Friday, 20 February 2015

Art and violence (Ukraine diaries) and Somali remittances

It's been an inspiring week. Last night I was at the opening of Olha Pryymak's exhibition of 'Ukraine diaries', a series of paintings on the war in Ukraine. I was speaking on a panel with Svitlana Pyrkalo, a London-based Ukrainian writer and journalist and Natalia Antonova, a playwright and journalist, both of whom presented extremely thought-provoking personal reflections on the war. I gave an overview of the relationship between violence and art, something that has fascinated me for a long time. 

I based my talk around my observations of music in Congo and capoeira in Brazil, two art forms that have developed and persisted in contexts of violence and oppression. There is an intriguing contradiction that emerges from these two art forms and Olha Pryymak's paintings. It is that art is seldom strategic (and it is helpful to get away from an overly functional interpretation of its political mechanisms), but it can often be extremely effective nonetheless. How it is effective if it does not have a strategic function then becomes an engaging question. One of the answers is that it provides space that is simultaneously personal and political in which people can vest themselves emotionally and ideologically. Capoeira players create space for expressing historical continuity and Afro-Brazilian identity, Congolese musicians generate musical forms, tropes and styles that contribute to a positive national image. Last night the art exhibition last night a space for people to discuss the war and its human and political impact.

Ukraine Diaries by Olha Pryymak, Krilova Stelfox Gallery (at 5th Base)

23 Heneage Street (off Brick lane) London E1 5LJ

Ukraine Diaries by Olha Pryymak, Krilova Stelfox Gallery (at 5th Base)

23 Heneage Street (off Brick lane) London E1 5LJ

Meanwhile Laura Hammond has been publishing in the Guardian on Somali cash transfers. Read her article here.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Never Again Ever - Holocaust Memorial

It was a real privilege to speak at Never Again Ever's Holocaust Memorial at the weekend. A tricky brief: detecting patterns from past genocides to inform lessons for preventing contemporary violence - and in a cabaret style. Referring to the Nazi holocaust and the genocide in Rwanda, I talked about processes of othering - how groups are seen as distinct - and how these groups become the subject of hatred or fear. I then reflected on how violence moves from the unthinkable to the inevitable through shifting norms and institutions.

The mass atrocities that have taken place in Congo in the last couple of decades manifest these patterns in a particular way: much of the population of Congo has been 'othered' for their lack of economic purpose within a globalised market; they are also - ironically - feared as their existence and way of life pose critical challenges to mainstream processes of development, which has been pursued largely through the sale of mineral assets and agricultural land. Through the narrative of 'rational violence' the deaths, particularly in eastern Congo, have come to be seen as inevitable, and my speech was about unpicking the apparent inevitability that groups of people will be killed.

Here are the props: the mask representing the othering, the umbrella the fear, and the £10 the apparent inevitability of the market and the deaths that it implies in this context.

It was great to meet a former VCD student there and current SOAS students!
Here's the whole caboodle:

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Chris Cramer - postcard from Ethiopia

Chris Cramer has recently been working in Ethiopia, and has sent back a few photos.

At the official opening of Ethiopia's first wine export
Here's what he says:
"I was in Addis Ababa running some workshops on economic theory and policy and also developing a new research project on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which is being built on the Nile at a cost of some $5bn, to be funded entirely by Ethiopia, through diaspora bonds, lottery funds, a public sector payroll levy, and so on. Some 8,500 migrant workers are involved directly in building the dam. And there is intense national and international debate about whether the dam is a very good thing or whether it has seriously problematic consequences."

State-sanctioned sexual violence against women in the Egyptian revolution

Following from last week's post, this is another video submitted as a piece of group work by some of last year's MSc VCD students....