst” heter aktionen, där konstnärerna sedan satt upp bilderna på Konstpalatset, landets största centrum för samtidskonst.


“Ni tog vår konst ifrån oss och visade oss i stället er egen”, säger Uladzimir Hramovich, konstnär och en av initiativtagarna till aktionen. Kulor och batonger är regimens penslar, blod och brutna ben dess färger, och folkets kroppar – dess målardukar.

 

Foto: Lesya Pchelka


Protesterna pågår i hela landet. I Brest i sydvästra Belarus ställde konstnärerna ut en gipsbyst av Aleksandr Lukasjenko, nedstänkt med blod och utanför Statliga filharmonin stämde strejkande anställda upp i en sång med orden “Ni stal vår röst”. 


Veckan efter det belarusiska presidentvalet har präglats av fredliga, självorganiserade protester, brutalt polisvåld – och strejker, aktioner och nya demonstrationer. Det är en spontan protestvåg som dragit med sig stora delar av befolkningen, över politiska och sociala gränser. Valfusket gav Aleksandr Lukasjenko röstsiffror på drygt 80 %, en uppenbar lögn med tanke på det utbredda stödet för motkandidaten Svjatlana Tsichanouskaja. Själv menade hon att hennes egentliga siffra borde ligga på 60 – 70 % och inte de 10 % som angavs officiellt. Hon fick medhåll av de tusentals demonstranter som sedan valet gett sig ut på gatorna för att protestera mot vad de ser som en illegitim president. Samtidigt har Tsichanouskaja tvingats fly till Litauen. 

 

På plakatet står det: “Bättre att teckna bilder än protokoll”. Foto: Lesya Pchelka.

 

Det är inte första gången belarusierna upplevt manipulerade val, och inte första gången de krävt sin rätt.  Valen 2006 och 2010 utlöste också protester, som brutalt slogs ned och resulterade i massarresteringar. Den forne kolchoschefen Lukasjenko kom till makten 1994 och har suttit där sedan dess. Samtliga val har bedömts som riggade av utomstående observatörer och oppositionella krafter har effektivt kvästs av regimen. Presidentkandidater har avlidit eller försvunnit och det är inte möjligt att starta nya partier, något som gjort att landet ofta kallas “Europas sista diktatur”. De politiska strukturerna och den ideologiska censuren lever kvar sedan sovjettiden. 


Det är inte bara valen som har varit orsak till protester och aktioner. 2015 förbereddes ett återupplivande av den sovjetiska parasitlagen som innebar att en särskild avgift skulle åläggas alla med för få registrerade arbetsdagar. Något som skulle slå mot hemmavarande föräldrar, sjuka och frilansare av olika slag, inklusive fristående journalister samt konst- och kulturutövare som står utanför de statligt kontrollerade fackföreningarna. Även då slogs gatuprotester ner och frihetsberövade demonstranter fick höga böter, något som många hjälpte till att samla in pengar till. Flera konstnärer arbetade då med verk på temat polisvåld och vad gäller parasitlagen registrerade konstkollektivet Letutjaja Kooperatsija (Den flygande Kooperationen) en ny, fiktiv religion för att testa lagen, där religiösa utövare skulle undantas avgiftsplikten. 

 

Foto: Lesya Pchelka

 

Idag har protesterna antagit mycket större proportioner och samlat deltagare från grupper som tidigare stöttat presidenten, bland annat statsanställda. De initiala demonstrationerna slogs ner med en, även för Lukasjenko, sällan skådad brutalitet, vilket föranledde nya demonstrationer. I sociala medier sprids bilder av blodiga människor, polisiärt övervåld mot oskyddade och sjukhuspersonal vittnar om svåra skador och skallfrakturer. Över 7000 personer arresterades under de första dygnen och boende vid polisstationer har lagt upp mobilfilmer som visar bakbundna människor staplade ovanpå varandra på stationernas gårdar. Dessutom har internet bitvis släckts ner under veckan, något som har försvårat informationsspridning. Initiativ som #highlightbelarus samlar bilder med information som lätt kan delas i sociala medier och vädjar till resten av världen att engagera sig och föra vidare kunskap om det som pågår.


