What’s Water?

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There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

David Foster Wallace, Whats’ Water?

We love the myth of the individual crusader. And we love it even more when the crusaders convinces us, or his/her arguments are presented as if, there is no one else but the individual. National Geographic stories are very explicitly neoliberal in this regard: there is no government, there are no policies, there is no corporation, no labor, no collectivity and hence, there is no accountability for political and corporate power and interests. The selling of the myth that only individuals exist, and the re-painting of the social and economic collapse of a city as something that has nothing to do with policy choices (of government, of corporations and the two in collusion) is ideological. All this is washed away by feel good stories of resilience because demanding accountability from your elected officials, and struggling for social and economic support goes against our current neoliberal fantasy world of individuals as personal value agents alone. 

The shift in the idea of citizens as holders of rights and the concern of the public office has been replaced by citizen as value bearing. Wendy Brown has recently published a fantastic book called Undoing The Demos: Neoliberalism\s Stealth Revolution that does something that should have been done years ago: it studies the eviscerating impact of neoliberalism on ideas of citizenship and responsibilities of government. From the blurb:

Neoliberal rationality — ubiquitous today in statecraft and the workplace, in jurisprudence, education, and culture — remakes everything and everyone in the image of homo oeconomicus. What happens when this rationality transposes the constituent elements of democracy into an economic register? In Undoing the Demos, Wendy Brown explains how democracy itself is imperilled. The demos disintegrates into bits of human capital; concerns with justice bow to the mandates of growth rates, credit ratings, and investment climates; liberty submits to the imperative of human capital appreciation; equality dissolves into market competition; and popular sovereignty grows incoherent. Liberal democratic practices may not survive these transformations. Radical democratic dreams may not either.


From New Orleans to Baltimore, state and federal political leaders have abandoned cities to corporations, and corporations have abandoned them to the markets. The promise of the new economy was a lie. And where tax payers should have held power to account, and worked with government to reinvest in their communities in times of trouble, they instead were cheated out of their place in our imagination as rights bearing citizens and the very reason for elected government. But in stories like these at National Geographic, it is near impossible to get a sense of the failures, incompetence, corruption and sheer sophistry of government and corporate power that left millions struggling to survive. Now we are to believe that real-estate speculators and other profiteers (including the tech. venture capitalists) will save Detroit. The same hope of the private, the same refusal to demand the public responsibility i.e taxation hikes to the elite who have benefitted from the collapse and become richer yet!

The economist David Harvey has written about Baltimore and that cities constant hope that private initiatives will save it from collective political cowardice. See his work The Enigma of Capital. It hasn’t.


Today Detroit continues its neoliberal fantasy for so long as the people do not collect together, and demand the government do something. The individual as self-reliant, self-perpetuating, value laden object is very inticing and something deliberately constructed over the last 30 odd years. The erasure of governments role in he destruction of a city, and its critical role in its rejuvenation, is never raised. The latter because it would require prosecution of corruption, public accountability of the powerful, transparency of the budget and a logical requirement of a more just and equitable individual and corporate taxation policy.

But that just isn’t a good story.

We pretend that the messes we find ourselves in are only ever our fault. The idea that the poor are poor because they are lazy, or that the rich are rich because they are hard working, are the outer ideological edges of this fantasy. Pull up your pants and get back to work, is a myth that has survived all of Steinbeck’s wrath. The government destroys and takes away from the public, enriches and coddles the wealthy and corporate, decimates that financial base of communities, schools and public services, and then looks on wondering why it all went to hell. But we can never demand a reversal. We cannot hold power to account. And we cannot place communities above corporations.

I will point out also that such ‘feel empowered’ stories erase the reality of structural injustices across the class and race divide. The neoliberal policies of Detroit ‘renewal’ only cater to a certain class and interest and disadvantage the civic majority who already face the burden of decades of neglect if not outright racial prejudice driven under-investment. For a discussion of the history and corporate/private capitalist priorities. see this thesis;


New Orleans went through this. The state and federal governments abandoned the citizenry on the basis of race-class or class-race depending on how you want to see this world.

These individuals need help. It is a myth that they will ‘turn the city around’. A city, particularly a modern metropolis, isn’t just a few tech start-ups, some replanted gardens or a real-estate speculator with wet dreams of big profits. A metropolis is a far more than that and it will take the power of accountable elected officials, a strong commitment to raise public funds and invest in communities, schools, infrastructure, and incentives to bring back business and that too of a long-term nature. This will come from policies and from risks taken at a political level. It will come from imaginative political commitment to the totality of the city with its many classes, and its wide economic realities. All this has to be acknowledged. Our lessons are no longer in the 1990s America, but in the 1990s Latin America. If democracy has any hope, it isn’t by speaking of individuals, but by speaking of collective priorities and needs. And a return to the idea of the priority of the public over the private/individual alone.

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From “Headmen” To “Hitmen”–A People Brutalised Yet Again

Another photographer turns up at another manufactured ‘traditional’ geography, and produces another set of racist, reductive and entirely fake set of images. I don’t mean ‘fake’ in the way that most photographer’s get all concerned about. I mean ‘fake’ in a much more serious way, one that reduces people to social, political and historical caricatures and makes them into concocted objects for class titillation and voyeurism. And this American magazine–mired deep in the heart of American imperialism, its violence and its brutality–publishes the images and accompanies them with what can only be described as one of the most incredibly ahistorical, obfuscatory and infantile articles I have read outside of stuff frequently published by Time Magazine and/or The New York Times.

