ASA12: Arts and aesthetics in a globalising world

Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India, 3rd-6th April 2012

(P34)

Aesthetics, politics, conflict

Location CSSS Committee Room No.013, Ground Floor, SSS-II
Date and Start Time 04 April, 2012 at 08:30

Convenors

Nayanika Mookherjee (Durham University) email
Tariq Jazeel (University of Sheffield) email
Malathi de Alwis email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

This panel seeks papers that engage the relationships between aesthetics, politics and conflict. We explore the potential of aesthetics to make hegemony visible via its emphasis on a certain 'distribution of the sensible' (Ranciere 2009), as well as the co-constitution of art and violent events.

Long Abstract

Drawing upon critical theoretical resources, anthropological studies of late have shown how political interventions in their various forms have sought to trigger, and regulate multiple senses through various aesthetic manifestations of conflict (Mookherjee and Pinney 2011). Though such work has engaged the arts, aesthetics mobilized in such terms can stretch beyond the purely artistic and grasp the material processes of apprehension that comprise the social as well as its contested nature. For Ranciere the aesthetic domain refers to a 'distribution of the sensible' (2009), into which (legitimately) political articulations must intervene. For Deleuze and Guattari, aesthetics can be seen as an 'affectuation' (1988) - a sense event - which is non-representational and hence disruptive. Building on such politico-intellectual lines of flight, this panel seeks in broad terms to explore the relationships between aesthetics, politics and conflict. We seek papers that explore how aesthetics (and art) work through the register of politics to offer ways of grasping interventions in the space of conflict, as well as those that position aesthetics as a way of staging conflictual articulation. We also seek papers that push at the potential that aesthetics offers as a way of making visible - and thus open to critique - forms of pervasive political and cultural hegemony. Broadly speaking, the panel invites papers which theoretically and ethnographically explore how the arts comprehends events of conflict, how these violent events might be constituted by art, and the value of thinking with broader notions of aesthetics to delineate spaces of hegemony and conflict.

Chair: Dr Nayanika Mookherjee
Discussant: Prof. Christopher Pinney, UCL; Prof. Ghassan Hage, Melbourne University

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

"A Country of Hearsay and Rumor": The Aesthetic Politics of Rumor Publics in Urban Nepal

Author: Sepideh Bajracharya (University of Michigan)  email

Short Abstract

The historical and anthropological literature tends to posit rumor as a sociological phenomenon effective of predicated acts of popular violence—the unconscious medium for violence already enacted. In this article, I discuss a case where rumor becomes “the referent of its own expression”: the thing people heed, discuss, and trace as capable of inciting violence as an imminent, but as-yet unformed condition of rumor’s possibility. I argue that this way of engaging rumor and violence leads to a realm and method of public interaction where events of political consequence are anticipated beyond, despite, and in excess of the publics associated with political events “proper.”

Long Abstract

Rumor is often portrayed as a phenomenon effective of predicated acts of popular violence—the unconscious medium for violence already enacted. This paper addresses a case where rumor becomes "the referent of its own expression": the thing people heed, discuss, and trace as capable of inciting acts of violence not yet formed, but imminent and likely as a condition of rumor's possibility. I argue that this way of engaging rumor and violence leads to an aesthetic of public interaction where events of political consequence are anticipated beyond, despite, and in excess of the publics associated with political events "proper." Rumor appears here as an index of the vernacular political: the liminal realm of the political that sometimes intersects with, but is otherwise governed by a different (parallel) set of poetic ethics than state, civil, legal, and/or academic discourses about secular and democratic possibility. The paper focuses on the role rumor aesthetics played in how urban Nepalis related to acts of communal violence linked to the abduction and beheading of 12 Nepali servicemen by an Islamic militia group in August 2004. During this period, it was not the acts marked as "violence" by the state or mainstream press, but the events of collective and contingent violence that took place in the vagrant pathways taken by rumor that people attended most keenly. What emerged was an aesthetic method and arena of public and political exchange particular to this moment and condition of late postcolonial crisis and uncertainty.