Det råa våldet mot fredliga demonstranter har sänt chockvågor över landet och fått allt fler att ansluta sig till protesterna under veckans gång. Poliser har setts kasta sina egna uniformer i soptunnan för att ansluta sig till massorna i stället för att skjuta på dem. På en psykiatrisk klinik syntes en banderoll där Lukasjenko bjöds in på konsultation om sin mentala hälsa. Och vid den belarusiska ambassaden i Sverige vajade den vitröda oppositionsflaggan för första gången jämte den rödgröna som Lukasjenko införde själv. 

  

Yrkesgrupp efter yrkesgrupp har nu gått ut i strejk: arbetarna på statliga bil- och konstgödselfabriker, läkare, forskare och så kulturarbetarna, som utöver aktionerna utanför landets kulturinstitutioner startat ett upprop. Där kräver de: 

  1. Att alla våldshandlingar mot civila stoppas och att skräckatmosfären förvisas från gatorna
  2. Att alla politiska fångar och frihetsberövade släpps
  3. Att nya transparenta presidentval hålls i Belarus
  4. Att ge Belarus’ medborgare fri informationstillgång och mötesfrihet

 

 


Syntolkning, toppbild: Demonstration där en person håller i ett plakat som visar en hand som håller i en pensel.

Toppbild, Foto: Lesya Pchelka

Culture in agony. The situation of cultural workers in Chile

Culture in agony. The situation of cultural workers in Chile

Under the slogan “Chile despertó” (Chile woke up) the popular revolt of October 2019 changed the social landscape of the country. It was followed by months of massive demonstrations, which Piñera’s second administration tried to repress in order to reposition itself. COVID-19 hit Chile in early March as civil society prepared for the referendum to vote for a new constitution. The health crisis has rendered the precarious working conditions of the population visible. With the lowest budget for culture in Latin America, the cultural sector in Chile has taken a hard blow.


 

 

A powerful enemy

The popular revolt was initiated by students on the 18th of October 2019, after a rise in public transport fares. From this a massive social movement unfolded, which questioned the government’s strong commitment to the neoliberal economic model and the growing inequalities that it has created in Chile. As the movement grew, President Piñera declared “war against a powerful enemy”, namely the people of Chile, and the major cities, regional capitals and Mapuche communities in the south were intervened with military and police. After a curfew imposed by authorities the week after, theaters had to change schedules, festivals, art fairs, book fairs and concerts were cancelled. Student and cultural workers’ unions went on strike. The social movement challenged the economic model implemented during the military regime and consolidated over the three decades that followed, which has privatized healthcare, education, the pension system and contributed to the precarization of labor.

 

Assemblies were organized, and the associations aligned themselves with the popular demands for dignity, declaring that there would be no dialogue with the Ministry of Culture

 

The growing social organization by civil society, whose joint demand was dignity, was active in territorial assemblies and grassroots organizations, coming together under the imperative constitution building process. By the end of the year, museums, theaters and exhibition spaces had temporarily shut down, followed by months of uncertainty and police repression. However, the social movement had given way to other artistic expressions in the streets that supported the movement: posters, graffiti, performances, concerts and interventions started taking back public space as a political expression. 

 

“This is not a barricade”. Cultural workers from PAV in front of the Contemporary Arts Museum, Santiago, during a demonstration on January 24th, 2020.

 

Artists’ associations such as Sidarte (the Actors’ Union), Apech (the Association of Painters and Sculptors), ACA (the Contemporary Art Association), PAV (Visual Arts Platform), RACH (the Network of Actresses of Chile) and UNA (the National Artists’ Union1) summoned artists and cultural agents to discuss the working conditions of the cultural sector and make them visible. Most of those who work in it are informal and/or intermittent workers and not eligible for social protection. Labor issues, as well as the role of culture in the constitutional process were put into perspective by the new scenario. Assemblies were organized, and the associations aligned themselves with the popular demands for dignity, declaring that there would be no dialogue with the Ministry of Culture – the government’s interlocutor with culture and the arts – until the violations of human rights committed since October 2019 were acknowledged by the government. By the beginning of 2020 the income of artists and cultural workers, most of whom are freelancers, had suffered, as institutions and cultural agents were trying to find a way to stay afloat. 

