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Volume 1 Winter 2018

The Journal of Postcolonial Studies 1

Sankofa The Journal of Postcolonial Studies Volume 1 Winter 2018



Kathmandu, Nepal 2015

The Team


Suvij Sudershan

Editorial Board

Sophie Heisler Khando Langri Carlee Kawinehta Loft Taylor Mitchell Dorothy Poon Alec Regino Edna Wan


Unna Regino Edna Wan Suvij Sudershan


Claire Hurley

Funding for Volume 1 of Sankofa, The Journal of Postcolonial Studies was generously provided by the AUS Journals Fund, the Dean of Arts Development Fund, and the Department of English Students Assocation. 4

CONTENTS Acknowledgements


Some words from an “uncompleted dialogue” Suvij Sudershan


Occupied Authorship: Joe Sacco’s Palestine and the Colonized’s National Narrative Jack Ball


Modernism in South Asia: The Works of Partha Mitter Tenzing S Ukyab Lama


Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o: Grotesquery and Violence as Purification in Devil on the Cross Phoebe Colby


“The World is Watching” Facebook Live-Streaming and Resistance at Standing Rock Mars Zaslavsky


Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place The Dangers of Ventriloquizing Bridget Walsh


The Arusha Peace Agreement: The Reucurrence of Violence in Burundi, 2015 Maxine Both



Reclaiming the “Sauvage�: The Reconfiguration of Exoticism in Portraiture by Indigenous Women Marina Maric



Acknowledgements The first edition of this journal would have been impossible without the physical, intelectual, and emotional labour of several people, whom we would like to thank at the beginning. This journal is still very much a work in progress, and we are conscious of its imperfections and lacunae, and through collective efforts such as these, we will always continue trying to learn and improve, hopefully, over the years. First, and most importantly, we would like to acknowledge the editorial support provided by Carlee Kawinehta Loft for the “Preface.” The “Preface” was written under severe time constraint, and only the editor-in-chief is accountable for its pitfalls, and not any of the other editors. However, if, and where, it succeeds in making points about the absences in mainstream popular academic postcolonial studies, it has succeeded only because of Carlee Kawinehta Loft’s help, guidance, and editorial work. We would also like to thank Sylvie Schwartz, Ha Dong, Carl Plowright, and Zain R. Mian, for their assistance throughout the process. The journal was established under severe time constraints, and without their timely support and interventions, it would not have materialized in any form.


Some words from an “uncompleted dialogue” In their opening essay for the issue “Between Subalternity and Indigeneity” of interventions, Jodi Byrd and Michael Rothberg comment on how there exists an “uncompleted dialogue between postcolonial and Indigenous perspectives.”1 In part, according to the authors, this has been “a result of the infamous and falsely periodizing ‘post’ in postcolonial: the misleading suggestion that colonialism is over.”2 They advocate that “at stake in exploring the resonance between the categories ‘subaltern’ and ‘indigenous’ is a matter of urgent translation - translation in all its senses, linguistic, cultural, and spatial.” Since I had the opportunity to write a preface, I wanted to try to both bring this question of “translation” between postcolonial and Indigenous studies to the table, as well as to foreground some of the directions in which existing work by Indigenous scholars has taken up the question of “postcoloniality,” in order to point out gaps and absences in the mainstream academic version of Postcolonial Studies. To this end, I have tried to limit my own voice in this preface, which is a collection of quotes, references, ideas from Indigenous and Native American Studies scholars on how they understand postcoloniality. It is of some urgency that postcolonial studies acknowledge its lacunae, and begin the task of constructing the frameworks that neither purport to speak for others, nor assimilate others into unrepresentative categories. After all, such was the idea behind Gayatri Spivak’s “Can the Subaltern Speak?” Categories change and mutate over time, and it is of essence to historicize and concretize the experiences and thoughts of people. Any academic subject that seeks to understand human experience, as postcolonial studies should, should also acknowledge that this study, by virtue of it being a study, will always exist as an abstraction - that is its very condition of existence. As Ngugi wa Thiong’o has written, there is needed “a way of approaching any text from whatever times and places to allow its content and themes form a free conversation with other texts of one’s time and place, the better to make it yield 1

Jodi A. Byrd and Michael Rothberg, “Between Subalternity and Indigeneity,” interventions 13 no. 1 (2011): 4. 2 Ibid.


its maximum to the human.”3 Or, as Jodi Byrd argues, “the task is to read to read the cacophonies of colonialism as they are rather than to attempt to hierarchize them into coeval or causal order.”4 “While postcolonial studies in its various forms, subaltern and otherwise, has flourished in the North American academy, it has been less successful at engaging some of the more obvious “local” issues of coloniality in its surroundings than it has in engaging “what’ s out there someplace else,” as Robert Warrior notes in his essay in this issue. In particular, and despite some notable exceptions, relatively little has been said about whether and how the colonization of American Indians and other indigenous peoples might fit within the postcolonial frame.”5 “For those within American Indian and Indigenous studies, postcolonial theory has been especially verboten precisely because the “post-,” even though its contradictory temporal meanings are often debated, represents a condition of futurity that has not yet been achieved.”6 Through the continuing work of Indigenous scholars, community leaders, Elders, and grassroots organizers, who have been critiquing concepts of “postcoloniality,” Indigenous Studies has long rejected and debated against “post-colonialism.” Thus, these observations are not new to Indigenous Studies, and assuming so would mean an erasure of the efforts of Indigenous scholars, community leads, Elders, and grassroots organizers. However, this debate continues within mainstream academic discourse, and that is the audience to which this preface is addressed to.