The Ayodhya Dispute: Demolition, Damage and the Emergency Imaginary

Author: Deepak Mehta (Delhi School Of Economics)  email

Short Abstract

The paper examines the legal judgments that deal with the demolition of the Babri mosque in December 1992. It shows that the demolition is informed by a circuitry of damage that is at once part of the imagination of emergency and part of a political ethic that constitutes notions of friend and foe.

Long Abstract

ABSTRACT

THE AYODHYA DISPUTE: DEMOLITION, DAMAGE AND THE EMERGENCY IMAGINARY

Deepak Mehta

In a previous paper I had argued that the elaboration of the status quo in the legal and administrative discourse of the Ayodhya dispute punctuated a notion of a present that took the form of interdiction. What distinguished the status quo in such proscription was a chain of circulating reference that adjudicated claims to property. Beginning with the placing of the Ram deity in the Babri mosque in 1949, these claims were marked by a series of discursive operations that dealt with the application of rule and procedure. Here, rules and procedures were not mere modes of classifying the Babri mosque complex; they also steered institutional action. Institutional action could not, or did not, allow for a finished understanding of the demolition of the mosque. This paper looks at the legal literature that deals with the demolition and argues that the destruction of the mosque enters into an economy of damage where different kinds of depreciations are used to understand the claims of contending groups. Such claims emerge from unstable signifying regimes that draw their resources from imagined modes of worship and ownership. My reading suggests that this imagination is motored simultaneously by the political and the aesthetic

Memorizing Home: Art as Place Making

Author: Thamotharampillai Sanathanan (University of Jaffna)  email

Short Abstract

In social calamities aesthetic gain a new political and functional meaning. Based on my three art projects; ‘History of Histories’, ‘Imag(e)in home’ and ‘The incomplete Thombu’, this paper foreground the changing role of an art as an eye witness and facilitator. It also talks about how the anthropological tools and museum techniques are employed in making individual pain aesthetically appealing.

Long Abstract

The damaged coursed by the thirty years of political and arm conflict in its various forms on the social fabric of Sri Lankan Tamil community has led to the sense of loss of place. This compelled the individual to live in isolation, with the traumatic memories. In the absence of institutional and state support to co up with this situation, the state prohibition on the civil memorials and surveillance on the memorizing rituals on the other hand transformed the nature of conflict to a more psychological level. As in many conflict zones, in last twenty years, in Sri Lanka too art played a considerable role in collecting, depositing and imaging these experiences of pain and loss. That allows the individuals and the communities to identify recover and acknowledge physically and psychologically what it has been lost in the war. In this context, these art works reconnect individuals on their feeling of common loss. Hence in social calamities aesthetic gain a new political and functional meaning. Based on my three art projects; 'History of Histories', 'Imag(e)in home' and 'the incomplete thombu', this paper foreground the changing role of an artist as an eye witness and facilitator. It also talks about how the anthropological tools and museum techniques are employed in making individual pain aesthetically appealing. Further the paper investigates the process in which the ordinary and mundane become extraordinary.

Intense Proximity: The Spatial Grammar of Social Conflict

Author: Chris Barry (University of Melbourne)  email

Short Abstract

In the township of Alice Springs (Central Australia) the 'intense proximity' of Aboriginal residents and their counter-hegemonic cultural life-worlds, creates spaces of contestation and social conflict. This paper will posit an everyday visual ethnography of how and where Aboriginal life ways are conducted, embodied, and brokered, in everyday exchanges and in public utilities - in spite of on-going hegemonic structures to remove this Aboriginal 'presence'.

Long Abstract

Space as a socially meaningful category has to be conceived ethically. It provides zones of participation, belonging, and communicative possibility. To be constitutive of the social implies a compulsion towards a 'secure being' and the drive towards a 'safe life' inasmuch that belonging socially equates with emotional, psychological, and physical security. These are the aligning tenets of kinship, and, by extension, the conditions of Aboriginal sociality: systems of attentive social organization that define every aspect of culture. For Hannah Arendt (1958) 'the space of appearance' is dichotomous: a public realm organized hegemonically - already divided, apportioned, and posited within inclusion and exclusion. Historically, those excluded have been the slave, the foreigner, and the barbarian - those outside of the sphere of politics and reduced to de-politicized forms of being (Butler, 2011). However, in spite of this, 'the space of appearance' can be re-claimed: by performativity and by an embodied presence (Arendt, 1958 & Butler, 1997). In the township of Alice Springs (Central Australia) the intense proximity of Aboriginal residents and their counter-hegemonic cultural life-worlds, creates spaces of contestation and social conflict. In this paper I will posit an everyday visual ethnography of how and where Aboriginal life worlds are conducted in the public and social spaces of Alice Springs. By utilizing photography and film, aesthetics will be reanimated into an emergent relational space of creative intervention, one that privileges an Aboriginal world-view, and challenges the prevailing hegemony through 'the space of appearance' and 'the right to appear'.

