Critical Interventions: Home, Belonging and Krísis (by Sofia Aatkar and Richard Bromhall)

A response to ‘Krísis: Critical Interventions’ symposium (Friday 29th October)

30 November 2016

Critical Interventions: Home, Belonging and Krísis

By Sofia Aatkar and Richard Bromhall

The art exhibition, Krísis, is curated by Something Human,[1] and is presented in collaboration with Nottingham Trent University, Bonington Gallery and Nottingham Contemporary. The exhibition runs from Thursday 28th October 2016 – Friday 9th December 2016, and explores how art and performance can approach questions such as ‘how can we use states of crisis as a way to rethink the future?’[2] ‘Krísis: Critical Interventions’ was part of a series of events linked to the art exhibition. This one-day symposium (Friday 29th October) included performative lectures, and talks by artists and invited speakers about how states of social, political or cultural crisis are addressed and conveyed through artistic expression (including literature and visual culture). Dr Anna Ball, Dr Roy Smith and Professor Duncan Higgins facilitated the talks and mediated conversations throughout the day, and thus helped the speakers to create a collective dialogue about notions of crisis across a broad range of topics. In June 2016, the United Nations refugee agency announced that ‘[t]he number of people displaced by conflict is at the highest level ever recorded’,[3] and subsequently, a discourse has emerged within the media surrounding what has been dubbed ‘Europe’s migrant crisis’.[4] In this vein, the present blog post will specifically consider the talks which explored how issues of displacement and homelessness are represented within literature and the media, and concludes by discussing some of the issues raised in the talk by representatives from Nottingham Refugee Forum (NRF).

Veronika Schuchter, a visiting scholar at Nottingham Trent University, analysed notions of home in contemporary travel culture and literature. Schuchter began by highlighting the slippery nature of the term ‘home’, stating that it can refer to a physical and highly ritualised space of dwelling, or an abstract space which can evoke a sense of belonging. She observed how companies like Easy Jet and Airbnb capitalise on their customers’ dependence on the notion of home, as their adverts paradoxically encourage people to leave their homes and travel whilst simultaneously reassuring them that they can inhabit a homely space once they reach their destination. These companies, it seems, have created a new travel culture whereby the traveller can – quite literally in the case of Airbnb – experience a home away from home. Part of this homely experience, Schuchter argued, is linked to (and might be dictated by) the traveller’s ability to connect to Wi-Fi at their destination, and thus she proposed that, in a contemporary context, home is where the Wi-Fi connects automatically. This observation suggests that modern technology has influenced how the ‘selfie generation’ conceptualise the notion of home when they are ‘away’ from home.

Schuchter analysed three contemporary novels – Restlessness (1998) by Aritha van Herk, Hotel World (2001) by Ali Smith and The Embassy of Cambodia (2013) by Zadie Smith – and explored how authors represent the idea of home in their work. By discussing these texts in conjunction, Schuchter emphasised that the notion of home is ambiguous and personal to the individual, as each protagonist creates their own meaning of this highly-contested term. When these texts are read under the rubric of travel literature, it is somewhat unsurprising that each protagonist’s conceptualisation of home is developed through travel, stasis or through their relationship with a hotel. Dorcas, the protagonist in Restlessness, is a compulsive traveller, but she recognises that each time she ventures beyond her home country she is rendered Other. Dorcas chooses to end her own life[5] in the hotel – a space which Schuchter suggested represents home for Dorcas because it provides a sense of stability for her erratic state of mind. The protagonist of Hotel World, Else, is a homeless woman who begs for money outside a hotel in an anonymous British city until she is invited to spend one night in the establishment. Schuchter quoted a particularly poignant passage from the text – one which describes the moment Else peers out of the window in her hotel room and sees ‘her remains; her sleeping bag, her blanket, her day’s takings. Where she sits each day is piled like a mistake, like rubbish, against the edge of the hotel’.[6] Fatou, the protagonist in The Embassy of Cambodia, is a young girl from Ivory Coast, who, Smith implies, is an illegal immigrant in Britain. Over the course of the narrative, we learn that Fatou works as a domestic servant for a family in London; her employers grant her an extremely limited independence and confiscate her passport, which confines Fatou within an intimate domestic setting in which she does not belong. Notions of unbelonging, displacement and homelessness are central to all three of the novels Schuchter discussed. Consequently, the presentation highlighted how literature, as a cultural form, raises questions about home – a space that is often perceived as neutral and unproblematic. Schuchter’s discussion revealed how authors can make states of international crisis, such as migration, register on a personal level by representing these states of emergency through a protagonist. As such, Schuchter showed how figures who are readily cast as Other in xenophobic discourses can be humanised through the medium of literature.

