Forgers of the World, Unite!


The globalized border regime mobilizes many spaces, but also objects like this particular document we call “passport.” We asked the author of The Design Politics of the Passport Mahmoud Keshavarz and Shahram Khosravi, who edited together the book Seeing Like a Smuggler: Borders from Below, how the act of forging such documents reveals the artificial nature of this regime, and presses on one of its most vulnerable spots.

Keshavarz Funambulist 1
Some of the material found at Amir Heidari’s residence and presented in the court as evidence for passport forgery in 2006. Top left: tape roll ; top right: special laminate with star patterns ; bottom left: a twisted thread made of blue, yellow, and white threads similar to the one used in stitching Swedish passports ; bottom right: a number of spools and yarn dolls of various kinds. / Courtesy of Mahmoud Keshavarz.

Mobility across borders requires documentation and identification. Borders demand to know who and what; when, how, and why one moves. This knowing however is not a matter of negotiation but a form of affirmation. Those who want to cross the border are expected to affirm the story that the state has generated about them. The state claims monopoly over the construction of the story. A successful border-crossing is to successfully perform the affirmed story that the state has constructed about the border crosser. Failure of the performance leads to delay or denial of the crossing.

Stories are also composed through forging documents, certificates, and passports. Forged has a double meaning; to fake but also to make. Etymology tells us that forgery can be traced back to Latin words such as faber (smith and falsifier), fabrica (workshop, but also ruse, trick, artifice), and fabricare (to fabricate). Craftsmanship and forgery have always been intimately connected. However, capitalism has gradually separated the act of creation from the act of copying. With the monopoly on crafting certificates and documents, the state claims their “authenticity.”