Embodied Aesthetics: Sung Protest in Post-Apartheid South Africa

Author: Omotayo Jolaosho (University of South Florida)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines how political identification and collective solidarity are cultivated through the embodied aesthetics of song. I elaborate activists’ attempts to adapt the singing legacy of anti-apartheid struggles to changing political challenges of the post-apartheid neo-liberal dispensation.

Long Abstract

South African freedom songs and accompanying dances played a critical role in mass mobilizations to combat apartheid and controversially continue to flourish well after apartheid's demise. These repertoires offer crucial resources for mobilization, evoking political investments in the present by invoking the unresolved past. Considering South Africa as a massively traumatized society (Robben 2005), memory is all the more politicized. The process of inclusion and exclusion—of populations and experiences—factors not just in re-collecting the

shared past but also in how the present is sensed and rendered sensible. Song factors in such a nation's memory politics as an aesthetic realm through which pain or trauma, ineffable as these experiences often are, can "exit into semiosis" (Daniel 1994:239). Songs become encoded with experience taking on a meaning that can be particularly individual and cement a collective bond.

This paper examines how political identification and collective solidarity are cultivated through the embodied aesthetics of song. I elaborate activists' attempts to adapt the singing legacy of anti-apartheid struggles to changing political challenges of the post-apartheid neo-liberal dispensation. Within this, I choose two conflicts to analyze in detail. The first involves a disjuncture between sound form and lyrical content when activists lambasted their opponents with astoundingly vulgar lyrics sung through mellifluous melodies. The second involves a refusal of memory—the denial of history's passing—when different protesters revived profoundly plaintive apartheid-era songs to voice current grievances. Through both moments, I aim to understand how divergent political sentiments are aesthetically configured through embodied sound.

'Event, Image, Memory: Speculations on Politics and Visuality in India

Author: Arunima G (JNU)  email

Short Abstract

This paper is a preliminary attempt to engage the question of violence and visuality through the domain of photojournalistic practice in modern India. By using examples from certain key moments of political violence in India (communal conflict, Operation Green Hunt, and so on) I will attempt to complicate the relationship between aesthetics and politics.

Long Abstract

This paper is a preliminary attempt to engage the question of violence and visuality through the domain of photojournalistic practice in modern India. In this context I am intrigued by a recent formulation, "what do pictures want", by WJT Mitchell. Very simply, by distinguishing between picture and image (a picture being that which we 'see' - either physically, as a photo on the wall, or in our mind; and an image as a 'likeness, figure, motif or form that appears in some medium or another' - that makes its appearance as a picture), Mitchell makes an argument for the image as a 'vital sign'. These then play a key role in social life, whereby images are linked to desire and the 'surplus value' that they generate. In other words even if pictures are destroyed, images can live on - to haunt, tempt, frighten, attract. In his words, these become 'strange attractors'. However, the question for me becomes which pictures do we respond to? Or do not. Or indeed if one can ever assume a collective "we" in the viewer. So would it then be more appropriate to pose the issue in terms of a fractured viewership - where the moment of viewing is always already implicated in an ongoing politics of violence and difference. These are some of the issues of concern here.

Mobilising Images, Muktir Gaan and migrants of the Bangladesh war of 1971

Author: Nayanika Mookherjee (Durham University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper seeks to explore the affective aesthetics of the fixing of the representation of the nation through mobile images. I focus on the encounter between middle class refugees, the poor and the raped migrant woman of the Bangladesh war of 1971 and the resulting displacement. In the process, the paper questions the potential of a global economy of signs.

Long Abstract

To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric’ (Adorno 1967 [1955]: 34).

