Whose Universal? There is a fundamental paradox at the heart of modernity. A conference on humanist ideals and colonial reality
Akademie der Künste, Hanseatenweg
Hanseatenweg 10, 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).
Whereas the modern revolutions claim to have fought to eliminate distinctions of class, caste, rank, or status, modernity is also the epoch that instituted the concept of racial difference. This set of mutually inconsistent claims—all human beings are equal; some human beings can be “justly owned”—is usually brushed aside as the death throes of a premodern order. But race and racism, unlike xenophobia or sectarianism, are “distinctly modern ideas.”(1) Racism is not a deviation from the Enlightenment’s universalist ideals; it is backed into its cultural technologies.
Whose Universal? contends that, without the will to confront the structuring role of race in Western epistemology, appeals to universal values and principles like “all lives matter,” their structural inconsistencies only allowing for a partial or distorted critique of capitalism, will continue to open an equivocal space in which public discourse can be inflected in the direction of fascism.
The conference will follow two entangled threads. War Economies explores the imbrication of war, colonial frontiers, and indebtment, in order to illuminate the collusion between sovereign power and monopoly capitalism. The aim of Aesthetic Currencies is to remove the sublime, and adjacent, aesthetic categories like the exotic or the grotesque from their pristine post-Enlightenment lineage—a history of aesthetic ideas that purport to exist without any messy ground-level entanglements at sites of imperial extraction or expansion—and to examine the disturbing conflation of embodied and encultured experience that the dis- course of philosophical aesthetics engenders.
1 Race and Racism in Modern Philosophy, Andrew Valls, ed. (Ithaca, 2005), 1.
Whose Universal? is the fourth iteration of a series of conferences devoted to theorizing the poorly understood connection between settler colonialism and fascism, as well as the different facets of what social theorist Nikhil Pal Singh termed “the afterlife of fascism,” and the structures of affect they engender. Past issues of the series took place at
La Colonie, Paris (The White West I and The White West II) and at Kunsthalle Wien (The White West III).
Curated by: Ana Teixeira Pinto and Anselm Franke
Organized by Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW) in collaboration with the 12th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art
Attendance is possible without advance registration, admission is free.
The livestream is conceived and realized by the Berliner Hochschule für Technik (BHT).
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.
Welcome and Introduction by Ana Teixeira Pinto and Anselm Franke
Keynote: The Specificity of Modern Imperialism
Unlike all previous instances of imperialism, modern imperialism is driven by the requirements of the dominant mode of production, capitalism, which, given its nature, implies that: a) No “empty spaces” are left out from the ambit of imperialism; b) all other modes of production are either destroyed or undermined; c) this necessarily creates growing impoverishment among people in one part of the globe as the counterpart of the growth of wealth.
Lecture: Poetic Deproduction
This lecture will probe the imagery of late 19th century symbolism for figuring as a template to, once again, deliver the European subject of modernity to its rightful deaths. Arguing for poetic forms of extradition and exhaustion, Kerstin Stakemeier calls on the works of poets and artists; Ligia Lewis, MYSTI, Verity Spott, Emily Wardill.
Lecture: Black Light. On the Origin and Materiality of the Image
Zakiyyah Iman Jackson
Aesthesis is a political matter, such that black folk have often sought to challenge a mode of representation that mythologizes blackness as mere absence or lack. Focusing particular attention on Faith Ringgold’s American People, Black Light series, this talk both demonstrates that the idea of “the Black female” is pivotal in mediating the relation between abstraction and figuration as well as repositions Blackness as immeasurable, multi-dimensional, and a light source in its own right.
Lecture: Whose Imaginary? The Question of World-Making
The absence of commitment to postcolonial and Indigenous perspectives has created a discourse around the Anthropocene that stages an original crisis rather than accentuating the historical continuity of dispossession, catastrophes, and tragedies caused by empire. This talk addresses some epistemological and ontological challenges that this exclusion produces and makes space for voices that acknowledge the need to imagine different futures in order to “see, and do, the present differently” (Alison Kafer, Feminist, Queer, Crip).
Lecture: Françoise Vergès
Panel: Françoise Vergès, Kerstin Stakemeier, Sladja Blažan, Zakiyyah Iman Jackson, Moderation: Ana Teixeira Pinto and Anselm Franke
Zakiyyah Iman Jackson
Ana Teixeira Pinto
Lecture: Harvests of Springs. Retrospective and Prospective Considerations of the Arab Springs
A decade after their eruptions, the revolutions that were labelled as the “Arab Spring” seem to inspire despair with more aggressive dictators in place, devastating civil wars or toxic stalemates. Some social scientists have downgraded them to insurgencies. If the political landscapes reek of failure, the cultural fields attest to the exact opposite. And perhaps it’s fruitful to rethink the universalist theory of revolutions.
Lecture: Real Narratives and Real Struggle
Max Jorge Hinderer Cruz
What is the relation between political struggles of liberation, and culture as a tool for the production of identity? Departing from the specific experience of a political constitution of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, this presentation would like to draw the attention to the fact that big historical struggles of liberation or decolonization have always been at the same time struggles over the primacy of narratives.
The presentation works through the aftermaths of the artistic happening by Anonymous Artists at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts 2020, in which a plaster cast, copy bust of Frederik V was submerged in Copenhagen harbour. Frederik V. founded the art academy the same year that he bought the Asiatic Company and the West Indian Guinean Company, directly tying the birth of the art institution in Denmark with the enslavement and suppression of people and extraction of resources in the colonies. The peaceful happening unleashed a massive amount of white rage, hate speech and a continuous media blitz. Echoing the work of bell hooks, the presentation asks within such an environment, how to fathom art education as a liberatory practice?
Panel: Rasha Salti, Max Jorge Hinderer Cruz, Katrine Dirckinck-Holmfeld, Moderation: Darla Migan
Max Jorge Hinderer Cruz
Lecture: A. Dirk Moses
A. Dirk Moses
Lecture: Political Consciousness of the Peripheries
This paper moves from Hannah Arendt to the hunger strike, from The Origins of Totalitarianism to the global periphery, in an effort to understand the radically different meanings Western ideals like liberation and sovereignty now assume in the peripheries.
Conversation with Priyamvada Gopal and Anselm Franke
Panel: A. Dirk Moses, Priyamvada Gopal, Siraj Ahmed, Moderation: Ana Teixeira Pinto and Anselm Franke
A. Dirk Moses
Ana Teixeira Pinto