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calais-photo-by-leopold-lambert-13

Exceptionally, and for the political reasons I have explained here, the photographs presented here are under copyright and should be asked for a written authorization to be republished.

Two days ago, I had the opportunity to go back to Calais along with a small group of students and professors (Vibeke Jensen and Anders Rubing) from the architecture school of Bergen. This visit happened a few days after French Ministry of Interior Bernard Cazeneuve met with Mayor of Calais Natacha Bouchart, vowing to demolish the so-called “Jungle” and relocate its residents in various hosting centers throughout the country. Such announcement came a few days after another one, made by Robert Goodwill, the Immigration Minister of the new Theresa May UK government: two weeks ago, he announced that a new 4-meter tall wall was about to be built in Calais along the highway leading to the port — the construction started yesterday. This comes as an additional layer of militarization of the port’s vicinity that already counts numerous police cars, CCTV cameras and two to three layers of 4-meter tall barbed wire fences (see photographs below). The cynicism that consists in investing millions of euros/pounds into these drastic policing measures and their violence, rather than offering accommodation to the thousands who fled war — an important amount of the “Jungle” residents are now coming from Darfour — or other extremely dire situations, reach new levels with the construction of this wall, which is planned to be dressed with “plants and flowers on one side to reduce its visual impact on the local area” (source: The Guardian).

My arguments on the matter have not changed (see the report of the first trip, as well as of the second one): our position should be less articulated in humanitarian terms than in political ones. The premise of such a position consists in the categorical denial that the situation constitutes a crisis, on the contrary of what is described at length through the press and politician (left and right) speeches. The only crisis there is, is the one displaced persons themselves are experiencing. The second premise of this position is another refusal: one that goes against the collective Western imaginary that consider displaced persons as a negative currency, disincarnated statistics whose winner is the one that gets the least of it. It also turns around the liberal critique: the Calais’ “Jungle” is not a place symptomatic of the lack of action of the French and UK States, which makeshift dwellings never reached a satisfying level of comfort and dignity because of their residents’ lack of skills: it is a place symptomatic of the actual action of the French and UK States, which makeshift dwellings never reached a satisfying level of comfort of dignity because of the way their residents have been consistently prevented to undertake the construction of a proper urban entity. The antagonizing and patronizing aridity of the container camp, and its heavily controlled access (by palm recognition, through turnstiles) appears as the only architecture legitimized by the French State: a space where bodies are treated as mere statistics with only minimum needs, and where they can be controlled spatially. At a time where sulfurous candidate to the presidential primaries of the French Republican party and former President Nicolas Sarkozy affirmed (erroneously) that when one becomes French one’s ancestors becomes the Gauls — a fictitious people as a whole coined by the Roman invaders in the first century B.C. to designate the totality of the nations under Roman domination in the West of the Empire — we might want to use the trivial imaginary he implies (the popular graphic novel series, Asterix) of a Gaul village besieged by Roman invaders to construct a comparison with the situation of Calais’ “Jungle.” The Gauls may not look the way Sarkozy and other French nationalists might think in this case, but they would be well inspired to see in the resistance of this village against the drastic means deployed against them, the legitimacy they have no trouble to romantically attribute to those they believe to be their ancestors.

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On September 9, 2016, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a video in which he affirms that the evacuation of the Israeli civil settlements in the West Bank in the context of the creation of the State of Palestine would constitutes “ethnic cleansing.” These remarks were received with outrage by many defenders of the Palestinian narrative, coming from the head of a State that was created on the ethnic cleansing of over 800,000 Palestinians in 1948, whose families now constitute over 5 millions refugees in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. Even the U.S. State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau judged unequivocally the use of such a term as inappropriate in the context of settlements whose very existence is relatively consensually condemned at an international level. In a column written for Al Jazeera, Funambulist-contributors Nicola Perugini and Neve Gordon deconstruct perfectly such a discourse:

Through his Facebook video [Netanyahu] transforms the colonising settler into the victim of human rights abuses and the subjected Palestinians into the perpetrators who are ostensibly supported – unjustly, according to this distorted logic – by the international community. This, to be sure, is a very strange form of human rights: It is the human rights of a dominant ethnic group whose dominance has been instituted precisely through the expulsion and subjugation of Palestinians. Furthermore, decolonisation becomes a crime against humanity, and the global discourse of human rights is turned into a tool for advancing domination. (“Portrait of an occupation: Human rights of the settler,” September 12, 2016)

The argument that I would like to make here is however slightly different and consists firstly in a critique of our outrage as being fully part (if not the main object) of Netanyahu’s strategy and, secondly, in the paradoxical recognition that the Israeli Prime Minister might, in fact, have a point when he evokes the notion of ethnic cleansing — admittedly, that’s a “hear-me-out!” type of argument.

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Two Caterpillar bulldozers at work (right: Rafah, Palestine in 2002, left: Standing Rock, ND on Native sacred burial ground in 2016)

Since April 1, 2016, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, later followed by over 200 other Native nations, has been occupying the sacred site of Standing Rock in order to protect it against the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline (named after the two American States, not the Native nation of course), which would carry Bakken crude from North Dakota to Illinois. Yesterday (September 8),  North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple has called for the U.S. National Guard to intervene at Standing Rock a few hours before the ruling of a lawsuit that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has brought against the U.S. government. A few days earlier, some Native organizers had been attacked by dogs ordered by private security force, and bulldozers had demolished a sacred burial ground (see the Democracy Now report here).

In looking at the right part of the photograph above illustrating this deliberate profanation, you will recognize the well-known yellow worn by all non-customized Caterpillar construction (or rather, destruction) equipment on what appears to be D8 bulldozers. Condemning Caterpillar for actions committed in the context of a State’s infrastructural construction can appear as far fetched at first glance — we will see in the last paragraph that it is actually not — but this 90-year old American company is also renowned for its numerous contracts with the U.S. Army, and has no problem to display its support to the “armed forces” on its website:

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The Funambulist 01-07

After the first year of existence of The Funambulist Magazine that examined the politics of militarized cities, the suburbs, clothing, prisons, structurally racist designs, and objects, I am delighted to begin this second year with an issue dedicated to health-related political struggles. This 7th issue opens with a new recurrent section entitled “Political Walks” that asks a contributor to introduce us to a meaningful pathway in a given city — in this case, Alex Shams about Tehran. The three guest column of the general sections are dedicated to the denial of citizenry that Japan attribute to the Korean (and Taiwanese) members of its society (Christina Yi), a report on the situation of women’s rights in post-invasion Iraq (Zahra Ali), as well as a personal account on the recent night that saw a coup failing in Turkey, as well as the following days (Merve Bedir). The main dossier, “Health Struggles,” does not approach the concept of health merely as that which prevents a body from dying but, rather, as the most incarnate level of politics since it tend to mobilize the very biologies of the bodies it takes for object. For this same reason, it is also a domain where the norm shows the highest degrees of crystalization in its stigmatization of some bodies over others.

The dossier begins with six significant vignettes approaching various aspects of this topic: the 2014 Ebola Quarantine in the neighborhood of West Point in Monrovia, Liberia, the work of Alondra Nelson about the alternative healthcare program of the Black Panther Party in the 1970s, the hospital as an architecture of control, the former French-Muslim hospital of Bobigny, the use of medical expertise in the asylum process in France, as well as the work of Paul B. Preciado around the gradual use of testosterone. The main articles involve the designation of abject bodies in the way the city is thought and designed (Blanca Pujals), he Texan regulations on abortion clinics that poorly disguise their antagonism against them (Lori Brown), the hunger strikes undertaken in political prisons from Guantanamo to Turkey (Banu Bargu), the criminalization of HIV positive Black and/or Queer bodies in the United States (Che Gossett), as well as the ‘pathologization’ of Disabled and/or Female bodies enabled by medical discourses (Noémie Aulombard). Exceptionally, the podcast transcript and the photographic section have merged to serve a long interview of Momoyo Homma about the work of artists/poets/architects Shusaku Arakawa and Madeline Gins. The issue ends with two student projects related to the topic, a look at clinical characteristics in architecture (Piergianna Mazzocca) and a bacterial kit for DIY gynecology (Giulia Tomasello).