“To impose a single meaning on the term “postcoloniality,” then, or even to sug-

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Globalectics: A Theory and Politics of Knowing (New York: University of Columbia Press, 2012), 60. 4 Jodi A. Byrd, The Transit of Empire: Indigenous Critiques of Colonialism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011), xxvii. 5 Ibid, 3. There is a lot of scholarship and discussion about the way Indigenous Studies is marginalized in academia – shut out of larger faculties like history but pigeonholed into Indigenous Studies which is a smaller field and, therefore, less subsidized, and often underfunded. 6 Jodi A. Byrd, The Transit of Empire: Indigenous Critiques of Colonialism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011), xxxii. 3


gest that we academics are dazzling ourselves with words, seems ineffectual.”7 “In a historical moment when imposed displacements and diasporas, volatile borders, and coerced exiles confuse and obliterate human perspectives, “Indigeneity” holds the promise of rearticulating and reframing questions of place, space, movement and belonging.”8 “The essential thing is to see clearly, to think clearly - that is, dangerously and to answer clearly the innocent first question: what, fundamentally, is colonization? (Cesaire, 2000, p. 32)”9 “[A]n anti-colonial critique is not the same as a decolonizing framework; anti-colonial critique often celebrates empowered postcolonial subjects who seize denied privileges from the metropole. This anti-to-post-colonial project doesn’t strive to undo colonialism but rather to remake it and subvert it. Seeking stolen resources is entangled with settler colonialism because those resources were nature/Native first, then enlisted into the service of settlement and thus almost impossible to reclaim without re-occupying Native land. Furthermore, the postcolonial pursuit of resources is fundamentally an anthropocentric model, as land, water, air, animals, and plants are never able to become postcolonial; they remain objects to be exploited by the empowered postcolonial subject.”10 “[S]ettler, native, and arrivant each [should] acknowledge their own positions within empire and then reconceptualize space and history to make visible what imperialism and its resultant settler colonialisms and diasporas have sought to obscure.”11 “I posit that indigeneity (defined as the presence of geographically based origins in the North American continent) as a category of criticism of colonial realms is not only useful for clarification of the condition of colonization, but necessary to the future of tribal nationhood.”12 Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, A Separate Country: Postcoloniality and American Indian Nations, (Lubbock, Texas: Texas Tech University Press, 2012): 24. 8 Byrd and Rothberg, “Between Subalternity and Indigeneity,” 3. 9 Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang, “Decolonization is not a Metaphor,” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society 1 no. 1 (2012): 21. 10 Ibid, 19. 11 Byrd, The Transit of Empire, xxx. 12 Cook-Lynn, A Separate Country, 8. The term “tribal” only operates in the United States of 7


“During the politically vibrant decade of the 1960s and into the early 1970s, boundary politics continued to define U.S.–indigenous relations. By that time, indigenous political actors faced the tension of having to construct and express their politics betwixt and between a civil rights framework predominant in the United States and the nationalist decolonization framework common to many post–World War II third world struggles.”13 “That cacophony of competing struggles for hegemony within and outside institutions of power, no matter how those struggles might challenge the state through loci of race, class, gender, and sexuality, serves to misdirect and cloud attention from the underlying structures of settler colonialism that made the United States possible as oppressor in the first place. As a result, the cacophony produced through U.S. colonialism and imperialism domestically and abroad often coerces struggles for social justice for queers, racial minorities, and immigrants into complicity with settler colonialism.”14 “The emergence of these arguments for self - determination and tribal sovereignty was an expression of what I call postcolonial nationhood. The claim for postcolonial nationhood adhered fully to neither a civil rights framework for defining equality nor a third world decolonization framework for defining anti-colonial sovereignty. Instead, it located itself across the boundaries and through the gaps of colonial imposition, in the third space, where indigenous political life fights to claim its modern status on its own terms.”15 “Racialization and colonization should thus be understood as concomitant global systems that secure white dominance through time, property, and notions of self. When these two historical processes are so enmeshed that racialization in the United States now often evokes colonization as a metonym, such discursive elisions obfuscate the distinctions between the two systems of dominance and the coerced complicities amid both.”16 America, and most groups in Canada use “Nation” (e.g. Kankien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) Nation. 13 Kevin Bruyneel, The Third Space of Sovereignty: The Postcolonial Politics of U.S.– Indigenous Relations (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007): 123. 14 Byrd, The Transit of Empire, xvii. 15 Bruyneel, The Third Space of Sovereignty, 124. 16 Byrd, The Transit of Empire, xxiii


“Thus, the book’s title, Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto, pairs the famous indigenous military success over U.S. forces with the need for a new way of thinking and acting with regard to indigenous politics of the present. A fundamental problem with achieving this objective was the way in which indigenous political identity and objectives fi t — or, more precisely, did not fit — within the frameworks of U.S. civil rights politics and global decolonization politics. To this end, [Vine] Deloria began the book by highlighting the bind that torments indigenous people in their effort to define and express their political identity, agency, and autonomy in modern political life. Recognition of this bind provoked him to generate a postcolonial response.”17 “This modification of colonialism through the additive of settler serves a twofold discursive function. The first, which I have already gestured toward, qualifies the nature of ... colonialism away from its scale as the originary mode of occupation and now presents it as conditional, differentiated, and of a gentler order than the formal imperial projects of Europe. The second discursive function that the addition of settler as qualifier to colonialism serves is a logical fallacy; it is an example of the metalepsis that Gayatri Spivak defines as “substituting an effect for cause,” and presents us with the condition of the settler as a priori to colonialism at the exact moment the Native vanishes.”18 McGill University, and Sankofa, are located on unceded Kankien’kehá:ka territory.19

Bruyneel, The Third Space of Sovereignty, 136. Byrd, “Still Waiting for the ‘Post’ to Arrive,” 85. 19 This acknowledgement, however, remains a gesture, much like the many “symbolic” actions that the authors of the paper “Decolonization is not a Metaphor” discuss. See “Settler moves to innocence,” Tuck and Wayne Yang, 10-29. 17 18