This relationship between media and literature has a prevailing impact on the ways in which refugee experience is articulated in popular discourses in the west. Professor of English at NTU, Phil Leonard’s paper ‘Sacred Shores’ took the refugee crisis as its focus, and in particular, the journeys many refugees undertake from Syria to Greece. The shore, for Leonard, represents a liminal space between the quasi-safety offered by European social apparatuses – that is, the legal, economic, and political structures in any single nation state – and the danger posed by an unwieldy journey across the Aegean Sea. Drawing on various marketing campaigns and adverts, the shore becomes a space in which desperate refugees make contact with loved ones on a mobile phone which glows warmly in the faces of its users. In one advert, and set against a red sunset, the shore conflates the spaces of risk, safety, and tourism, rendering the shore as all of these and, at the same time, neither. But the liminality of the shore raises questions around refugee experiences. When do refugees arrive?, Leonard asks. Is it on the border, some ten miles off the shore; is it when they appear on the beach; or is it when asylum is granted? Drawing on Giorgio Agamben’s work, Leonard described the concept of ‘homo sacer’, the figure who has no legal status and is rendered as killable because of it.[7] As such, refugees are placed in this category. Refugees, therefore, are rendered victims in terms of their governments’ misguided political decisions, victims of their own bad judgment – by sailing across turbulent stretches of water in nothing more than a flimsy rubber dinghy – or perhaps by failing to seek asylum closer to home, in neighbouring countries, which does not involve a perilous journey. Most importantly for Leonard, their status as victims is not explained in terms of Western – particularly, European – states’ legal frameworks. In such narratives, the West, in some ways, becomes the victim, rather than the perpetrator of hardship for refugees.

This chimed with NRF’s talk in which they discussed the notion of ‘lives not worthy of living’, a mantra used in Nazi Germany and legitimised in contemporary narratives on the refugee crisis through the (above) concept of homo sacer. This narrative is something the NRF spends some time tackling, not only in the sense of refugees’ own shame because their value is constructed through narratives of deserving and undeserving, but also through narratives that conflate refugees’ status as rivals to working-class British workers. ‘Migrants’, ‘refugees’, ‘immigrants’ and ‘asylum seekers’ are terms which have been used synonymously since the refugee crisis to justify anger towards refugees as those which, so the narrative goes, seek to take housing provision, jobs, and welfare support from ‘deserving’ Britons. Indeed, as one volunteer from the charity put it: ‘The only crisis in the UK is the crisis of poor provision of public services. Refugee crisis is imposed by governments to suit a specific political agenda.’ Such homogenising practices seek to cast those fleeing war as dangerous and undeserving.

The notion of ‘crisis’ has dominated the contemporary era. The ‘Krísis: Critical Interventions’ conference showcased the ways in which cultural forms can shape meaning and offer a lens through which understandings of the contemporary moment can be rationalised, comprehended, and processed. Such cultural forms allow us to wrestle with traumatic events and enable critical approaches that offer potential solutions to – or at least understandings of – the crises with which we are faced. Home, belonging, and the safety concomitant with these concepts is crucial subject matter to understand the challenges the human race must deal with in this cultural moment, and the conference offered a space in which to discuss these events openly.

 

The ‘Krísis’ exhibition is at Bonington Gallery at NTU until 9 December 2016.