 

During the summer (January, February 2020), Piñera adopted a new strategy: while police repression and persecution of activists intensified, the official discourse spoke about going back to normality, as a way to minimize the movement. But people were already organizing the comeback of massive demonstrations and strikes in March, which kicked off with International Women’s Day, that gathered 2 million women in the streets of Santiago and many more in the rest of the country. 

 

International Women’s Day demonstration in Santiago, March 8th, 2020. Photo: Claudia Del Fierro.

 

The pandemic

The first official case of COVID-19 in Chile was recorded on the 3rd of March and a week later the authorities announced sanitary recommendations, as the number of cases escalated. With a  historically low 6% approval, Piñera’s government had lost all credibility and many anticipated that the government would weaponize the pandemic in order to further repress the social movement. In fact, one of the first measures was to declare curfew in the whole country for three months, which meant that the military were back on the streets. However, lockdown was applied partially and it seemed that the government was prioritizing the economy over people’s lives. 

 

Thousands of artists and cultural agents from the performing arts, visual arts and crafts will have no income for an uncertain amount of time.

 

The situation of cultural workers is part of a bigger problem that affects all freelancers and informal workers within the context of the crisis. The unemployment rate has escalated to 15% in Santiago and it is expected to reach 18%, the highest since 1982. Without welfare policies in place, an emergency budget has been approved by the senate to provide meagre economic support, a bonus for a percentage of low income households, which is insufficient and has arrived too late.2 A legislative initiative to support freelance workers  (not only cultural workers) with a credit (650,000 pesos for 3 months, to be paid in 2022) has been approved, but cultural workers have no capacity to get into debt.

 

With the inevitable lockdown brought on by the spread of the virus, cultural workers are losing their sources of income. All events such as festivals, book fairs and concerts have been cancelled, as well as educational programs and workshops. Theaters, art galleries and museums remain closed. Thousands of artists and cultural agents from the performing arts, visual arts and crafts will have no income for an uncertain amount of time. 

 

 

A catastrophic situation

The health crisis renders visible the fact that most cultural workers have no stable income and have to support themselves with various kinds of informal work. In order to determine the current situation of artists and cultural workers, different associations created on-line surveys. The results show that, even before the health crisis, the sector had a high level of precarization and nearly 50% worked informally and without a contract. In the music sector, the  average income from music is barely 50% of minimum wage, 301,000 pesos (367 USD). In the visual arts 84,4% have lost their source of income due to COVID-19, according to PAV4 (Visual Arts Platform). The situation is catastrophic.5

 

In Chile, while the contribution of the cultural sector to the economy is 2,2% of the GDP, the national budget for culture is only 0,4%. So what is the commitment from the State to arts and culture? 

 

“this virus that separates us physically has renewed our collective spirit and the protest from another standpoint”

 

The health crisis has affected a sector of the economy (culture) that generates income and is a source of employment for thousands of people – declares UNA (National Artists’ Union). On March 17th, some of the artists unions made a proposal of emergency measures: an anticipated tax return, no tax discount for the (private, obligatory) pension system, to postpone financial reports from current grants, a special rescue bonus and the reallocation of funds that would not be used during the crisis.

 

Playwright Nona Fernandez made a plea to support culture. She wrote about the situation of the performing arts: “…we have been one of the first professions to align. We have left the stages, classes, workshops, recording studios. Freelancers have always had to deal with unemployment, old age, illness on their own and now with a pandemic. If we were not coming from a revolt, we would probably obediently lock ourselves down and maul our anguish and our failure, as always, but it is curious that this virus that separates us physically has renewed our collective spirit and the protest from another standpoint.”6  

 

Demonstration at Plaza de la Dignidad, Santiago, November 8th, 2019. Photo: Claudia Del Fierro.