Works Cited Bruyneel, Kevin. The Third Space of Sovereignty: The Postcolonial Politics of U.S.– Indigenous Relations. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007. Byrd, Jodi A.“Still Waiting for the ‘Post’ to Arrive: Elizabeth Cook-Lynn and the Imponderables of American Indian Postcoloniality.” Wicazo Sa Review 31, no. 1, (Spring 2016): 75-89. Byrd, Jodi A. The Transit of Empire: Indigenous Critiques of Colonialism. Minne apolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011. Byrd, Jodi A., and Michael Rothberg. “Between Subalternity and Indigene ity.” interventions 13 no. 1 (2011): 1-12. Cook-Lynn, Elizabeth. A Separate Country: Postcoloniality and American Indian Nations. Lubbock, Texas: Texas Tech University Press, 2012. Thiong’o, Ngũgĩ wa. Globalectics: A Theory and Politics of Knowing. New York: University of Columbia Press, 2012. Tuck, Eve, and K. Wayne Yang. “Decolonization is not a Metaphor.” De colonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society 1 no. 1 (2012): 1-40.


Occupied Authorship Joe Sacco’s Palestine and the Colonized’s National Narrative by Jack Ball


When Palestine began its serial release in February, 1993, its subject matter was ongoing.The First Intifada, a decentralized uprising by Palestinians

against Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank that Joe Sacco documents across the nine issues of his comic book series, did not officially end (according to most interpretations) until the signing of the Oslo accords on September 13th, later that year.1 With the Intifada’s dust still settling and Palestine’s immediate future, uncertain, the issues released after the Oslo accords may have compelled Sacco’s first generation of readers to ask some of the following questions. Despite the loss—of life, family, livelihood—documented in Sacco’s graphic narrative, did the uprising have a positive effect in the lives of Palestinians? Could it, if little else, have strengthened a national narrative around which further resistance toward liberation could rally? Reading Palestine today, in a new context borne of 25 additional years of resistance to occupation and of developments in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, these questions continue to impress their significance. In addressing them through the single-volume edition of Sacco’s text, this essay will examine how Palestine employs formal devices unique to the comics medium in order to interpret the Palestinian struggle for independence. Several literary critics have weighed in on such questions in the past. Rose Brister, for instance, asserts that Joe Sacco’s depiction of sound in Palestine is vital to his graphic narrative’s representation of Palestinian nationhood. Comics being a visual medium, Sacco records Palestine’s soundscape graphically through jaggedly overlapping panels and ominously scribbled gutter lines, both of which, according to Brister, activate “epiphenomenal” auditory sensations through the process of reading and looking.2 Sacco’s emphasis on sound “seeks to ‘fill a gap’ or, more accurately, mark a presence in the Palestinian resistance to the occupation.”3 The sounds of resistance to Israeli suppression, represented visually, re-inscribe a Palestinian narrative, a national narrative that matters because Israel’s hegemony hinges on suppressing it. As postcolonial theorist Edward Said Nasrallah, Nami. “The First and Second Palestinian Intifadas.” in The Routledge Handbook on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict eds. David Newman and Joel Peters. (New York: Routledge, 2013): 56. 2 Brister, Rose. “Sounding the Occupation: Joe Sacco’s Palestine and the Uses of Graphic Narrative for (Post)Colonial Critique.” Ariel 45, no. 1-2 (2014): 105. 3 Ibid. 106 1


explains in his essay “Permission To Narrate,” such efforts to re-inscribe a national narrative are important because “the inadmissible existence of the Palestinian people whose history, actuality, and aspirations, as possessed of a coherent narrative direction pointed toward self-determination, [was] the object of [Israeli] violence.”4 While Brister’s arguments are convincing, the graphic soundscape is but one among several ways in which Sacco’s graphic narrative represent a burgeoning Palestinian nationhood. A satirized autobiographical avatar, multiply framed and translated narratives, and a discourse that values the process of resistance as such all participate in Palestine’s production of a national narrative that seeks not only to “mark a presence,” as Brister has remarked, but also to acknowledge Palestinian authorship of that presence. Taking Brister’s reading of sound as a point of departure, this essay will unfold these other techniques, each of which aims to document Palestine’s national narrative such that the colonized might, however indirectly, speak for themselves. In order to ensure a reading that is sensitive to the medium’s formal peculiarities, pertinent theories of sequential art will be invoked for a more complete understanding of how readers engage with the particular vocabulary and grammar of comics. Producing a self-authored Palestinian national narrative in an object as deeply auteuristic as Palestine (it was written, illustrated, and lettered by Sacco) is challenging. Limited authorial scope is only part of the problem, however, when it comes to Sacco’s ability to represent, or even advocate for, Palestinian nationhood. Sacco is not only just one person, but is also in some ways the wrong person for the task. Having grown up in Australia and the United States, Sacco repeatedly reminds the reader of his limited ability to disrupt his Western perspective and hand authorial power to the Palestinians he is reporting on. Indeed, if Sacco’s comic book was distilled as a single question, it could be the following: given what limitations can and cannot be overcome by the unique set of narrative tools available in comics, how should the narratives of an occupied nation such as Palestine be mediated for a Western audience? Palestine asks this question more often, and more explicitly, than it attempts to answer it. Where it does hint at answers, however, authorship exposes the difference between a commodity produced for the Western gaze and a narrative representing a 4