 

Works Cited

Agamben, Giorgio, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. by Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998)

BBC, ‘Refugees at highest ever level, reaching 65m, says UN’, BBC News (2016)            <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-36573082 > [accessed 1st November 2016]

Bonington Gallery, ‘Krísis’ (2016) < http://www.boningtongallery.co.uk/exhibitions/krisis >            [accessed 31st October 2016]

Smith, Ali, Hotel World (London: Penguin, 2002)

Something Human, ‘About’ < https://something-human.org/about/ > [accessed 31st October            2016]

 

Sofia Aatkar and Richard Bromhall are AHRC Midlands3Cities funded PhD students in English at Nottingham Trent University

 


[1] Something Human is an independent art curator which focuses on ‘exploring movement and relationships across boundaries, through […] shared multidisciplinary interests in architecture, design, sculpture, mixed media, photography, moving image and performance’. Something Human, ‘About’ < https://something-human.org/about/ > [accessed 31st October 2016] (para. 1 of 1).

[2] Bonington Gallery, ‘Krísis’ (2016) < http://www.boningtongallery.co.uk/exhibitions/krisis > [accessed 31st October 2016] (para. 3 of 7).

[3] BBC, ‘Refugees at highest ever level, reaching 65m, says UN’, BBC News (2016) <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-36573082 > [accessed 1st November 2016] (caption under video).

[4] BBC, ‘Refugees at highest ever level’, para. 7 of 18.

[5] Docus pays an assassin to kill her.

[6] Ali Smith, Hotel World (London: Penguin, 2002), p.67.

[7] Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. by Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998).

 

BASAS Annual Conference 2017: Call for Papers

BASAS Annual Conference 2017: Call for Papers

19 – 21 April 2017, University of Nottingham and Nottingham Trent University

The British Association of South Asian Studies (BASAS) will hold its annual conference from 1:30 pm Wednesday, 19 April, to 12:30 pm Friday, 21 April 2017, at the University of Nottingham and Nottingham Trent University. The conference is hosted by Nottingham University’s Institute of Asia and Pacific Studies (IAPS) and Nottingham Trent University’s Postcolonial Studies Centre. The keynote speaker is Urvashi Butalia, sponsored by IAPS.

We are now accepting panel and paper submissions for the 2017 conference. This year there is no specific theme for the conference – we invite proposals for both panels and independent papers from all humanities, arts, and social science disciplines, covering research on the breadth of South Asia and its diaspora. As always we welcome bold, innovative, and interdisciplinary approaches. Submission Guidelines:

Please submit your panel and paper proposals to the conference organisers at basas2017@nottingham.ac.uk by the dates shown below.

Panel proposals (150-200 word abstract). Panels will last for 90 minutes, and it is advisable that proposals allow sufficient time for the presentation of papers as well as discussion. 

Independent papers (100-150 word abstract).

Deadline for submission of abstracts: 30 November 2016

Please provide full contact details (mailing and emailing addresses) for your paper and/or for each member of your panel.

Note on panel proposals: Panel proposals are to be accompanied by individual paper abstracts for each of the proposed panel members (100-150 words). The panel organiser(s) should also arrange for a chair (who can be a panellist).

Please note: Incomplete panel proposals will not be accepted. Panel organisers are expected to have confirmed speakers and chair prior to submitting. The conference organisers may seek to add additional individual papers to accepted papers, in discussion with panel organisers.

Funding: There will be a limited number of bursaries to the value of £50 available to students and unwaged participants. Those who wish to be considered for these bursaries should include a covering note in support of their request, detailing any additional institutional support for conference participation for which they may be eligible. This must be submitted by the deadline of 30 November 2016.

Registration will open in January 2017.

Registration deadline: 15 March 2017

Registration fee (up to 15 March 2017): £150 waged (teaching and research staff on salaries); £90 unwaged (students, unemployed, pensioners, academics on hourly paid or sessional contracts). Please note that the delegate rate includes a conference dinner on 20 April, one lunch (on 20 April), a drinks reception, and tea and coffee between sessions.

Advanced registration is strongly encouraged to ensure a place at the conference. Late registrations, after the 15 March deadline, will attract an additional charge, and places may not be guaranteed.

Registration deadline: 15 March 2017

You must be a BASAS member in order to register for the conference. To become a member, visit http://basas.org.uk/become-a-member/

BASAS paper prize for graduate students: An award of £250 will be made for the best paper presented at the Annual Conference.  Entries should be no longer than 7000 words and submitted no later than 15 March 2017 to the conference organisers at basas2017@nottingham.ac.uk.  A panel of judges comprising the conference organisers and council members will make the final decision based on the paper and the presentation.  The winning paper may be considered for publication in one of BASAS’s associated journals, Contemporary South Asia or South Asian Studies.