A new commercial aspect of this second year is a simplification: the printed version of the magazine (including the monthly and annual subscriptions) will always be complemented with the digital version. With this in mind, here are the different ways to acquire this new issue:

Talking about partner bookstores, it is also my pleasure to announce that the various partnerships with bookstores of Southern/Eastern Europe and the Global South proposing the magazine for a more accessible price (indexed on the cost of life of the concerned country) have started in Mexico, Colombia, Nigeria, Morocco, Portugal, Croatia, Pakistan, Singapore, and Hong Kong (and soon in Lebanon). If you are aware of bookstores that would be interested to be part of this specific program, you can send an email at info@thefunambulist.net. Thank you!

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Photo by Nhawk (MWASI)

At a moment when many eyes are turned towards France and the violent relation of the State, its police and the law with its Muslim citizens, in particular women, it seemed very important to me to place in open-access the transcript of this interview with Nacira Guénif-Souilamas that was originally published in the fifth issue of The Funambulist Magazine, dedicated to Design & Racism (May-June 2016). It is crucial to understand that what is currently unfolding on the French marina beaches, with the explicit agreement of the Prime Minister Manuel Valls (despite the fact that the mayors who took a ban on Muslim’s full-body swimwear belong to the opposition), is only the exacerbated spectacle of processes that are born with coloniality and have been operative since then. This conversation helps placing the current events into the historical and contemporary context of French post-colonial residents’ daily lives in a society structurally designed against them. It was originally recorded on April 11, 2016, in University of Paris VIII (Saint-Denis) for The Funambulist’s podcast, Archipelago. Nacira Guénif-Souilamas is an anthropologist and sociologist, author and editor of four books examining structural racism in France. Such a specific system of legal targeting, administrative discrimination, urbanistic discrimination, stigmatizing imaginaries, etc. is the topic of this conversation. Photo: Marche de la Dignité et contre le Racisme in Paris on October 31, 2015, organized by the MAFED, a group of female racialized activists including Nacira herself (second from the left) / Photograph by Nwak (MWASI).

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Algerian women during French colonisation1

A few days ago, Mayor of Cannes David Lisnard promulgated a formal ban on full-body swimsuits worn by some Muslim women on the city’s beaches — these swimsuits are oddly designated as “burkini” when the apparel seems to be a beach equivalent of the chador, not of the burka. The ban stipulates “Access to beaches and for swimming is banned to any person wearing improper clothes that are not respectful of good morals and secularism.” This sentencing regulates the amount of epidermic surface that should be exposed, while strongly recalling phrasing we usually encounter that fixes the amount of epidermic surface that should not be exposed, proving if need be that these two unjunctions although seemingly opposed are, in fact, the same. As it was already the case for the 2010 French legislation forbidding anyone to have their face dissimulated in public space (see past article), explicitly drafted against Muslim women wearing the burka or the niqab, we could insist on the demagogic dimension of such laws, targeting a significantly small amount of persons to engineer an electoral spectacle. Then again, we should also examine them for their deeper signification and what they reveal about the way the French society is still operating on its colonial bases. It would be indeed a mistake to read this recent municipal ban through the spectrum of a recent European “resurgence” of discriminatory policies, some of which have to do with the over-mediatization of the few dozens of thousands of migrants and refugees whose bodies have been used as a recurrent televisual material for the last recent months, some others with the ongoing State of Emergency in France (one of the reasons invoked by the Mayor). When it comes to French islamophobic and racist politics, in particular the colonial fetish constructed around the colonized woman’s mode of being and mode of dress, the logics behind them are to be found deeper into history.