Said, Edward. “Permission to Narrate.” in The Edward Said Reader eds. Moustafa


self-authored Palestine, but ultimately reveals that the former can never be entirely escaped nor the latter fully foregrounded. Palestine uses the comics medium’s distinct means of manipulating iconography, of framing alternative narrative registers, and of disrupting the temporality of image reading in order to document a Palestinian national narrative that is, if not literally self-authored, at least committed to subverting the Western gaze through which it is filtered in order to promote Palestinian authorship discursively. Palestine singlehandedly pioneered the contemporary genre known as comics journalism (so much so, in fact, that Sacco coined the term himself).5 A record of Sacco’s two months of reporting in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Palestine moves fluidly between the testimonies of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation, on the one hand, and Sacco’s personal experience as an American journalist navigating the First Intifada on the other. By using this particular mode of documentary, Sacco’s comic book expands the graphic narrative’s penchant for life writing into the domain of reportage. Unlike medium-defining graphic memoirs such as Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis (2000) and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home (2006), Palestine is decidedly not an autobiographical work insofar as Sacco’s life is not its main subject. Yet Palestine bears some resemblance to Art Spiegelman’s canonical graphic memoir, Maus, insofar as both reflect on the challenge of representing narratives not witnessed firsthand. Where Spiegelman struggles to depict his father’s stories of surviving the Holocaust without permitting his own inherited trauma to eclipse them, Sacco struggles to depict Palestinians’ stories of Israeli violence without commodifying them for his Western audience. Like most graphic memoirs, Sacco’s work in comics journalism explores the author’s relationship to self-representation and structures of witnessing in which Westerner is pitched as rescuer. While Palestine is undoubtedly less personal than graphic memoirs Maus, Persepolis, or Fun Home, Sacco’s self-representation resembles their use of “autobiographical avatars.”6 This term, devised by Gillian Whitlock, connotes the role-playing function of the avatar in the contemporary context of video games, and usefully indicates the simultaneously perforChute, Hillary. “History and the Visible in Joe Sacco.” Disaster Drawn. (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard UP, 2016): 197. 6 Whitlock Gilllian. “Autographics: The Seeing ‘I’ of the Comics.” Modern Fiction Studies 52.4 (Winter 2006): 971. 5


mative and explorative nature of self-representation in graphic narratives. Autobiography in any medium involves this doubling of the self into observer and observed, but in autographics (another Whitlock term), “That splitting of self into observer and observed is redoubled … where the dual media of words and drawing, and their segmentation into boxes, panels, and pages, offer multiple possibilities for interpreting experience, reworking memory, and staging self-reflection.”7 Sacco’s autobiographical avatar does not serve to enable as wide-ranging a personal exploration as Spiegelman’s, Satrapi’s, or Bechdel’s. It does, however, generate an exploration of the performativity of his experience as a Western journalist in the Middle East. Sacco “[stages] self-reflection” around the ethical dimensions of both his experience and his creative process in order to complicate his, and his predominantly American audience’s, Western perspective through a caricatured commodification of Palestinians’ struggles that is deliberately uncomfortable. Sacco disrupts his Western gaze by satirizing the commercial imperative to witness and record violent spectacles. As Wendy Kozol points out, “Writing the reporter into the narrative enables Sacco to confront the Western rescue narrative that structures such forms of witnessing.”8 Sacco’s autobiographical avatar, proving vital to this project of resisting both the “rescue narrative” and a commodification of the Intifada, allows Sacco to foreground his responses rather than represent the violent spectacles themselves. Learning of a infant born disfigured as a result of an Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) tear-gas attack, for instance, Sacco says, “Man, I wish I’d seen the soldiers firing tear gas … wish I’d seen that baby.”9 Rather than pursue the commercial imperative to report violent spectacles by rendering the disfigured baby for the reader, Sacco represents his uncomfortable desire to have witnessed and recorded it. Later in the narrative, this desire becomes more closely linked to commercial imperatives when Sacco visits Ramallah. “A comic needs some bangbang and I’m praying Watson, Julia. “Autobiographical Disclosures and Genealogies of Desire in Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home.” in Graphic Subjects: Critical Essays on Autobiography and Graphic Novels. Ed. Michael A. Chaney. (Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 2011): 125 8 Kozol, Wendy. “Complicities of Witnessing in Joe Sacco’s Palestine.” Theoretical Perspectives on Human Rights and Literature. Ed. Elizabeth Swanson Goldberg and Alexandra Schultheis Moore. (New York: Routledge, 2012): 169. 9 Sacco, Joe. Palestine. (Seattle: Fantagraphics Books, 2015): 77. 7


Ramallah will deliver,” Sacco says, hoping to witness a spectacle of violence.10 When violence eventually breaks out in Ramallah, Sacco’s satire of the Western gaze is rendered even more starkly by his avatar’s ironic failure to recognize his Western identity in relation to a Palestinian reporter also documenting the Intifada: “who’s the dude with the camcorder? … when did he show? … he’s standing in the street like it’s no one’s business … like it’s his intifada.”11 Whatever this appropriating Western gaze might imply, the Intifada clearly belongs much less to Sacco than to the Palestinian reporter. Subsequently, a small and otherwise blank panel, interrupting the splash page of Palestinian protesters, depicts Sacco and “the dude with the camcorder” from the imagined perspective of the protesters (see fig. 1). This panel resembles a photograph as if to self-reflexively suggest that the act of commodifying the Intifada violence for the Western gaze is itself the violent spectacle worth recording. Meanwhile, the Palestinian reporter is positioned behind Sacco’s avatar, as if to further exaggerate the intrusion of the Western reporter— a caricature of Western intervention in general— in front of a domestic reporter whose work could produce a self-authored Palestinian national narrative. Fig. 1. Sacco, Joe. Palestine. (Seattle: Fantagraphics Books, 2015): 122. 10 11

Ibid. 118. Ibid. 121.