Visas: Delegates requiring visas must register to attend the conference before a visa letter can be issued from the conference organisers.  If you require a visa please contact basas2017@nottingham.ac.uk including a copy of your registration receipt, which should feature your name and address.  Please also note your Nationality and your Passport Number.  A personalised PDF Visa letter will be emailed to you promptly.

Conference organisers: 

Dr Katherine Adeney, Dr Onni Gust, Dr Kathryn Lum, Dr Diego Maiorano, Dr Humaira Saeed, Dr Nicole Thiara

Contact e-mail:  basas2017@nottingham.ac.uk

Response to Simon Faulkner, ‘Constructing Pallywood: Photography, veracity, and denigration in Israel/Palestine’ (by George Coleby)

Response to Simon Faulkner, ‘Constructing Pallywood: Photography, veracity, and denigration in Israel/Palestine’, 16 March 2016

by George Coleby

4 May 2016

George Coleby is a second year on NTU’s BA International Relations and is a student intern at the Postcolonial Studies Centre in Spring 2016.

Faulkner1

Political Art in Palestine

Dr Simon Faulkner, senior lecturer in Art History at the Manchester School of Art, visited NTU’s Postcolonial Studies Centre and gave an enlightening lecture on the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict through the lens of visual art and photography. In both the contemporary and ancient worlds, The Levant has been the host of intense factional fighting as well as deep divisions along religious, cultural and ethnic lines. Today, the regional dispute is still ongoing as the modern states of Israel and Palestine repeatedly clash, both socially and violently, making headlines and front page images the world over. This cultural collision has created resounding ripples in the fields of art and photography that exist within the troubled region, shaping the experiences of the people who live inside it.

Tel Aviv based artist David Reeb has witnessed this struggle first hand and reflects his experiences in his work. His 1997 painting ‘All the Colours of the Rainbow’ features an image of Israeli tanks patrolling the West Bank city of Ramallah, above a second image of British sculptor, Henry Moore’s, three piece sculpture outside the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, highlighting the contrast between the region’s instability and its lesser recognised high culture. The two scenes are separated by a straight black line invoking a stark commentary on the strict political divisions of the historic land and the typical experiences of Israelis and Palestinians living on either side of the area’s physical as well as more intangible divides. Dr Faulkner commented on how Reeb has rejected the term ‘political artist’ stating that his paintings are not constructed as clear-cut political statements but rather as a more complex representation of his own experiences, thereby challenging the idea that the connection between politics and art is a straightforward relationship.

Many artists and culture-makers have labelled these works of art as a form of activism and protest against the region’s struggles, in an attempt to bring to light the themes of occupation, displacement and segregation. Palestinian artist, Khaled Hourani, embodied these ideals in his project ‘Picasso in Palestine’ in which he successfully established the loan of Pablo Picasso’s ‘Buste de Femme’ from Van Abbemuseum in The Netherlands to the then widely unknown International Academy of Art-Palestine in Ramallah, in Israeli occupied West Bank. Loaning a piece as significant as an original Picasso is usually only reserved for the world’s highest profile museums and galleries, so to bring it to occupied Palestine has been called a supreme act of protest and legitimacy for the unrecognised state.

The international collective, ActiveStills, is a community of photographers and documenters based in Israel and Palestine, who use their talents as a vehicle to promote social and political change in the region. ActiveStills have archived many images and accounts of protest, demonstration and violence between Palestinian activists and Israeli authorities in cities such as Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Bil’in. One such account from the outskirts of Bethlehem detailed the passage of hundreds of Palestinian workers through a checkpoint in the wall that separates them from Jerusalem. These restrictions to non-Israeli communities have generated protests in West Bank border towns, most notably in Bil’in where the IDF (Israeli Defence Force) was regularly deployed to quell demonstrations that had escalated into violence. Dr Faulkner spoke of how the images taken by ActiveStills were being used by protestors on both sides of the conflict in an effort to achieve social justice.

