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November 27, 2018
by mara.ahmed
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Interstellar Uber

Interstellar Uber // Negotiations with God is a kinetic Buraq sculpture that resides in Elsewhere’s Ghost Room. The Buraq (meaning sparkle, or lightning) is the steed that Prophet Muhammad rode during his “Night Journey” from Mecca to Jerusalem around 610 AD, and then to the seven levels of Heaven. The journey to the Heavens is known as Al-Mi’raj, or the Ascension.

There is some question of whether Al Mi’raj was an actual journey or only a spiritual one. The Buraq interests Taj as a creature that embodies the in-between, questioning categorical interpretations of reality both in concept and in form. A figure transformed through collective imaginations and art over time, she has become a stylized chimera and patron of travel. This 3-D assemblage of the Buraq reminisces Taj’s 2-D collage work, which echoes themes of diaspora and hybridity with inspiration from Islamic stories.

Interstellar Uber from Elsewhere on Vimeo.

November 26, 2018
by mara.ahmed
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‘The term migrants dehumanizes refugees’

i hate the word “migrant.” i wish people would stop using it and parroting msm. it’s a sinister use of language to dehumanize.

Bas van Lier: Refugees shouldn’t be called ‘migrants’, Al Jazeera English online editor Barry Malone says. The umbrella term dehumanizes refugees and can serve to make politicians and population indifferent to the suffering these ‘migrants’ are undergoing.

‘The umbrella term migrant is no longer fit for purpose when it comes to describing the horror unfolding in the Mediterranean. It has evolved from its dictionary definitions into a tool that dehumanises and distances, a blunt pejorative.’

‘It already feels like we are putting a value on the word,’ Malone continues. ‘Migrant deaths are not worth as much to the media as the deaths of others – which means that their lives are not. Drowning disasters drop further and further down news bulletins. We rarely talk about the dead as individuals anymore. They are numbers.’ More here.

November 25, 2018
by mara.ahmed
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Aboriginal Women Artists and Their Visions of Infinity

Bansie Vasvani: While some historians argue that Aboriginal art does not meet the Western criteria of art as a platform for innovation and self-expression, these paintings, which are filled with traditional abstract Aboriginal iconography denoting nature, spirits, and a way of life that has been passed down for generations, are a wonder.

Whether it is Gulumbu Yunupingu’s “Ganyu (Stars)” (2002) or Nonggirrnga Marawili’s “Lightning and the Rock” (2014), painted with earth pigment on bark, the works vibrate with a lyricism that is endemic to their mark-making process.

For these women artists, who began their artistic practice by assisting their husbands with painting on paper and canvas in camps that were set up by the Australian government in the 1970s to teach the tribesmen the ways of the Western world, art and tribal identity eventually became a full-time practice.

Distinguished by meticulousness and rigor, the blanket of white crosshatches and dots against a brown background in “Ganyu,” and the stream of white diamond formations in Marawili’s bark paintings, are intimations of infinity. The meditative repetitiveness of these symbols, which represent each of their respective communities, emanate organically. More here.

November 24, 2018
by mara.ahmed
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‘The Angels Will Call on Me’ – Meena Alexander, Indian-American Poet, Dies at 67

From The Wire: A native Malayalam speaker, Meena Alexander spoke French, English, Sudanese Arabic and Hindi, and it was in language that she said she found herself at home. It was language, she says, that helped her find sustenance in her art and swim in unchartered waters.

“It took me quite a while to realise that I did not have to feel strung out and lost in the swarm of multilingual syllables – rather, that the hive of language could allow me to make a strange and sweet honey, the pickings of dislocation.”

A large part of her poetry as well as prose writing therefore reflects her acute awareness of the concerns of migration, border-crossing, and political violence.

“In a time of violence,” she said in an interview with the Kenyon Review, “the task of poetry is in some way to reconcile us to our world and to allow us a measure of tenderness and grace with which to exist.”

[…] Alexander’s poetry, Ranjit Hoskote said, has a “marvellous ability to knit a sense of place with a sense of loss and hope through the most vibrant yet restrained cascade of images. Her images were lavishly visual, yet held in check by the flow of her cadence. Her language drew as much on English as it did on Hindi and Malayalam – I always heard, in her poems, patterns of breath that seemed to come from sources in Gangetic India, where she spent part of her childhood, and her ancestral Malabar.” More here.

November 24, 2018
by mara.ahmed
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‘There is No Such Thing as Documentary’: An Interview with Trinh T. Minh-ha

Trinh T. Minh-ha: I don’t think of my films in terms of categories – documentary, fiction, film art, educational or experimental – but rather as fluid, interacting movements. The first is to let the world come to us through an outside-in movement – this is what some call ‘documentary’. The other is to reach out to the world from the inside out, which is what some call ‘fiction’. But these categories always overlap. I wrote ‘there is no such thing as documentary’ because it’s illusory to take the real and reality for granted and to think that a neutral language exists, even though we often strive for such neutrality in our scholarly work. To use an image is to enter fiction. More here.

November 21, 2018
by mara.ahmed
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How America’s Perpetual Warfare Abroad Is Fueling an Increase in White Supremacist Violence in US

KATHLEEN BELEW: One thing to understand is that throughout American history, there is always a correlation between the aftermath of warfare and this kind of vigilante and revolutionary white power violence. So if you look, for instance, at the surges in Ku Klux Klan membership, they align more consistently with the return of veterans from combat and the aftermath of war than they do with anti-immigration, populism, economic hardship or any of the other factors that historians have typically used to explain them. Nationalist fervor, populist movements—those are all worse predictors than the aftermath of war.