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Thomas Sankara’s Restless Children

The project is now complete. Although, we may never really complete the telling of this remarkable story. You can see the project by clicking on this link here, or on the image below.

Eyes Of Aliyah–Deport, Deprive, Extradite Initiative By Nisha Kapoor

I have publicly and on this forum very explicitly argued against the strange ‘disappearance’ of black/brown bodies that are the actual targets and victims of our ‘liberal’ state policies of surveillance, entrapment, drone assassinations, renditions and indefinite detention. I recently argued:

“Western visual journalism, and visual artists, have erased the actual victims of the criminal policies of the imperial state. Instead, most all have chosen to produce a large array of projects examining drone attacks, surveillance, detentions and other practices, through the use of digital abstractions, analogous environments, still life work or just simply the fascinating and enticing safety of datagrams and charts. Even a quick look at recent exhibitions focusing on the ‘war on terror’ or wars in general, have invited works that use digital representations of war, or focus on the technologies of war. An extreme case of this deflection are recent projects on drone warfare that not only avoid the actual brown/black bodies that are the targets of deadly drone attacks, but are not even produced anywhere near the geographies and social ecologies where drone attacks continue to happen! Yet, these works have found tremendous popularity, though i remain confused what kinds of conversations or debates they provoke given that the voices of the families of those who have been killed, are not only entirely missing, but people who can raised the difficult questions about the lies and propaganda that are used to justify the killings, are also entirely missing.”

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Public Release of “The Sinner”

This is my first feature length documentary film and we–Justice Project Pakistan, with the guiding support of Sarah BelalRimmel Mohydin and others at Justice Project Pakistan, are finally releasing it.

And we are doing it first in Pakistan.

The film takes us into the world of capital punishment in Pakistan through the life of one man; Jan Masi. Jan Masi worked as an execution for nearly 30 years, and claims to have executed over 1800 people. He started his work in the enthusiastic pursuit of revenge for the execution of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

This isn’t a typical documentary film. No talking heads. No linear story-telling. No polemics or moral grand standing. No righteous exclamations against capital punishment. Instead, Jan Masi, his life, his scars, his fears and despair, act as metaphors for the meaning of capital punishment in Pakistan, and the consequences it has on the broader Pakistani society.

Sudhir Patwardhan

Sudhir Patwardhan.

Can you discover ‘an influence’ after the fact?

What do you call someone who seems to embody your eye, your sensibility, and yet you had never seen his / her work, and yet, when you now see it, you see the ‘influence’…the similarities?

Is he confronting the same questions? Is he seeing this incredibly complex and multi-layered world with the same desire to depict it as close to that complexity as possible?

I was taken aback. The aesthetic pursuit is so familiar. It is as if he is a step ahead of me. He is a step ahead of me.

I am going through these images–gorgeous, striking, unique, and no, I refuse to give you some ‘European’ reference to understand them in any way. They are Patwardhan’s and his alone. But I want to make them as photographs.

They are the photographs I would make if in Mumbai. It is beautiful stuff. It makes me want to go and make photographs.

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Make It Right For Palestine, November 4, 2017

Be there. Hyde Park. Speaker’s Corner. London. 12:00 noon. 4th November, 2017.

The Polis Project…Is Up And Running

If you can’t join them, then just do it on your own.

We launched a new collective focused on research, reportage and resistance. The specific goals and objectives are being developed as we speak, but the idea is a simple one: to collect under one banner a group of individuals from different fields – artists, writers, academics, photographers, intellectuals, poets and others, who are consistently working against the grain. In this time of collective conformity, and a media sycophancy to power and extremism, some of us felt the need to create a small space where people are still determined to refuse the agendas of political power, debilitating capitalism, nationalist extremism and neoliberal idiocy, and remain fools in their hearts, and idealists in their souls.

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Short Doc: “As If A Nightmare”;The Story Of Former Bagram Prisoner Abdul Haleem Saifullah


We are commemorating 9/11 this week, but by remembering the ‘other’ victims of that event that few chose to remember. These are the brown bodies that rarely make it into visual media projects, that since 9/11, have chosen to hide behind digital representations, data charts, and other visual forms that do a lot, but never permit us to see or hear the brown and black people who actually suffer the consequences of drone attacks, sweeping surveillance, targeted entrapment, renditions, indefinite detentions, torture and other forms of inhumanity that today liberal minds seem to be able to easily justify.

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Short Doc: “Prisoner 1432” – The Story of Former Bagram Prisoner Amanatullah Ali


We are commemorating 9/11 this week, but by remembering the ‘other’ victims of that event that few chose to remember. These are the brown bodies that rarely make it into visual media projects, that since 9/11, have chosen to hide behind digital representations, data charts, and other visual forms that do a lot, but never permit us to see or hear the brown and black people who actually suffer the consequences of drone attacks, sweeping surveillance, targeted entrapment, renditions, indefinite detentions, torture and other forms of inhumanity that today liberal minds seem to be able to easily justify.

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10 Things To Consider…

I recommend that photographers, photojournalists, documentary photographers remember these wise words by Tania Canas, RISE Arts Director / Member – I am copying and pasting it here. As brown and black bodies are stripped of their clothing, as brown and black children are dehumanised to mere misery, as brown and black women are reduced to simply victims, as ghettos and brothels and refugee camps and slums become the ‘paint by number’ formula for White photographer’s career and publishing success, it becomes increasingly important that those of us on the receiving end of White ‘largesse’ begin to build obstacles, speak back, and refuse / reject these ‘representations’ and their reductive, violent and brutal narrative frames. We have lost too much, and are in danger of whatever little we have left as humans and as histories, if we permit this process to continue.

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