As it is, it seems the historic region’s troubles show no signs of abating, however due to the efforts of these few artists and gallerists the social consequences and the individual experiences of the people directly affected by it, will be preserved. The authenticity of the conflict as it will inevitably be portrayed by international media outlets and social networks, will be protected from alterations for political agendas or factional propaganda, by these true to life images and works. Dr Faulkner illustrated how the relationship between art and politics is two sided, as it is the international crisis that largely inspired the aforementioned artists and their pieces but also as the art and high culture can be used as a vessel for social justice in the region’s turbulent political battleground.

Faulkner2

 

 

 

Response to Alberto Carbajal, Between Gang and Family: Queering Ethnicity and British Muslim Masculinities in Sally El Hosaini’s My Brother the Devil (by Wendy Norman, 27 April 2016)

Response to Alberto Carbajal, Between Gang and Family: Queering Ethnicity and British Muslim Masculinities in Sally El Hosaini’s My Brother the Devil

by Wendy Norman

April 27 2016

Recently, Dr Alberto Carbajal presented his paper, ‘Between Gang and Family: Queering Ethnicity and British Muslim Masculinities in Sally el Hosaini’s My Brother the Devil’ at NTU’s Postcolonial Studies Centre. Carbajal demonstrated how Hosaini’s film challenges typical perceptions of homosexuality and masculinity, as well as ethnicity. The narrative of My Brother the Devil (2012) follows Mo and Rashin, brothers of Egyptian heritage living in Hackney. Rashin leaves his gang and stops selling low-level drunks in order to have a relationship with Sayyid, a French photographer. Jealous of Rashin and Sayyid’s friendship, Mo joins Rashin’s gang as a dealer. Growing ever more suspicious of Rashin and Sayyid’s closeness, Mo goes to Sayyid’s home to see the two men undressed together and realises the true extent of their relationship. Mo continues to become more involved in the gang and upon Rashin finding Mo’s stash of money and drugs, makes a deal with his former gang, agreeing that Mo can leave the gang in exchange of killing a member of a rival gang. The gang discovers Rashin and Sayyid’s homosexual relationship and plans to kill them. In the cross-fire, Mo is shot while protecting his brother.

Although he primarily queered ethnicity and masculinity, I found Carbajal’s demonstration of how My Brother the Devil queers the notion of ‘home’ and ‘family’ an especially interesting concept. Even though the members of the gang are from different ethnicities, they call each other ‘bruv’, ‘cuz’ and ‘fam’, short for brother, cousin, and family. The gang’s notion of ‘family’ seems to transcend biology and ethnicity, showing that these men can choose their family. This, in turn, queers the very notion of ‘family’, a group of people who typically live together, and are bonded through biology or marriage. Moreover, Carbajal queers ethnicity further because London in My Brother the Devil does not belong to one ethnicity. Instead, London belongs to a large group of people from disparate places and ethnicities to the point where ethnicity becomes meaningless. Therefore, we can see that the presentation of London in the film is a site of queering ethnicity and this queering gives a sense of rootedness to all ethnicities.

It is refreshing to see a sympathetic view of young people, especially those like Mo and Rashin, who are on the margins of society. El Hosaini effectively presents this sympathy in her film and Carbajal encapsulated the nuances of My Brother the Devil in his full and enthusiastic analysis. The discussion ultimately brought a refreshing portrayal of young Muslim men into focus by presenting them positively.

 

Wendy Norman is currently undertaking research on sexuality in Sri Lankan literature, on NTU’s MRes English Literary Research.

Of Warriors and Soldiers: Explorations of the ‘Noble Warrior’ in Contemporary New Zealand Literature and Culture – Ulla Ratheiser (by Sofia Aatkar, 26 April 2016)