On May 13, 1958, the French colonial authorities in Algeria organized the spectacle of Algerian Muslim women ceremonially taking off their veil and burning it in the demonstration of liberation from the patriarchy — a liberation that colonization would have supposedly enabled. This event was probably in Frantz Fanon’s mind when he wrote the first chapter of his book L’an V de la revolution algerienne (“The Fifth Year of the Algerian Revolution,” translated into A Dying Colonialism, 1959), entitled “Algeria unveiled”:

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Police chekpoints Paris - Photo by Leopold Lambert

Police checkpoint filtering the access to the June 23 demonstration in Paris / All photographs by Léopold Lambert (2016)

This article is written in the continuity of two others that described the relationship of the French State and its police with the numerous demonstrations organized in opposition to the new labor law project since March 2016. While the first one, “Police Brutality Is a Hollow Term” (May 31, 2016) insisted that we should not look at police violence as a punctual (and rare) episode of spectacular force, but rather as the very function of the police experienced in particular by the banlieues residents, the second one, “Architecture Under Attack” (June 16, 2016) was examining the demagogic instrumentalization of the (minor) damages caused on the Necker Children Hospital in Paris during one of the June 14 demonstration. This present article considers the demonstration that followed the latter, as the potential paradigm of the future spaces of protest in our cities, in particular when such measures are deployed during a neocolonial (now newly-renewed) State of Emergency.

The political context described in the article cited above is important to understand this present one. Strengthen by its dubious spectacle produced through the images of broken bank and advertising windows that the June 14 demonstration caused through a faction of so-called “casseurs” (breakers), the government granted as only option for the June 23 demonstration a static gathering on the Place de la Bastille in Paris. Such a proposition by the government and the police prefecture was categorically declined by the seven unions organizing the demonstration — the largest one being the Confédération Generale du Travail (CGT) — which led the police prefecture to ban the demonstration altogether on June 22, triggering an outrage from all citizens attached to the right of protest. A few hours later however, an agreement was found between the unions and the government to organize the march from and towards the Place de la Bastille by looping its trajectory around the Port de l’Arsenal in a total length of 1.5 kilometer, as the two maps below illustrate. In agreeing to this option, the unions may have thought to save their face but committed  instead to a dangerous precedent.

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march from civic center

As we learn everyday about new arbitrary murders of Native and Black bodies in the United States by primarily white police officers, it seems crucial to bring as much information and reflection on the table in order to act in solidarity of the various political movements organized against this immune machine of death. One key element of the conversation consists in the recognition that these murders are not punctual accidents caused by racist police officers but, rather, the most extreme form of a violence legitimized and designed by the State (see past article “Police Brutality Is a Hollow Term”). The historical relationship of Native and Black bodies with the U.S. State (both at federal and state level) are therefore important to consider in order to understand how the police institution has been designed against them from the beginning of the United States’ formation and continues today its murderous function. The following text gives us such an important account of Native life and death in a “border town” of South Dakota. Written by Nick Estes for the fifth issue of The Funambulist Magazine: Design & Racism, we both felt that it was important to share it with as many people as possible here. You can also download the article as it is laid out in the magazine itself by clicking here.

Off the Reservation: Lakota Life and Death in Rapid City, South Dakota by Nick Estes

On December 19, 2014, thirty-year old Lakota man Allen Locke along with hundreds of Lakota people gathered for a Native Lives Matter rally at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center in Rapid City, South Dakota to demand justice and answers for rampant police violence against Natives in the city. The next day, Rapid City police knocked at the door of an address in the low-income housing development, Lakota Homes. As the name suggests, this neighborhood in the city’s north side is home to a majority of urban Lakota residents. That night, police responded to a call to remove Locke after a domestic dispute. Dispatched officer Anthony Meirose entered the residence and, later, an intoxicated Locke allegedly said to him, “It’s a good day to die” before charging the officer with a steak knife. Meirose believed he had no other choice but to shoot Locke five times, killing him in the kitchen within earshot of his family. The South Dakota Attorney General’s office ruled the shooting “justified,” stressing what Locke allegedly said before Meirose killed him implying suicide by cop. The consensus by law enforcement and the local media was: on the one hand, if Locke wanted to die that day, police were not at fault; on the other hand, if he did not want to die, then he surely was “dying” like so many Natives — a belief that naturalizes the myth of the disappearing Indian. There is no more stereotypical colonial encounter than one between police and the “drunk Indian.” In this scenario, a violent death was expected if not inevitable.