A.C. THOMPSON: We went out to Texas because Atomwaffen is currently driven from a cell of people in Houston, Texas. Talked to James Mason, who has sort of been the inspiration for this group. We expected that he would say, “Overthrow the government, smash the state, impose fascism.” And he did celebrate Tim McVeigh. He celebrated James Alex Fields, the man accused of killing Heather Heyer. He did say “I welcome the chaos.” But the thing that he said that surprised us is he said, “But you know, I’m sort of reconsidering these days. We have Trump in office now, and I really see Trump as an ally, so I don’t really know where things are going to go from here, and I’m sort of rethinking my philosophy a little bit.” Watch more.

November 20, 2018
by mara.ahmed
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our divided nation: political polarization in the USA

i was one of the keynote speakers at a conference on “our divided nation: political polarization in the USA,” where we were supposed to discuss why there’s polarization, how problematic it is, and how do we fix it. i started by clarifying the terms of the debate and reframing “divisions” as the re-advent of fascism (or proto-fascism) and the resistance that it has provoked.

i showed a short video on the definition of fascism and then connected the dots to our present political context – in the US, but also in europe, india, israel and brazil. i explained how making america great again (white again, pure again) comes with fascist otherization and paraphernalia: ejecting POCs from trump rallies, banning muslims and other black and brown people from entering the country, the erasure of trans people because they don’t subscribe to a heteronormal gender binary, as well as the confederate flags, shields with nazi symbols and antisemitic chants that were on display at the charlottesville white nationalist rally.

i talked about totalitarianism, capitalism, the military industrial complex, and trump’s distaste for political free speech and the press. i quoted from tayari jones’s excellent essay “there’s nothing virtuous about finding common ground” and also reminded the audience that ideas of equality and human rights are in fact embraced by a majority of the american public, not some kind of liberal takeover of universities or political correctness gone wild. finally, i urged everyone to organize and revolutionize our political system not only to impede trump but to make sure that any subsequent govt is held accountable.

my opponent was the head of the political science dept, a french guy who’s been living in the US for a while. before he took the trouble to read his notes, he responded to me and warned that my views on fascism were dangerous. the US is not nazi germany, the free press and courts will save us. all we need to do is trust our institutions and remember to vote.

in the Q&A, i responded by talking about the corporatization of and infotainment provided by msm, the racist partisan nature of our judiciary going all the way up to the supreme court, and how one’s views might be more establishment and trusting of our institutions, if one is white, middle class, and living in the suburbs.
i also reminded the audience that even if voting were an effective tool for social change, one must remember voter suppression (stacey abrams’s bid for governor in georgia) and the felony disenfranchisement of large swathes of people of color.

it was simply mind-boggling that the head of the political science dept was arguing that money in politics is not an issue, that americans have access to complete information thru a free press, that american courts and institutions are fair and will protect us from fascism, and that all we need to do is vote. perhaps it’s the french instinct not to name racism in order to be in denial or perhaps it’s american reverence for those in power – not sure.

best question from a student: a young black woman who asked my opponent, specifically, if he thought the courts and institutions he so believes in actually represent people like her. when he mumbled a few words and said he could talk to her later in private, she said: i am not represented in this room. shouldn’t u talk to me publicly, in this forum, so others can hear and learn from the discussion?

what a beautiful, and righteous, way to end the Q&A!

November 18, 2018
by mara.ahmed
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The Stansted 15

From Andy Worthington: The Stansted 15 took direct action last year to prevent a charter flight from returning immigrants and asylum seekers to their home countries in Africa, where there was a real risk of their ill-treatment or death.

According to Rebecca Nathanson, “Originally charged with aggravated trespass — a charge they accept — the Stansted 15 have since additionally been charged with intentional disruption of services at an aerodrome. This charge falls under the ‘Endangering safety at aerodromes’ section of the UK’s Aviation and Maritime Security Act 1990, a law intended to fight terrorism. The potential lifetime sentence accompanying this charge, as well as the fact that the attorney general is required to approve its use on a case-by-case basis, makes clear its severity.”

Amnesty International fears the charge “may have been brought to discourage other activists from taking non-violent direct action in defence of human rights.”

A ruling is expected soon on the questions raised by the trial; as Nathanson puts it, “criminalizing nonviolent protest [and] the legality, and ethics, of deportation charter flights.” She adds, “The jury will decide on the former in a matter of days; the latter may remain open after the case reaches its close. Activists, however, see that debate as having a clear winner.”

As Ewa Jasiewicz explained, “Their action resulted in 11 people still being here in the UK with their friends and family. So it’s an act of human solidarity and defense and resistance to an increasingly brutal border regime.”

So much respect for these activists – a majority of whom are women ♥

The Stansted 15

November 17, 2018
by mara.ahmed
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Why Sex Is Not Binary

Anne Fausto-Sterling: By birth, then, a baby has five layers of sex. But as with chromosomal sex, each subsequent layer does not always become strictly binary.

[…] Adding to the complexity, the layering does not stop at birth. The adults surrounding the newborn identify sex based on how they perceive genital sex (at birth or from an ultrasound image) and this begins the process of gender socialization. Fetal hormones also affect brain development, producing yet another layer called brain sex. More here.