Adorno’s dictum reminds us of the unrepresentability of violence through various aesthetic forms. At the same time, aesthetic artefacts have been able to capture the performance of feelings and memories, of public hurt existing outside legal procedures, when people have sought to redress instances of past injustices (Mookherjee, Nayanika and Chris Pinney. 2011. ‘Aesthetics of nations: Anthropological and historical perspectives’. Special Issue of Journal of Royal Anthropological Institute (JRAI)

( http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jrai.2011.17.issue-s1/issuetoc)

The ‘therapeutic’ and ‘emancipatory’ possibilities of aesthetic registers in representing violent past injustices should not however consign to oblivion the political contradiction that the aesthetic visibility of conflicts bring to the narrative signification. Jacques Ranciere (2006, Politics of Aesthetics) argues: ‘Politics consist in reconfigurating the partition of the sensible , in bringing on the stage new objects and subjects , in making visible that which was not visible, audible as speaking beings they who were merely heard as noisy animals . To the extent that it sets up such scenes of dissensus, politics can be characterized as an "aesthetic" activity.’ [Jacques Ranciere’s Politics of Aesthetics (2006)] The paper examines such scenes of dissensus between different migrants of the Bangladesh war of 1971 through the lens of ‘The Concert for Bangladesh’ (1971) poster and Muktir Gaan (Songs of Freedom 1995) – the latter billed as a documentary and a ‘road movie’ and imbued with adventure, eroticism, pain and prospect of freedom.

Violence, Memory & the Politics of Reconciliation in Sri Lanka

Author: Malathi de Alwis  email

Short Abstract

This paper will unpack the urge to remember, to commemorate and also, to forget, in Sri Lanka while also attempting to offer a framework within which an alternative politics of reconciliation could be envisioned.

Long Abstract

Sri Lanka has a long history of monumentalizing and memorializing. Both rural and urban islandscapes are scattered with Buddhist stupas and irrigation tanks built by pacifist as well as war-mongering monarchs, rock stelae proclaiming conquests, cave inscriptions commemorating acts of beneficence, statues of colonial and nationalist rulers, tsunami memorials, war cemeteries and 'victory' monuments. This paper will unpack this urge to remember, to commemorate and to forget while also attempting to offer a framework within which an alternative politics of reconciliation could be envisioned.

Building 'Monuments' in a World Class City: Aesthetics and Politics in Contemporary Delhi

Author: Sushmita Pati (Jawaharlal Nehru University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper looks at two ‘monuments’- Qila Rai Pithora and 108 Foot Sankat Mochan Dham which have come up in Delhi in the last decade. It tries to understand the contemporary mode of ‘monument’ building, both by the state and the people through issues of myths, histories, sacrality and governance.

Long Abstract

This proposal looks at two contemporary forms of 'monuments' that have come up in the city of Delhi as symptomatic of larger phenomenon of the means of 'distribution of the sensible'. These two 'monuments', the Qila Rai Pithora(the memorial site of Prithviraj Chauhan built by the state)and the 108 Foot Sankatmochan Dham (a temple built on illegal land with hundred and eight feet high Hanuman statue and a fake Vaishno Devi Shrine built by a lower caste community)which have come up in the last decade, though are seemingly unconnected, point out towards a larger conflict over space and its meanings and affects. Together, they throw up a host of questions regarding religiosity, sacrality, urban legends, histories, contemporary forms of urban governance and lower caste mobilization in the context of a city which is going 'global' and lead us beyond their apolitical appearances. These two structures symbolize how an ocular field while is being created through the vast, manicured lawns of Qila Rai Pithora is also being disrupted at the same time by the kitschy, brightly painted Hanuman. The Prithviraj Chauhan Memorial indicates how the state has come a long way from creating a secular, national culture for the city(built over a Muslim graveyard), while the Hanuman Temple takes us to a different narrative of attempts of a temple built on illegal land to survive. This paper attempts to tie up these aspects to pose new questions regarding aesthetics,conflict and politics at their intersection.

Building Distributions of the Sensible: Architecture, Modernism and the Politics of Sri Lankan Nationhood

Author: Tariq Jazeel (University of Sheffield)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the connections between modernist architectural productions of space in post-independent Sri Lanka and the ethnicization of everyday life in the context of the country’s civil conflict and postcolonial politics of nationhood.