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Cover Design & Racism

I am happy to announce that the sixth issue of The Funambulist Magazine (July-August 2016), dedicated to Object Politics is now officially published. This new issue concludes the first year of existence of the magazine; I hope that you enjoyed it and that you will continue to do so during the second year. Similarly to the third issue (January-February 2016), dedicated to “Clothing Politics,” this new issue is dedicated to a scale of design that, sometimes, goes unnoticed in the examination of its political dimension: the scale of objects. Our bodies are surrounded by them, wear them, use them, and eat them. They are all precisely designed, and are involved in complex manufacturing systems, yet we often fail to address the political intensity of our interaction with them.

The issue includes guest columns about Native resistance in New Mexico by Jennifer Marley, and about the most recent Palestinian Festival of Literature by Bhakti Shringarpure. The articles of the main dossier are written by Charmaine Chua about the shipping container, Françoise Vergès about the banana, Manar Moursi & David Puig about Cairo’s street chairs, and Pascale Lapalud & Chris Blache (Genre & Ville) about gender and urban furniture in French cities. It also includes a short graphic essay about Ramallah’s Mukataa by Samir Harb and a text about the New Palestinian Museum “without objects” by Karim Kattan. The transcript of a 2014 Archipelago conversation with Miami artists/writers Gean Moreno & Ernesto Oroza examines the systems in which generic objects take place, while the photographic section is a partial report of the most recent Unknown Fields‘ expedition in Rajasthan’s garment factories. The three student projects invent a passport and a backpack for the refugees in Lesvos (Embassy for the Displaced), a kit of facial prosthetics to “trick biometrics” (Alix Gallet) and a bridge countering the segregating effects of the concrete walls of Baghdad (Sarah Almaki).

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Houston,TX.,9/1/2005--Thousands of hurricane Katrina survivors from New Orleans are bussed to refuge at a Red Cross shelter in the Houston Astrodome.
FEMA photo/Andrea Booher

Text originally written in French for a journal that should remain nameless as the text was published along 14 others, all written by male contributors. I nevertheless want to thank Nicolas Hannequin for his help.

On August 12, 2015, 2,500 refugees, mostly Syrians and Afghanis, are kept prisoners for 24 hours in a stadium of Kos, a Greek island situated only a few kilometers from the Turkish coasts. They were promised that they could undertake their asylum claim in the European Union once they’ll be gathered in the stadium. It is not clear whether it was only a rumor or a trick from the Greek police. In any case, the 2,500 refugees, families and individuals who feel the civil war in Syria or the greatly precarious situation in Afghanistan we thus enclosed in the little stadium of Kos, forming a dense crowd under the sun of August for long hours. People fainting and panic movements are frequent, water and food are lacking, bathrooms are not accessible, and the tears of the children are a testimony of the cynic situation: populations fleeing tragic situations, accomplishing thousands of kilometers from East to West to find only additional turmoil once they set foot on the European land.

The fact that these 2,500 persons were gathered in a stadium could appear innocent at first glance. We could have thought that such a concentration of bodies could have taken place anywhere else. Nevertheless, places that simultaneously enable the gathering a great number of bodies as well as their control by a given authority are significantly limited, in particular in an urban context. This text will thus think the stadium as an architectural environment which sport and entertainment functions can, without any modifications be dissolved to be replaced by other uses related to a political concentration of bodies in such a space.

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