Response to ‘Of Warriors and Soldiers: Explorations of the ‘Noble Warrior’ in Contemporary New Zealand Literature and Culture’ (Ulla Ratheiser, University of Innsbruck)

by Sofia Aatkar

26 April 2016

This week, Nottingham Trent hosted Dr Ulla Ratheiser from the University of Innsbruck, Austria. As part of the Postcolonial Speaker Series, Ratheiser delivered a fascinating talk on the trope of the noble warrior in New Zealand literature. Contrary to popular belief, the recurrent figure of the noble warrior is not exclusive to Māori culture, but is also used by the Pākeha[1] community to represent a collective Aotearoa[2]   identity. The strength of this shared identity and cultural pride is seen, most publically perhaps, before sporting events when the Haka is performed. Ratheiser informed us that the Haka is a traditional action poem which the Māori execute before battle, but, in contemporary Aotearoa culture, the Haka is also used to represent what it means to be a New Zealander. In this sense, then, when the New Zealand rugby team perform the Haka on the world stage, they combine Māori warriorhood and indigenous minority strength with an expression of national identity in a physical, visible and audible way, which publically conveys New Zealand’s unity. Thus, the image of the noble warrior works to transcend New Zealand’s precolonial, colonial and postcolonial histories.

Certainly, in many ways the figure of the noble warrior can be understood as a unifying and productive emblem in New Zealand culture, because it works to promote a pan-Aotearoan identity. However, Ratheiser employed a critical approach which illustrated some of the complications linked to the seemingly positive image of the noble warrior. She examined the representation of this symbolic figure in four texts, namely Once Were Warriors (1990) by Alan Duff, Tu: A Novel (2004) by Patricia Grace, and Witi Ihimaera’s novels The Uncle’s Story (2002) and The Whale Rider (2003). I found Ratheiser’s analysis of The Whale Rider and Tu: A Novel particularly compelling, as she demonstrated how the ideal of the noble warrior is constricting for texts’ protagonists. Indeed, for The Whale Rider’s female protagonist, Kahu, the idea of the noble warrior is initially depicted as unattainable because she is discouraged from learning traditional Māori combat due to her biological sex, and for the same reason, is almost denied her rightful title of chief. By contrast, for Tu, the image of the returning war hero represents the modern equivalent of the noble warrior; however, he returns from World War II wounded, not glorious, and consequently sees himself as a failure. By interrogating the protagonists’ subject positions, Ratheiser revealed how the image of the noble warrior can also represent a hyper-masculine, empty construct which undermines its otherwise unifying agency, and emphasises the need to understand the noble warrior concept in a wider, less literal context.

In addition to her fascinating insights on the figure of the noble warrior in New Zealand literature, for me, Ratheiser’s talk highlighted the extent to which postcolonial studies marginalises the literature of settler colonies, such as Australia and New Zealand, and how their individual postcolonial contexts are often overshadowed in postcolonial studies.

 

[1] This is a Māori term which is used to characterise New Zealanders of European descent.

[2] A Māori term which is commonly used to describe the country of New Zealand in its entirety.

 

Sofia Aatkar is undertaking research on liminality in the postcolonial bildungsroman and will begin her Midlands 3 Cities AHRC-funded PhD on post-1945 travel writing of Caribbean to UK migration in October 2016.

Exhibition: In the Future They Ate from the Finest Porcelain – Larissa Sansour (by Mara Sprengel)

Exhibition:
In the Future They Ate from the Finest Porcelain
Larissa Sansour

New Art Exchange, 31-41 Gregory Boulevard, Nottingham
15 January – 13 March 2016

by Mara Sprengel

Larissa Mansour

I begin with a disclaimer: I am enamoured with the work of Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour. This lends this piece a certain amount of bias which, to be honest, I am not entirely unhappy about!

Sansour’s work is interdisciplinary. She uses film, photography, installation and sculpture through which she interrogates questions of Palestinian nationhood, territory and identity. Confronted with a situation often described as Kafka-esque or unreal, a hostile present of bureaucratic restrictions of movement and heavily controlled land, resources and airspace, and an increasingly contested past, Sansour turns to the genre of sci-fi in order to further distort reality and to attempt to answer the ‘question’ of Palestine. The collection currently being shown at the New Art Exchange comprises three films: A Space Exodus (2009), Nation Estate (2012) and In the Future They Ate from the Finest Porcelain (2015). Film stills and sculpture installations, including a gang of Palestinauts (2010) which scamper up the walls, offer variety to the exhibition. A poster ‘advertising’ Nation Estate parodies Franz Kraus’ iconic 1936 ‘Visit Palestine’ image, destabilising its intended Zionist and orientalist notions. The works are ideally displayed on black walls which serve to focus attention on the screens and well-lit sculptures whilst also creating an intimacy which envelopes the viewer.