 

 

The government’s response

By the end of March, the Ministry of Cultures announced that 15,000 million pesos (19 million USD) will be allocated as a measure to support cultural workers, “for the acquisition of cultural content (such as copyright), for the promotion of artistic creation and to protect spaces and cultural organizations affected by the contingency”.7 The amount is to be reassigned from other programs and instruments within the ministry’s current budget, meaning that other programs will get budget cuts.

 

The associations have demanded transparency in the mechanisms for the distribution of the funds

 

The measure has been received with ambivalence because of the existing mistrust in the government, opening up a public debate that has made apparent the precarious working conditions of cultural workers throughout the country. The associations have demanded transparency in the mechanisms for the distribution of the funds and a long-term vision to provide more economic stability for cultural workers in the future.

 

Manifestation by members of Arte Contemporáneo Asociado (ACA). Demonstration at Plaza de la Dignidad, Santiago, November 8th, 2019. Photo: Claudia Del Fierro.

 

 

Alarming numbers

A survey of cultural agents and organizations has been launched within the government action plan to respond to the health crisis: “Due to the health emergency produced by the outbreak of coronavirus, as the Ministry of Cultures, Arts and Heritage we have designed a public online survey to develop a registry of the working conditions and economic situation of cultural agents and organizations”. The results from the survey, answered by 15,079 cultural agents from all over the country, were published in early May. It includes artists from all sectors, such as music, performing arts, visual arts, artistic education, cultural management, crafts and film. The survey reveals alarming numbers: 85% work free-lance and 70% work without any kind of contract, 79,4% have no stable income, 20% have no health insurance. In regards to their current economic situation, 72,3% describe it as bad, while 48% expect that in one year it will be worse. The survey also gives an account of the cancellation of upcoming shows, teaching, exhibitions, tours and sales due to COVID-19, a situation that is already affecting the workers, and how it will decrease their income even more.

 

70% work without any kind of contract, 79,4% have no stable income, 20% have no health insurance

 

On the same day, a member of parliament from the right-wing party UDI, questioned the minister and demanded to spend the 15,000 million pesos on health. He added, with suspicion: “If you will give resources to artists, a well defined criteria must be established, along with a detailed mechanism of how the funds would be assigned, so that it does not turn into an indiscriminate payout among the usual ones”. This declaration triggered a controversy in the social media against the measure, along with the hashtag #noAlos15milmillones (no to the 15,000 million) and several offensive tweets blaming the cultural sector for supporting acts of violence against the government during the popular revolt. According to actress Andrea Gutierrez from RACH, the hashtag comes from “the concerted and opportunist right that tries to trend in the social media as vengeance for the critical position that the cultural world has had towards this government and the violation of human rights that we have lived through.”9 

 

UNA has asked for an explanation on how the funds will be distributed, while Sidarte has stated that it was expected that the Ministry includes the cultural sector in the conversation before making such decisions. The Minister of Culture, Consuelo Valdés clarified: “I am referring to funds and resources that exist in this year’s budget. There are no new resources being injected from other public funds”.10

 

public funding policies can no longer be implemented through competitions, because of the instability this creates

 

Meanwhile, the president of the culture commission of the senate has proposed some concrete measures: to return 100% of income tax for freelancers, to postpone tax payment for theater companies and institutions linked to the cultural sector and that the Ministry of Culture speeds up the payments of projects that will be executed in 2020. In addition, organizations from the performing arts have demanded that a participatory “technical working group” be implemented, to draw up a COVID-19 contingency plan to alleviate the financial situation of the sector, including the anticipated tax return, a basic food basket and health insurance. UNA has organized a meeting with the culture commission of the parliament, inviting the Ministers of Culture, Social Development and Treasury to discuss the situation of the sector, but none of them attended.

 

 

Demonstration at Plaza de la Dignidad, Santiago, November 8th, 2019. Photo: Claudia Del Fierro.

