Imperial Ecologies

Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart – Berlin
Invalidenstraße 50-51, 10557 Berlin

English, with simultaneous translation into German

Videos of the conference are available here.

The livestream was conceived and realized by the Berliner Hochschule für Technik (BHT).

In 1991, a memo drafted by the World Bank and signed by Larry Summers was leaked to the press. It included the suggestion that dumping toxic waste in so-called Third World countries would be a sound economic policy.

Though it is widely recognized that European imperial expansion, from the fifteenth century onward, had a crucial environmental impact, reshaping the earth’s ecology, the word imperialism disappeared from our political vocabulary and hardly ever appears in present-day discourses. The factories of Victorian England, as Lorraine Daston has noted, are still at work in the earth’s atmosphere, but we tend to obscure the ongoing feedback loop between industrialization and imperialism. This is the case because present-day imperialism is not so much about militarism and warfare, but about collusion between sovereign power and monopoly commerce, thus outsourcing coercion to financial markets. As we undergo the worst environmental crisis in human history, Imperial Ecologies contends that to speak of imperialism today is not obsolete or passé—but urgent and timely. In order to illuminate the current climate emergency, it is important to tie the making of the Western world to the unmaking of countless life worlds, examining not only the environmental impact of settler societies but also the imbrication of monopoly commerce and resource depletion—from the Dutch East India Company’s destruction of nutmeg trees to the ongoing monoculture expansion, threatening tropical forest biodiversity.

The conference will also address the question of language, and the insistence on abstraction, as part of the rhetorical repertoire used to render imperialism invisible, as well as the legacies of empire that operate below the threshold of consciousness in

what one could call the colonial unconscious.

Curated by: Kader Attia

This conference is part of the discursive program of the 12th Berlin Biennale. Taking the restitution debate as a starting point, it explores how colonialism and imperialism continue to operate in the present.

Imperial Ecologies

Day 1
Wednesday, 22.6.2022

6 pm

Welcome and Opening Remarks

6:30–7 pm

Keynote: The Double Toxicity of Imperialism: Perspectives from the French Overseas Territories


Malcom Ferdinand

In his presentation, Malcom Ferdinand argues for a departure from what one could call “the double fracture of modernity” which separates environmental and colonial history, reasserting imperialism’s central role in the making of the modern world. Taking as its starting point a number of specific French Imperial practices, including the banana plantations of Martinique and Guadeloupe, nuclear testing in Polynesia, and mineral mining in French Guiana, Ferdinand examines the contemporary sociopolitical and environmental movements that struggle against these enduring colonial modalities of inhabiting the planet, arguing that these struggles point to the horizon of a coming common world.

7–8 pm

Artist Talk: Unveiling Extractivism through Artistic Practices


Imani Jacqueline Brown

Sammy Baloji


Malcom Ferdinand

Drawing from their respective geographical origins and professional practices, Imani Jacqueline Brown and Sammy Baloji delve into the material realities of extractive economies and explore possible paths toward decolonization. Over the last years, Baloji has detailed the geopolitics of soil in the Congo Basin, teasing out the roots of historical injustice and the continuities between the extraction of resources such as rubber, copper, uranium, coltan, lithium and the immiseration of the Congolese population. In her Black Ecologies manifesto, Brown proposes to “open a wormhole to other ecologies” and to (re)affirm blackness as a crucial starting point toward the restoration of the earth’s ecology. In their discussion with Malcom Ferdinand, the artists will address the creation of new ecologies and their role in global decolonization.


Imperial Ecologies

Day 2

Thursday, 23.6.2022

2–3 pm

Talk: Nation Building and Unbuilding


Layth Kareem

Rijin Sahakian

Made in Baghdad with the collaboration of friends and family, the film The City Limits (2014) reflects upon the emotional and physical experiences that result from a life lived under planned as well as spontaneous violence, which became the reality for much of Iraq and Baghdad’s population both during and after the US-led invasion and subsequent occupation of the country. Working with choreography, technology, and documentary forms, Layth Kareem has created a video work which functions as a gathering space: a site for the articulation of trauma, but also as the locus of resistance to occupation and the catalyst for the love and intergenerational exchange that imbue the film. Rijin Sahakian and Kareem will discuss the work’s context and making.

3–3.15 pm


3.15 – 5 pm

Panel: Weaponized Environments


Samaneh Moafi

Susan Schuppli


Doreen Mende

In the past dozen years, Forensic Architecture—a research agency at Goldsmiths University of London with affiliated offices from Berlin to Ramallah to Bogotá—has developed ground-breaking concepts and research methodologies through counter-forensic technology, artistic practices, and spatial politics to work with communities to investigate sometimes invisible forms of violence, repression, and injustice. In conversation with Doreen Mende, Eyal Weizman, Samaneh Moafi, and Susan Schuppli will discuss the weaponization of environments against vulnerable communities through Forensic Architecture’s multi-perspectival case-based approach of “investigative aesthetics” (Eyal Weizman/Matthew Fuller) and the “material witness” (Susan Schuppli). The panel will focus on environmental racism, land dispossession, and geography as material-epistemic infrastructures.

5–5.15 pm

Lecture: Eyal Weizman


Eyal Weizman

5.15–5.45 pm


5.45–7.15 pm

Panel: Hence, We Dream. Dreams in Capitalist Societies


Etinosa Yvonne

Joseph Tonda

Stefania Pandolfo


Kader Attia

Whose dream are we dreaming? Whose living images are we? How do we deal with the legacies of colonialism and imperialism when they operate below the threshold of the unconscious? At the intersection of political science, psychoanalysis, psychiatry, anthropology, and photography, artist Etinosa Yvonne, sociologist Joseph Tonda, and anthropologist Stéfania Pandolfo will discuss the continuing colonial hold on the imaginary—and by proxy on the material and immaterial lives of contemporary subjects—while addressing possible strategies for decolonizing and regaining autonomy. We can only construct our world if we are first able to reappropriate our ability to produce thought from our dreams of that world. And yet its sovereignty is undermined by the impossibility of dreaming, generated first by colonialism and today by the automated performativity produced by 24/7 capitalist computer systems.

7.15–7.30 pm


7.30–8.15 pm

Keynote: Naming the Crime of Colonialism. The German Example


Jürgen Zimmerer


Ana Teixeira Pinto

Whilst a pointed and unambiguous vocabulary has been developed to discuss the crimes of the Third Reich, the debate about colonialism is still dominated by euphemisms. Terms such as “civilizing mission” or “development”—or the word “uprising” to refer to anti-colonial resistance—are often used where racism, enslavement, genocide, or crimes against humanity would be more suitable. The lecture discusses the consequences of these euphemisms and platitudes.