Long Abstract

This paper explores the connections between modernist architectural productions of space in post-independent Sri Lanka and the ethnicization of everyday life in the context of the country's civil conflict and postcolonial politics of nationhood. The paper explores the recuperation of an avowedly 'vernacular' architectural aesthetics by Sri Lankan 'tropical modern' architects, suggesting how these recuperations and deployments have produced spatialities and modernisms that have (often unwittingly) lent themselves to the reification of Sinhala Buddhist hegemony in the post-colony. In this sense the paper delineates the connections between aesthetics, the production of meaningful space, and ethnicizing forms of hegemony. Though Sri Lankan tropical modern architecture is often explicitly secular and apolitical in its design intentions - professing itself to comprise 'art for art's sake' - the paper traces the ways that it gets subsumed into a broader aesthetic domain that helps to instantiate an ethno-national, non-secular politics of Sri Lankan nationhood.

De-colonial aesthetics: violence and political sensibilities in the late Portuguese Empire

Author: Caio Araújo (Graduate Institute for International and Development Studies)  email

Short Abstract

This paper interrogates the politics of violence and aesthetics in late Portuguese colonialism in Africa, particularly Mozambique. I argue that aesthetics was a privileged field in which colonial hegemony and de-colonial contestation were negotiated and political sensibilities were re-assembled.

Long Abstract

This paper will interrogate the associations between conflict, violence, politics and aesthetics in late Portuguese colonial rule in Southern Africa, with special focus on Mozambique. Drawing on critical attempts to foster a deeper articulation of both ethnography and the historical imagination and anthropology and aesthetics, I will look at how arts, literature and aesthetical modes of political engagement constituted a battlefield in which competing ideologies of benign colonization and colonial multiculturalism were contested, countered and challenged by de-colonizing political sensibilities mobilized, primarily, in an aesthetical form. In this paper, thus, I will look at how aesthetics were in the forefront of a cultural politics of colonial hegemony and de-colonial contestation, and particularly how both colonial and anti-colonial violence were hidden, legitimated and revealed in aesthetical forms. I will explore how these complex and aesthetically mediated indentitarian cartographies had a central and critical role in politically articulating a set of emerging tensions and disjunctions against an Empire whose official rhetoric tended to be, majorly, a-political but deeply "culturalistic". By examining the relations between power and aesthetics in the multiple contact zones of late colonialism, I will highlight the important role of "artists" and the "art work" in engendering a politics of counter-imagination and assembling contestatory political sensibilities. I will demonstrate how these de-colonial voices mobilized the "political aesthetic" of anti-colonial violence as a liminal moment between the cultural politics of proto-nationalism and the violent, war-mediated, decolonization, thus contributing to the formation of de-colonial subjectivities.

The Poltics of Esthetics and the Esthetics of Politics in Barcelona

Author: Roger Sansi (Universitat de Barcelona)  email

Short Abstract

In the last decade, MACBA (Museum of Contemporary Art of Barcelona) has promoted itself as a center for political activism. Rancière’s “politics of aesthetics” have been very influential. But the local art activist community has accused MACBA of reducing the politics of esthetics to the esthetics of politics.

Long Abstract

In the last decade, contemporary art in Barcelona (Spain) has been, hegemonically, an explicitly political art. This politization of art can be described within the framework of a wide social movement of reaction to neoliberalism and globalization, the gentrification of the city and the precarisation of labor. More specifically it emerged in reaction to particular events- the Irak war, the World Bank summit in Barcelona in 2001, and the "Culture Forum" international event in 2004. Some institutions like the Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona ( MACBA) have tried to capitalize on this political unrest by promoting themselves as institutions of political criticism and contemporary thought. The work of theorists like Jacques Rancière has been widely used by the MACBA: some of his books have been edited by MACBA, and the museum organized a program of graduate studies with the participation of Rancière himself. However, the "politics of aesthetics" proposed by MACBA have produced an adversarial reaction amongst many groups of art-activists, who think that in reality the politics of aesthetics of the museum ends up being just an esthetisation of politics. In this paper I would like to analyze the conflict between the museum and its opponents, and how the work of Rancière has played a key role in it.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.