Even when not explicitly satirizing himself, Sacco indicates his Western audience’s complicity in acts of voyeurism by giving his avatar a more identifiable style than most other characters’ bodies. In his graphic treatise on comics theory, Scott McCloud argues that “when you look at a photo or realistic drawing of a face—you see it as the face of another.”12 “When you enter the world of the cartoon,” McCloud continues , you relate more easily to less realistic faces because “you see yourself.”13 Since their simplicity allows them to operate as universal icons, “We don’t just observe the cartoon, we become it.”14 Sacco employs this principle in Palestine by consistently dressing his avatar in the same outfit in order to establish familiarity with the reader, and by drawing himself with opaque glasses that obscure his eyes. The latter feature implies that the audience is also meant to notice the voyeurism of his Western gaze. As Kozol explains, Sacco’s opaque glasses “highlight his avatar’s role as a voyeur. This visual reference to the media’s myopic perspective on the Israel–Palestinian conflict persistently calls attention to the privileged perspective of the outside observer.”15 Highlighting this voyeurism and privilege in order to satirize the Western gaze does not end with Sacco’s autobiographical avatar but extends, through iconic representation, to his predominantly Western audience. Yet Sacco’s satire of the Western gaze, despite actively implicating his readers, does not facilitate a self-authored Palestinian narrative on its own. By critiquing the related but distinct tendencies to commodify and act voyeuristically, Sacco’s satire can undermine, but not erase, those discourses. Authorship is unusually fixed in comics because the medium’s materiality draws the reader’s attention to its means of creation. As Hillary Chute asserts, “Comics … is a non-transparent form that always shows its seams, calling attention to its construction. The mark on the comics page is an index of the body, a register of the embodiment and materiality comics proposes.”16 This is particularly true in a work as auteuristic as Palestine, in which every detail is an index of Sacco’s own body. Yet despite his authoMcCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. (New York: William Morrow, 1993): 36. 13 Ibid. 14 Ibid. 15 Kozol, Wendy. “Complicities of Witnessing in Joe Sacco’s Palestine.” 167. 16 Chute, Hillary. “Graphic Narrative.” Routledge Companion to Experimental Literature. 12


rial primacy, Palestine displaces Sacco at times by presenting alternative authorial registers. Paradoxically, the salience of Sacco’s unavoidable authorial primacy is in part a function of his graphic narrative’s broader interest in authorship itself. While Palestine’s auteuristic materiality points relentlessly to its Western creator, Sacco’s Foucaultian “author function” does not preclude an engagement with discourses of Palestinian authorship.17 These discourses of alternative authorship, seeking to empower a Palestinian national narrative, take shape through the layered framing and mediation of the Palestinian testimonies Sacco witnesses. Sacco’s project of alternative authorship relies on the tension between sequence and surface. This unique comics tension, in theorist Charles Hatfield’s formulation, describes the relationship between the page’s discrete grammatical elements that denote temporal moments and the atemporal page design produced by their sum: “the single image functions as both a point on an imagined timeline—a self-contained moment substituting for the moment before it, and anticipating the moment to come—and an element of global page design.”18 The mechanics of reading this tension expose a significant phenomenological fact that distinguishes comics from other sequential arts. The filmic tension between shot and montage, for instance, which is roughly analogous to that between sequence and surface, is a function of “each sequential element [being] perceived not next to the other, but on top of the other,” from which “arises a new, higher dimension.”19 The “sequential element[s]” in comics, on the other hand, are perceived “next to the other.” Rather than revealing a “new, higher dimension”—or, for our purposes, a narrative—mechanically, this generally occurs in comics through the act of reading the tension not only between panels and the page, but also between (and even within) panels themselves. This multifaceted reading practice, without which comics could not offer narratives, is called closure. Whereas its filmic equivalent “takes place continuously … as our minds, aided by the persistence of vi17

Foucault, Michel. “What is an Author?” Language, Counter-Memory, Practice. Ed. Donald F. Bouchard. (New York: Cornell UP, 1977): 138. 18 Hatfield, Charles. “An Art of Tensions.” The Comics Studies Reader. Eds. Jeet Heer and Kent Worcester. (Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 2009): 140. 19 Eisenstein, Sergei. “A Dialectical Approach to Film Form.” Film Form: Essays on Film Theory. (New York: Harcourt, 1949): 49.


sion, transform a series of still pictures into a story of continuous motion,” comics closure depends on the reader’s function as “a willing and conscious collaborator.”20 Like film, comics closure places sequential elements in a dialectical tension of simultaneous forming and informing in order to create narrative. However, since this process does not occur mechanically but rather involves reading (and rereading), the discrete elements remain more visibly discrete. In Palestine, this process of closure is manipulated to construct distinct narrative registers for Palestinian authorship; Sacco employs the tension between page and panel in order to frame Palestinians’ stories by offsetting them in order to connote a different authorial status vis-à-vis the default narrative register. This representational technique occurs noticeably in juxtapositions of paneled and unpaneled images and, although never uniform, frequently involves placing present-time interviews on splash pages while paneling the stories told in these interviews. In “The Bucket,” for instance, the interview between Sacco and the Palestinian family—itself a story—is offset by panels depicting the family’s account of having their olive trees destroyed by the IDF (see figs. 2 and 3). This framing technique establishes a new narrative register for Palestinian testimony while simultaneously acknowledging the impossibility of full self-authorship. The Palestinian family’s paneled story backgrounds Sacco’s experience of their testimony, and their speech balloons are replaced by the more authoritative narrative text boxes usually reserved for Sacco’s voice. As such, this sequence seems to prompt Said’s claim that “comics in their relentless foregrounding … seemed to say what couldn’t otherwise be said,” and even “give[s] the Palestinian narrative … a presence and a human shape.”21 Yet, the fact that the paneled story’s depiction is a function of Sacco’s ultimate authorship—in this case his imaginative rendering of the testimony’s significant beats—remains plain. This contradiction urges the reader to recognize a self-reflexive authorial discourse that seeks to present Palestinian self-authorship while continuously reminding the reader of its limits by acknowledging Sacco’s inevitable authorial function. 20

McCloud. Understanding Comics. 65. Said, Edward. “Homage to Joe Sacco.” Introduction in Palestine. By Joe Sacco. (Seattle: Fantagraphics, 2015): ii-iii. 21


Figs. 2 and 3. Sacco, Joe. Palestine. (Seattle: Fantagraphics Books, 2015): 60-61.