With a running time of just over five minutes, A Space Exodus (2009) is the shortest of the three films. We journey with Sansour as she travels to the moon in order to claim an alternative homeland space for the Palestinians. Elements of traditional Palestinian culture are cleverly intertwined with dominant narratives of space exploration and expansionism. Such narratives, often Western and masculine, are challenged and subverted here by a Middle Eastern female astronaut striking out on her own to claim territory for her people.

Set in a near-future dystopia, Sansour’s Nation Estate (2012) provides a witty but surreal ‘solution’ to Palestinian claims for a nation state and counters the issue of ever-diminishing space in the West Bank. Palestinian sumud [1] and resolute refusal to leave their ancestral homeland has been nightmarishly re-envisioned and as the film progresses we see that a grotesque paradoxical compromise to the issue of territoriality and land ownership in Israel/Palestine has been reached. The Palestinians remain in-situ and maintain a very visible presence in the landscape. However their location is absolute and they are intensely surveilled, ghettoised and prevented from moving outside of a very defined and specific space. All opportunities for contact between Israelis and Palestinians have been removed and the very essence of Palestinian life has been neatly compartmentalised into a sterile and internationalised space. Palestinian identity has been reduced to a series of motifs which figure throughout the short film, with monuments and relics reproduced in a form of Disneyfication, providing a stark contrast to the reality of the occasionally visible ancient landscape ‘outside’.

The confusion of tenses in the title In The Future They Ate from the Finest Porcelain (2015) indicates a temporal disruption and, as we travel through time with a self-proclaimed ‘narrative terrorist’, we begin to understand why. As she distributes shards of porcelain decorated with a keffiyeh [2] pattern throughout space and time for future generations to discover, the protagonist seeks to write the Palestinians not only into history but also into time. The viewer is responsible for piecing together the narrative which is offered in the form of layers of historical photographs, film, visual tropes and an oral soundtrack. This allows the film to examine the role of fiction in history and in doing so not only challenges accepted notions of truth and historical entitlement to land but also subverts archaeological strategies utilised by Israeli authorities to legitimise claims to land.

Sansour’s use of sci-fi to produce meaningful and intensely politicised works enables the creation of a potentially limitless and liberating cultural space through which Palestinian identity can be renegotiated and considered. The highly polished aesthetic of her films results in a beauty, despite the disquieting subject matter, and the use of Hollywood tropes and references in her work facilitates cultural interconnectivity and a crossing of boundaries. When the three films are viewed as a collection, ideally in chronological order, you can chart the progression and development of Sansour’s ideas which are crystallised in the final film. I can’t wait to see where her next project leads her and I urge you to take the opportunity to see Sansour’s inventive and challenging work whilst it’s in Nottingham. She will be discussing her practice with curator and critic Nat Muller on 26th February 2015. See you there!

Notes:
[1] Arabic for ‘steadfastness’ although the wider Palestinian implications of the term are linked to themes of resistance.
[2] Pattern taken from a scarf which is synonymous with Palestinian nationalism.

Further reading:
 Larissa Sansour http://www.larissasansour.com/index.html
 New Art Exchange http://www.nae.org.uk/exhibition/larissa-sansour-in-the-future-they-ate/96
 Makhoul, Bashir, ed., Palestinian Video Art: Constellation of the Moving Image (Palestinian Art Court – al Hoash: Jerusalem, 2013)
 Dabashi, Hamid, Dreams of a Nation: On Palestinian Cinema (Verso: London, 2007)
 Gertz, Nurith and George Khleifi, Palestinian Cinema: Landscape, Trauma, and Memory (Edinburgh University Press: Edinburgh, 2008)

Belief and Faith, The Social Place of Worship, Prayer and Meditation, by Bogumila Korba and Robyn Evans

The Spatial Enlightenment of The Senses: Belief and Faith, The Social Place of Worship, Prayer and Meditation

Do people make places or do places make people?

by Bogumila Korba and Robyn Evans

26 November 2015

Starting in July 2015, we undertook a SPUR (Scholarship Project for Undergraduate Research) in partnership with NTU and the head of the Photography degree Max Kandhola, who had proposed the project.

surrounding1

 

 

 

 

 

The project was an exploration of Sikh and Muslim places of worship in Nottingham. Through our academic and visual research, we discovered the relationship between faith and places of worship within Nottingham’s community and surroundings.  Mapping locations, doing fieldwork and historical research into human geography and postcolonial migration, we looked at issues of belonging and adapting, whilst drawing upon ideas of the ‘other’.

