#09- 33 Against slavery


Thomas Campbell // The Persian Ambassador’s Cardiff Album

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Born in Lerik, Azerbaijan, in 1959, Babi (Babakhan) Badalov is a living embodiment of cosmopolitanism’s dark and spontaneously convivial underbelly. In his world, people do not travel from one country to another with polished ease, flashing their passports to the guards as they pass effortlessly through frontiers and effecting the shift from one language to another with fluency and grace. On the contrary, when you are a refugee, exile, migrant worker or itinerant artist, you manage these transitions as best you can, mangling the new idioms you learn and fusing them with half-remembered tongues you picked up along the way, mingling them with memories of a mother tongue that never matured into adulthood because at a tender age you left your mountain village for the capitals, where encounters with countrymen were few and furtive and somewhat beside the point. In the provincial capital, you learned the official language of artificial nationhood along with the (un)official language of the anti-imperial empire, neither of them your own, both of them suspicious (of you and of themselves). This was violence to be sure, but you turned this violence back upon itself, never fully learning any of these codes well enough to pass for a native. Nativity, after all, is naпvetй, an identification both outwardly enforced and grimly self-willed. For an artist, whether of life or the brush, submitting to too many of these identity checks means submitting to kitsch and clichй.

Born in Lerik, Azerbaijan, in 1959, Babi (Babakhan) Badalov is a living embodiment of cosmopolitanism’s dark and spontaneously convivial underbelly. In his world, people do not travel from one country to another with polished ease, flashing their passports to the guards as they pass effortlessly through frontiers and effecting the shift from one language to another with fluency and grace. On the contrary, when you are a refugee, exile, migrant worker or itinerant artist, you manage these transitions as best you can, mangling the new idioms you learn and fusing them with half-remembered tongues you picked up along the way, mingling them with memories of a mother tongue that never matured into adulthood because at a tender age you left your mountain village for the capitals, where encounters with countrymen were few and furtive and somewhat beside the point. In the provincial capital, you learned the official language of artificial nationhood along with the (un)official language of the anti-imperial empire, neither of them your own, both of them suspicious (of you and of themselves). This was violence to be sure, but you turned this violence back upon itself, never fully learning any of these codes well enough to pass for a native. Nativity, after all, is naпvetй, an identification both outwardly enforced and grimly self-willed. For an artist, whether of life or the brush, submitting to too many of these identity checks means submitting to kitsch and clichй.

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Hito Steyerl // Right in Our Face

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First published at https://www.e-flux.com/journal/view/210

There is something deeply disappointing about the contemporary moment: it projects the past into the future.

I recently met some emigrants from Germany. I am not talking about йmigrйs who left in the 1930s to escape National Socialism. The people I met quietly decided they could no longer put up with Germany’s endless, debilitating, and deeply racist debates on immigration, and left the country in which they had been born and lived most their lives. These so-called debates had been going on least since the early 1980s, when anti-Turkish graffiti started appearing in the streets. Fueled by the so-called reunification in 1989, racist riots became the norm throughout the 1990s. I still vividly recall the accounts of a television crew in Rostock trapped in the elevator of a burning hostel for Vietnamese guest workers that had been attacked by a fascist mob for days on end—to the great amusement of the police forces standing by.

All of these quite practical acts of violence were greatly supported and even applauded by elites, who took every opportunity to express doubts about ethnic minorities’ genetic makeup, inherited lack of intelligence, inbred fanaticism, and perceived failure to assimilate. We cannot neglect the fact that contemporary racism is eminently class-driven: it has its stronghold not in the working class, but in middle classes panicked by global competition, as well as in elites, who use the opportunity to deflect from growing social inequality by dangling the prospect of race-based subsidies for the working classes. Jacques Ranciиre’s recent refutation of the phantasm of an assumed working-class passion for racism is an extremely important tool of analysis here. [1] Popular racist passion is seen as a primordially affective expression to be respected at any cost—and conveniently enables politicians to create racist policies to “acknowledge” them. But in effect, these passions are greatly exaggerated to allow room for middle and upper class racism to safely indulge itself, all the while remodeling the former First World as a defensive and resentful fortress. A bastille devastated from the inside by the delayed effects of shock capitalism, which have finally hit home. [2]

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