In later framed testimonies, Sacco distances himself much further from the narrative in order to strengthen alternative registers belonging to Palestinian self-authorship. “Moderate Pressure pt. 2,” for instance, is set apart from the default representational style by the addition of cinematic black gutters. This twelve-page sequence depicts nineteen days of torture inflicted by the Israeli state on an innocent Palestinian man named Ghassan.22 This time, rather than employ tension between different narrative registers—the splash page and the panel—on a single page, Sacco creates tension between the representational styles of multi-page sequences in order to establish an even more personalized narrative register for Ghassan to tell his story. As Ghassan does so, accessing the authoritative narrative text boxes, Sacco is a hidden presence who facilitates more than he authors; Sacco manipulates the testimony’s form to enhance Ghassan’s 22

Sacco. Palestine. 102-13.


authored content. With the spotlight firmly on Ghassan, Sacco busies himself with evoking the claustrophobia of Ghassan’s imprisonment by steadily making the panels smaller (see fig. 4). Ghassan’s vignette glides to the end of the chapter without allowing Sacco’s avatar, or narrative voice, to return. The chapter’s large and wordless closing panel reinforces the destabilization of the narrative’s familiar mode of telling. Having been released from the IDF jail, Ghassan disappears into a multicultural, and seemingly harmless, Jerusalem street: the familiar—this time a liberal image of pluralism—is rendered strange for us because of the conditions of torture, hidden behind the street’s closed doors, that we have witnessed in Ghassan’s story (see fig. 5). Palestine also facilitates a self-authored Palestinian narrative by foregrounding the stages of mediation through which Sacco receives translated testimony. The last significant testimony Sacco represents is the story of a Palestinian woman who has lost two sons and her husband during the Intifada.23 The opening panel depicts Sacco’s Palestinian companion, Sameh, translating the woman’s Arabic as Sacco’s hands prepare to write her story (Figure 4: Sacco, Palestine, 108-9)


Sacco. Palestine. 235-41.



(Figures 5 and 6, Sacco, Palestine, 113 and 235)

down in his journal (see fig. 6). The reader, occupying Sacco’s perspective in the room, forms the third point in a triangle of mediation with the two Palestinians, who both appear to be in mid-speech (although only the woman has a speech balloon, a convention which becomes significant later on). As the testimony proceeds, the reader is thrust into a Palestinian-authored narrative space broken only once when the woman pauses and the reader, once again seeing through the eyes of Sacco’s avatar, is presented with a wide wordless panel that evokes shared pain on the faces of the Palestinian family and Sameh (see fig. 7). At the end of her testimony, the convention accounting for translation is broken as the speech balloon passes from the woman to Sameh, who covers his face in grief as he finishes the story (see fig. 8). This reminds the reader of Sameh’s role as translator and of the fact that the entire testimony has been delivered in Sameh’s words. The reader knows, of course, that Sacco has ultimately mediated this story, but by foregrounding Sameh’s role as translator, Sacco complicates the conditions of mediation by presenting the circuitous path through which he received the story. Through Sameh, the woman’s testimony surpasses the personal and becomes co-authored by a community of Palestinians 25

in a dialogue of translation that yields a broader, communal narrative of colonial suffering. While the First Intifada did not undo the colonial structures through which Israel continues to suppress Palestine, Palestinian resistance was, and is, able to generate a national narrative. The First Intifada undoubtedly accomplished some of its goals, among them shedding critical international light on Israel and establishing a stronger political position from which to advocate for a two-state solution.24 Freedom from Israeli occupation is an important end-goal but we must also consider how resistance itself, regardless of its teleological goals, can be a generative process. In Palestine, the temporal components of comics assists Sacco in representing this subtler victory of the First Intifada: the productive nature of resistance as a process rather than just as a means to an end.

(Figures 7 and 8, Sacco, Palestine, 238 and 241) 24

Shlaim, Avi. The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World. (London: Penguin, 2000): 466.


For Frantz Fanon, a theorist and activist in the time of African decolonization, violence has revolutionary potential; his justification of violence helps us understand the basis upon which the First Intifada can be said to have brought about a self-authored Palestinian national narrative. Since colonialism brought “the native into existence” through the violence of objectification, Fanon suggests that decolonial violence is not only justified but necessary.25 “The ‘thing’ which has been colonized becomes man during the same process by which it frees itself,” thus restoring the colonized’s subjectivity, and destroying the colonial state, through violence.26 Here we see a twofold mission of decolonization, as theorized by Fanon: the goal of regaining political independence from the colonizer is paired with a subtler, but equally vital, goal of undoing the reifying discourse that produced the “native.” While Israel continues to control Palestinians and their territories through colonial occupation, Sacco’s depiction of resistance during the First Intifada suggests that the undoing of colonial dehumanization had, to some extent, begun to succeed in accordance to Fanon’s theorization. Many scenes of violence in Palestine pass without substantive commentary from Sacco or other voices. Yet near the end, when Sacco talks to Husein and Mohammed about the Intifada’s significance, the purpose of violence becomes explicitly linked to individuals’ expressions of personhood and of Palestinian national solidarity. The two young Palestinians explain how the Intifada was collectively empowering: “[Husein:] Before the Intifada we had the idea that Israel had all the power, that there was no way we could push them out. [Mohammed:] We were afraid of the soldiers, we felt they were like superman…but then we saw they were afraid of stones.”27 (Note the comics allusion in Mohammed’s “superman” simile, and how directly it ties to Said’s praise of Palestine.) Then, responding to Sacco’s question “Why do you throw stones? What good does it do?” Husein links the use of violence to an effort to counteract colonial dehumanization through the expression of subjectivity: “we know when we throw stones we don’t have much chance of injuring the soldiers…but there is something inside 25