 

Nélida Pozo, director of Parque Cultural de Valparaíso, writes that “in a country with a newly created ministry whose budget lies at around 0,4% of the national budget – one of the lowest in Latin America – it is not strange that we have such a harsh crisis, whose dimension we are still not able to acknowledge”. In her view, public funding policies can no longer be implemented through competitions, because of the instability this creates, the impossibility of artists to think of long-term projects that make their work, because of the stress and the lack of a collective aspect embedded in the logic of competition.11

 

 

Culture in agony

By the end of April, the government’s actions to aid the cultural sector were finally published: acquisition of cultural content, grants for production and tours, capacity building in e-commerce. There will also be a grant for “spaces with cultural programming”, all of the above by open call. The timeframes fall into the second half of the year, and the evaluation process will take months. “We have to understand that the state is subject to administrative procedures that aim for transparency and objectivity in the distribution of the resources, and has to abide by the legality of expenditures. The Ministry cannot give away resources such as social bonuses, but has to allocate them in relation to projects, to specific beneficiaries that have to account for those projects”says Juan Carlos Silva, undersecretary of Culture. This is confirmed by Emilio de la Cerda, undersecretary of Heritage, who adds “There is will and decision to support, but the Ministry has no legal faculty to give direct subsidies”. This means that the 15,000 million will not be allocated in connection to the alarming results of their survey, because they will be distributed without giving priority to those cultural agents who have lost their income.

 

“Would you compete for help during a state of health crisis?”

 

“Our work is not valued,”says Daniela Espinoza from SINTECI (Union of Film and Audiovisual Professionals and Technicians), “they are asking us to ‘reinvent’ ourselves, instead of giving us support.”

 

“Would you compete for help during a state of health crisis?” the UNA wrote in social media in response to the announcements. “Culture is in agony today, we need concrete actions, real dialogue with the ministry and political will”. With the hashtags #nosonfondosdeemergencia (they are not emergency funds) and #culturaenagonía (culture in agony) the artists associations protest against the government’s measures. Neither the survey nor the demands from the workers have been taken into account. 

 

Demonstration at Plaza de la Dignidad, Santiago, November 8th, 2019. Photo: Claudia Del Fierro.

 

Given the progress of the pandemic and the lack of solutions, artists have taken action and some campaigns are in place, like the one initiated by PAV based on donations, to distribute (75–125 USD each) to those visual artists who are facing extreme situations. Or CEAC (theater of the University of Chile) who has launched a donation campaign for their stable ensemble and troupe. But none of this will be enough to sustain the sector.

 

how urgent it is to politicize art-related practices by self-organizing and imagining ways to come together

 

The Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage (the former National Arts Council), a structure inherited from the previous administration, has had an erratic start with three different ministers in two years during Piñera’s term of office. It has not been able to face the challenges of cultural producers in Chile, it has not consolidated a sufficient budget and it continues to make its only policy to outsource cultural content. Not only artists, performing arts companies and cultural organizations have to compete for funds, but also public institutions like museums and theaters fill their programming with projects funded by open calls.

 

 

Collective strength

Art critic Diego Parra discusses the situation of cultural workers in regards to the historical splintering of the sector. He writes that a solution can only arrive if multiple agents that make up the sector are able to associate in a way that ensures that neither the state nor the private world can continue to take advantage of a mass of workers that, on one hand, do not know their rights and on the other, have not had the collective strength to unionize. He points out how urgent it is to politicize art-related practices by self-organizing and imagining ways to come together.12 

 

International Women’s Day demonstration in Santiago, March 8th, 2020. Photo: Claudia Del Fierro.

 

In a pandemic, an infectious disease has extended to large geographical regions and the whole population is considered potentially infected, so the conditions for public health  measures and healthcare must be made available. However, in Chile a large percentage of the population works without social protection and cannot “stay home” while keeping food on the table. Piñera’s management of the crisis has prioritized the well-being of corporations over people and civil society is going through confinement in total darkness, distrustful of the government and misinformed by the media. After months of demonstrating and marching together, COVID-19 has arrived in Chile and people are confined and physically apart, and the contrast has been overwhelming. The month of May has arrived with new revolts against the government because people have started to go hungry. Oblivious to criticism, Piñera insists on a “sanitizing” strategy: by painting over the graffiti of empty cities, he wants to erase the conscience gained by the popular awakening of October. But the crisis triggered by COVID 19 exposes, even more, the indelible social inequalities. It reassures the urgent demands for dignity and the need for a new participatory constitution making process.

