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.

I don’t have time to go into extreme details, but let me be succinct. Both ‘the past and present’ that the writer / magazine purport to offer here, are so childishly and ridiculously presented that you would think that the past, and the present that is being shown in these pictures had nothing to do with:

A) The history of colonial machinations, invasions and capture that is the history of a besieged, brutalised and hounded community that has lived at least the last 250 years as victims of a battle for control of this land, its resources and labouring lives by at least four major European colonial powers (British, German, Russian and Australian).

“The past…” as shown in this pictures–these ‘costumes’ that have been placed onto these bodies who otherwise return to their shacks, their slums, their poverty and their deprivation, are entirely constructed by colonial interests. In fact, the writer unthinkingly reveals the provenance of this occasion–the Goroko Show. The Goroko Show was something manufactured by the Austrialian district officers sometime in the 1950s! It is a modern event. It is a tourist gathering, now a tourist performance, and highly influenced by the play of money, sponsors, and the papuan’s need to find ways of making money.

For goodness sake man! They are using white masking fluid, sold at stationery stores, to create the ‘face paint’ – does that not say anything to you?

In his Afterword to George Stockings book “Colonial Situations!, Talal Asad reminds us that “…in a world subjected for centuries to European capitalism and imperialism…assumptions about cultural continuity, autonomy and authenticity must be questioned. Much of what appears ancient, integrated, and in need of preservation against the disruptive impact of modern social change is itself recently invented” [Colonial Situations, 1991:316]. In the same volume, George Stockhing’s essay “Maclay, Kubary, Malinowsky” reminds us of the “Great Game” of colonial interests that tore through Papua New Guinea–Port Moresby is named after a Captain John Moresby who set up the first mission in the area in around 1872. Australian’s were already marauding for gold in these hills. The British wanted the east. The Germans was sniffing about, and anthropologists were already documenting “the terribly pernicious consequences for the black population of their encounter with European colonisation” [Colonial Situations, 1991:20]. Forced labour was the norm in the area, with anthropologists such as Kubary running plantations themselves! This history of the colonial encounter, the impact of the rape of the land for resources, timber, labour, cannot be under-estimated. Nothing that exists in the country today can be shown to be ‘traditional’ not just because of the terrifying dislocations, destruction, displacements, devastation and denigration undergone by the local populations of these islands, but also because of the known nature of colonial construction of the ‘the noble savage’ and what the European understood to be ‘traditional’, or ‘representative’ or ‘native’.

2) The brutal slaughters, massacres, genocides, displacements, and destruction of the entire fabric of anything that can be called ‘traditional’ by American imperial and mining interests, and Indonesian military interests. Indonesia colonised with a brutality that killed over 40,000 people. Its accomplice in this madness was no other than the American Freeport McMoran mining company. Once Freeport was established–some time in 1967, the local population “…endured detention without trial, torture, forced resettlement, disappearances, the plunder of their mineral wealth, and the uncompensated degradation of their environment” [Nixon, Slow Violence & The Environmentalism of the Poor:118]. And this process continues–the mining continues, the violence used to ensure that it does, continues, and so does the resistance “Armed separatists have occupied five villages in Indonesia’s Papua province, threatening to disrupt Freeport-McMoRan Inc’s giant Grasberg copper mine, which has already been hit this year by labour unrest and a dispute over operating rights” [Reuters, Novemer 2017].

I can write more. Lots more. But why must I do so? Why can a photographer get away with just pretty aesthetics, and the most ignorant and nonsensical set of captions? Why can a writer erasure 200 years of colonial brutalisation, rape and pillage, and American collusion and support for this madness, and produce a piece of historical summary that would see a college undergraduate given a failing grade? How can someone, standing and watching the modern political struggles, the modern political and social deprivations, poverty, misery, anger, brutality of the people who live there and claim that their headdress “…is linked to an ancient way of life.”? Who told him that? How, by attending a purely touristic event, a theatrical performance at par with something you could see at Disney World, an event exploited to hide the actual brutalisation under which these communities have and continue to suffer, an event that is ‘orchestrated’ and at the behest of money, and perhaps even in desperation to ‘impress’ the tourist and foreigners, new ‘traditions’ and new ‘more elaborate’ headdresses and costumes are invented, do you imagine you are seeing ‘tradition’? As I once mentioned to a friend in a different context: today, if the Masai are jumping, they are jumping for food, not for ‘tradition’, because we have left them nothing else.

Much like the traders in African masks outside the MOMA in New York, who carefully file away the signatures of the living, modern sculpture artists who make those masks because the ‘tourists’ want masks that look ‘ancient’ and from ‘antiquity’, these events have to be experienced with great scepticism [see Diawara’s ‘In Search of Africa’ if you want to know more, or Stoller’s ‘Money Has No Smell’]

To arrive at ‘an event’ orchestrated for our racist consumption, to then construct a hideous piece of photography that panders to a past that traps the people in their past, and panders to our voyeurism that traps them in their barbarism–this is the rhythm of this piece: headmen with head gear, and gangsters with guns and missing body parts–is to do terrible and racist violence to a people yet again. A colonial violence in all its perfection in fact–to aesthetically send them back out of modernity, to a ‘true self’ that is outside of time, outside of the now even as the photographer makes photos of them, talks to them in the now, and to aesthetically condemn them to madness and barbarism, but focusing on the ‘gangsters’, yet again discarding them from ‘modernity’ where we should find ‘the rule of law’.

It is tradition or madness. There is nothing in between. They were either ‘the noble savage’ or just crazy!

But the most egregious sin is the erasure–to erase the presence and impact of the violence of the state, of the imperial overlord and of the corporation. that most mad of violent presence–one that has killed hundreds of thousands, one where a military junta, funded and aided by the USA, to ‘open markets’ for American mining interests, simply ripped through life and history.

No wonder the average American remains blind, deaf and dumb. Blind to the suffering his way of life causes, deaf to the protests and resistance of those trying to save themselves and their families, and dumb (illiterate) to actual lived histories that she never gets to know about in his finest of schools.

I guess the Smithsonian will do just fine then. Nice lighting arrangement. Must check the EXIF files. To hell with the ‘real’, lets just focus on ‘the representation’.

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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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