Fanon, Frantz. “Selections from The Wretched of The Earth.” in The Nationalism Reader. Ed. Omar Dahbour and Micheline R. Ishay. (New York: Humanity, 2006): 275. 26 Ibid. 27 Sacco. Palestine. 195 (original ellipsis).


us…we have to show what is inside us.”28 Through this understanding of violence, Husein embodies Fanon’s argument that, “At the level of individuals, violence is a cleansing force. It frees the native from his inferiority complex and from his despair and inaction; it makes him fearless and restores his self-respect.”29 By presenting the expression of his subjectivity as a necessity— “we have to show what is inside us”—Husein exposes the Fanonian stakes of Palestine’s colonial occupation; without using methods of expression such as violence, Palestinians’ subjectivities and their national narrative risk being completely erased by Israel’s hegemonic project. Situating violence as a principle of decolonization that assists in re-inscribing the colonized’s subjectivity is but the more noticeable of two ways in which Sacco evokes the productive value of resistance as such; in order to examine the subtler way, we must first further theorize the act of reading comics, this time in relation to temporality. Hatfield’s claim, as discussed above, that the panel represents “a self-contained moment” misleadingly implies that a discrete comics image represents a single moment in time, and that comics temporality is only a function of the closure performed in the gutter.30 It is vital to unfold, drawing once again on McCloud, how reading comics involves producing time within, as well as between, panels. The assumption that the panel freezes time derives understandably from how “our eyes have been well-trained by the photograph … to see any single continuous image as a single instant in time;”31 but in comics, readers must “perceive time spatially” as a function of visual elements that denote and connote time passing.32 Speech balloons, for instance, denote time because we know that speech cannot be compressed into a single moment, even if the speakers are frozen on the page; panel size, on the other hand, can connote time as a rough function of the relative duration required for the eye to absorb the space of a given image. The important fact here is that the temporality of comics arises from what Chute refers to as the reader’s “visual performativity enacted on 28

Ibid. Fanon. Wretched of the Earth. 283. 30 Hatfield. “An Art of Tensions.” 140. 31 McCloud. Understanding Comics. 96. 32 Ibid. 100 29


the page.”33 Narrative, then, is generated from the reader’s collaboration with images in an ongoing process within and between those images that seem to denote a single moment in time but in fact do not. The special intersection between space, time, and reader in comics can offer a particularly revolutionary temporal experience that other mediums do not provide. In Infancy and History, political philosopher Giorgio Agamben argues that the West’s dominant concept of time—“a precise and homogeneous continuum”34 —has encumbered Marxism’s revolutionary capacity. When time is understood as a chain of discrete and identical instants, it weakens the Marxist concept of history: “[this concept of time] has become the hidden breach through which ideology has crept into the citadel of historical materialism.”35 Agamben describes this dominant concept of time as a phenomenon that, through the incessant negation of the past by the present and of the present by the future, subjects individuals to the incapacitating momentum of fleeting instants that pass, we think, without allowing us to perform historically substantive actions. The revolution must evade this principle if history is to be “not, as the dominant ideology would have it, man’s servitude to continuous linear time, but man’s liberation from it.”36 Agamben’s alternatives to the traditional Western conception of time escape the precision of fleeting moments in order to empower human action. The first of these alternatives is Gnostic temporality, which “posits a concept whose spatial model can be represented by a broken line [and] … strikes directly at what remains unaltered in classical Antiquity and Christianity alike: duration, precise and continuous time.”37 The other, Stoic temporality, “posits the liberating experience of time as something neither objective nor removed from our control, but springing from the actions and decisions of man.”38 Both of these alternative conceptions of time resemble the representation, and experience, of time in comics. Like Gnostic temporality, comics temporality is not represented in precise fleet33

Chute. “Graphic Narrative.” 408. Agamben, Giorgio. “Time and History: Critique of the Instant and the Continuum.” in Infancy and History: On the Destruction of Experience. (London: Verso, 2007): 99. 35 Ibid. 36 Ibid. 115. 37 Ibid. 110. 38 Ibid. 111. 34


ing moments but in the imprecise space of images that represent uncertain lengths of time. Like Stoic temporality, comics temporality is a function of “the actions and decisions” of the reader, and exists only insofar as closure is enacted on images. In this way, comics blurs the precise and fleeting “instant” so fetishized in the Western concept of time. In Palestine, the imprecise temporality of comics transforms frozen images of protesting Palestinians into scenes that connote a revolutionary temporality. Chapter 3 begins with a Palestinian demonstration against deportation (see fig. 9). The opening image is of several Palestinian women and children, frozen in mid-march through East Jerusalem. While this image appears to represent a single instant, the text conjures a longer, imprecise length of time. By anchoring temporal meaning to the image, the text tells the reader that these frozen women are “singing … chanting … marching right at us down the middle of the road … screaming at carloads of Israelis … pounding on hoods … jaywalking.”39 Through closure, this list of actions causes the reader to hear to the singing, see the marching and “pounding on hoods,” and therefore denotes time necessarily passing within the image of a single instant. A few images later, the protesters are given speech balloons saying “PLO! ISRAEL NO!” to further specify that, while the image seems to represent a single instant, time must be passing—how else could they chant in unison? (see fig. 10).40 In both cases, the reader intuits that time must be passing, but in neither case can duration be precisely or uniformly measured. By rendering time unquantifiable, this representational technique breaks the Western concept of time as discrete fleeting instants, and by requiring closure, time inevitably “[springs] from the actions and decisions” of the reader.41 Collaborating with Sacco by enacting closure on his images, the reader’s generation of narrative time resembles the way that Palestinians, through revolutionary actions like protests, author the national narrative that repels Israel’s hegemony. Like the reader, who creates narrative by resisting the Western concept of time, the Palestinians depicted in Palestine engage in a revolutionary process that produces a national narrative not primarily through their efforts to achieve concrete goals (such as a two39

Sacco. Palestine. 53. Ibid. 56. 41 Agamben. “Time and History.” 111. 40


state solution) but through the less precise process of resistance as such. Sacco employs the unique relationship in comics between reader, image, and temporality to evoke the value of resistance for Palestinians. Along with Sacco’s satirized autobiographical avatar and the creation of alternative narrative registers through layers of framing and mediation, this use of comics temporality is the third way in which Sacco uses the tools of the comics medium to show his Western audience what a self-authored Palestinian national narrative looks like.