 

Massive unemployment and social vulnerability paints a sombre landscape for the coming months in Chile. Without real emergency funds, the cultural sector will suffer. It is not clear how the social movements will reconfigure after lockdown, but what this crisis has shown for cultural workers is the need to renew their collective efforts, politicize their practices and strengthen their own networks, in order to make the demands of the sector part of the priorities of the Ministry of Culture and to play a role in proposing structural changes in the future constitutional process. 

 

 

Agnes Evseev is a sound explorer, thereminist, free improviser and director of Electromagnetica – Chilean International Theremin Festival.

Claudia Del Fierro is a visual artist who works in a variety of media, including video, performance and installation. She has developed her work in South America and Europe, has participated in Mercosul Bienal, Havanna Bienal and a number of collective and individual exhibitions in Europe and Latin America. Del Fierro has been a recipient of grants from the National Chilean Council for Arts and Culture and Konstnärsnämnden, among others.

 


This article is published in collaboration with an art auction initiative that took place in Stockholm December 2019 in solidarity with the Chilean people. The initiative engaged 121 visual artist in Sweden and was organized by Macarena Dusant, Mariana Silva Varela and Paola Zamora. Visit @chile18_21 for more information.

 

Top image: Demonstration at Plaza de la Dignidad, Santiago, November 8th, 2019. Photo: Claudia Del Fierro.


Footnotes

  1.  Unión Nacional de Artistas, an umbrella association for several unions, that represents all artistic disciplines working for arts and culture.
  2. Ingreso Familiar de Emergencia (emergency family income) consists of 3 bonuses per household. After a debate in parliament the amount has now been raised to 100,000 pesos. The measure was announced to reach 500,000 low income households in the country but has proven to reach less. A COVID bonus has been announced of 50,000 pesos (64 USD) per capita for a  segment of the population with low income.
  3. www.odmc.cl/storage/informes/DIAGNOSTICO_INDUSTRIA_MUSICAL_CHILE_EFECTOS_CORONAVIRUS_Y_ESTALLIDO_SOCIAL_PRIMER_AVANCE.pdf
  4. https://drive.google.com/file/d/11KtSddRdMqPwtYA4KJOLOI_GgN1y4yeW/view
  5. A survey by Gestoras en Red (women workers in arts and culture) answered by 1000 women in 2019, reveals that 48% of women in arts and culture work without a contract, 28% have a temporary contract without benefits, 14% have an indefinite contract, 10% invoice per task and 67% of them work exclusively in culture. According to ODMC (Digital Music Observatory), in a survey applied to 2284 persons in the music sector, 56% have a second source of income in order to survive. In 66% of the cases, the income from music generates no more than 2,000,000 pesos (2.500 USD) a year. Only 16% is working on projects with some sort of state funding.A survey made by PAV, answered by 420 visual artists in March 2020, reveals that 33,7% works informally and 59,3% of homes receive an income below 501,000 pesos (620 USD) per month. 84,8% of visual artists have lost their sources of income due to the health crisis and 72,9% will not be able to support their basic needs. See www.gestorasenred.com
  6. www.elmostrador.cl/cultura/2020/03/19/la-marcha-del-boletariado/
  7. www.cultura.gob.cl/institucional/ministerio-de-las-culturas-las-artes-y-el-patrimonio-destinara-15-mil-millones-de-pesos-para-apoyar-a-artistas-y-organizaciones-ante-emergencia-por-coronavirus/
  8. http://observatorio.cultura.gob.cl/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Catrastro-COVID-19.pdf
  9. www.elperiodista.cl/la-falacia-de-los-15-mil-millones/
  10. https://radio.uchile.cl/2020/03/26/artistas-exigen-al-ministerio-de-las-culturas-retroceder-en-su-plan-para-amortiguar-crisis-del-sector/
  11. www.eldesconcierto.cl/2020/03/30/cultura-las-vulnerabilidades-de-un-sector-precarizado/
  12.  www.eldesconcierto.cl/libros/la-critica-situacion-de-los-trabajadores-del-arte-y-la-ayuda-estatal-cuando/