Eventually, we went into the different places to gain further information and, of course, to take photographs! Working with the local communities and religious leaders, we intended to photograph the interior and exterior of each building in order to represent the communities who live near, and pray within them. Our main goal was to capture the aura of each site in order for a viewer who has never personally experienced such a place to be able to grasp an idea of it.

An integral part of our project was the fact that we were not interested in photographing people, just the architecture and feeling of each place of worship and its surroundings. We wanted to capture the essence of a building, shaped by a community without directly photographing the community.

Jamia Masjid Sultania Mosque

Jamia Masjid Sultania Mosque

 

Sri Nabh Kanwal Raja Sahib Ji Gurdwara

Sri Nabh Kanwal Raja Sahib Ji Gurdwara

Nottingham is a multicultural city with population of 310,837 (2011 census). There are approx. 27,000 Muslims and 4,312 Sikhs.  There are 25 official worship sites for Muslim groups and seven Sikh Gurdwaras. The Muslim community of Nottingham predominantly originates from Pakistan and the Sikh population originates mainly from India (2011 census). Both groups came to UK in the 1950s and 60s, part of a countrywide influx of postcolonial migrants.

When these groups migrated, they brought traditions, values, culture, religion and language. After over 50 years, their presence has become embedded into modern society but is still visibly distinct. The languages, traditional forms of dress, foods and architecture have transformed Nottingham into a colourful, some might say ‘exotic’, but most importantly a very interesting European City.

Madni Masjid

Madni Masjid

From the very beginning of our research, an astonishing fact was discovered – the human geography of Nottingham is divided into areas predominated by religious groups. This fact is not always obvious at first sight.

surrounding madni masjid

The question: ‘Do places make people or do people make places?’ was constantly on our minds. Only one building was purposefully built to be a site of worship – the Nurani Jami Masjid Mosque in St. Ann’s, which is also the biggest mosque in Nottingham and a part of it is still under construction. The rest of the religious buildings tended to be converted buildings, a mosque that was previously a pub, many converted shops, warehouses and schools, and both Mosques and Gurdwaras, which were, previously churches.

Sites of worship would be built for the need of the community, some buildings more basic and sparse than others, some virtually empty most days, others a hub for the community – providing resources and services for the surrounding communities, the people shaped and made the place.

Jamia Masjid Sultania Mosque

Jamia Masjid Sultania Mosque

Surrounding area

Surrounding area

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gaining access to these sites proved problematic on some occasions. Many places immediately declined our request to gain entry. One on particular occasion we came up against an individual who became both defensive and rude at the sight of us – this is something which we realised was inevitable when we started this project but it was still unnerving. Another problem we frequently came up against was being subject to a strong bias throughout conversation, something that made it hard to remain neutral and professional. Language and educational barriers made it near impossible sometimes to ask the questions we desired to have answered.

surroundingj3
surroundgg

 

 

 

 

 

Our project coincided with Ramadan, which meant the mosques were bustling with life and busy which was amazing to see but did also mean that we struggled to get access to all of them.  So having access to some of them, despite the inconvenient time, was great and very interesting but also an enlightening experience for us.

Overall, the project produced over 100 images and a contextual research file. We were enlightened by the experience of being welcomed into a community we had never previously encountered. Being presented with multiple opportunities within the community and the art world following the end of project has also been both exciting and rewarding.

 

Jamia Masjid Sultania Mosque

Jamia Masjid Sultania Mosque

Jamia Masjid Sultania Mosque

Jamia Masjid Sultania Mosque

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pakistan centre

Pakistan centre

sri guru singh gurdwara

sri guru singh gurdwara

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

©  Photographs and Text: Bogumila Korba and Robyn Evans, 2015