(Figures 9 and 10, Sacco, Palestine, 53 and 56)

The collected edition of Palestine comes with an introduction by Edward Said titled “Homage to Joe Sacco,” which closes with the following remarks on the value of Sacco’s graphic narrative as a record of “history’s victims”: 31

Recall that most of the comics we read almost routinely conclude with someone’s victory, the triumph of good over evil, or the routing of the unjust by the just, or even the marriage of two young lovers. Superman’s villains get thrown out and we hear of and see them no more. Tarzan foils the plans of evil white men and they are shipped out of Africa in disgrace. Sacco’s Palestine is not at all like that. The people he lives among are history’s losers, banished to the fringes where they seem so despondently to loiter, without much hope or organization, except for their sheer indomitability, their mostly unspoken will to go on, and their willingness to cling to their story, to retell it, and to resist designs to sweep them away altogether. … [Sacco does not] try to provide solutions of the kind that have made such a mockery of the Oslo peace process. But his comics about Palestine furnish his readers with a long enough sojourn among a people whose suffering and unjust fate have been scanted for far too long and with too little humanitarian and political attention. Sacco’s art has the power to detain us, to keep us from impatiently wandering off in order to follow a catch-phrase or a lamentably predictable narrative of triumph and fulfillment, and this is perhaps the greatest of his achievements.42 I have argued that while Palestine does follow those “banished to the fringes where they seem so despondently to loiter,” it does not represent them as quite so hopelessly defeated as Said worries they have become. Sacco’s autobiographical avatar satirically disrupts his (and his audience’s) Western gaze in order to allow Palestinians to speak in the alternative narrative registers he constructs, and to present the national narrative they have forged, against the odds, through continuous resistance to Israel during the First Intifada. Palestinians may be “history’s losers,” but Sacco’s graphic narrative seems to emphasize how “their willingness to cling to their story, to retell it, and to resist designs to sweep them away” has not just prolonged a seemingly inevitable defeat but generated self-authored narratives around which the nation of Palestine continues to rally. Sometimes seeing their successes involves looking not for “predictable narrative[s] of triumph and defeat” but for the humbler triumph of resistance as such. Yet Said’s point 42

Said. “Homage to Joe Sacco.” v.


that Sacco does not “provide solutions” is an important closing reminder of the limitations of Sacco’s project of facilitating self-authored Palestinian nationhood. Where his facilitative project fails, Palestine constitutes a postcolonial critique that exposes some of the limitations that afflict all Western interventions—journalistic, literary, or otherwise—in Palestine.


Works Cited Agamben, Giorgio. “Time and History: Critique of the Instant and the Continuum.” in Infancy and History: On the Destruction of Experience. (London: Verso, 2007). Brister, Rose. “Sounding the Occupation: Joe Sacco’s Palestine and the Uses of Graphic Narrative for (Post)Colonial Critique.” Ariel 45, no. 1-2 (2014). Chute, Hillary. “Graphic Narrative.” Routledge Companion to Experimental Literature. Ed. Joe Bray, Alison Gibbons, and Brian McHale. (London: Routledge, 2012). Chute, Hillary. “History and the Visible in Joe Sacco.” Disaster Drawn. (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard UP, 2016). Eisenstein, Sergei. “A Dialectical Approach to Film Form.” Film Form: Essays on Film Theory. (New York: Harcourt, 1949). Fanon, Frantz. “Selections from The Wretched of The Earth.” in The Nationalism Reader. Ed. Omar Dahbour and Micheline R. Ishay. (New York: Humanity, 2006). Foucault, Michel. “What is an Author?” Language, Counter-Memory, Practice. Ed. Donald F. Bouchard. (New York: Cornell UP, 1977). Hatfield, Charles. “An Art of Tensions.” The Comics Studies Reader. Eds. Jeet Heer and Kent Worcester. (Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 2009). Kozol, Wendy. “Complicities of Witnessing in Joe Sacco’s Palestine.” Theoretical Perspectives on Human Rights and Literature. Ed. Elizabeth Swanson Goldberg and Alexandra Schultheis Moore. (New York: Routledge, 2012). McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. (New York: 34

William Morrow, 1993).

Nasrallah, Nami. “The First and Second Palestinian Intifadas.” in The Routledge Handbook on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict eds. David Newman and Joel Peters. (New York: Routledge, 2013). Sacco, Joe. Palestine. (Seattle: Fantagraphics Books, 2015). Said, Edward. “Homage to Joe Sacco.” Introduction in Palestine. By Joe Sacco. (Seattle: Fantagraphics, 2015). Said, Edward. “Permission to Narrate.” in The Edward Said Reader eds. Moustafa Bayoumi and Andrew Rubin. (New York: Vintage, 2000). Shlaim, Avi. The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World. (London: Penguin, 2000). Watson, Julia. “Autobiographical Disclosures and Genealogies of Desire in Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home.” in Graphic Subjects: Critical Essays on Autobiography and Graphic Novels. Ed. Michael A. Chaney. (Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 2011). Whitlock Gilllian. “Autographics: The Seeing ‘I’ of the Comics.” Modern


Modernism in South Asia The Works of Partha Mitter by Tenzing S Ukyab Lama


Introduction In his article “Article Title”, Partha Mitter approaches art history through a postcolonial perspective, exploring the influence of colonization in India and how it brought about Indian modernism, giving rise to Indian avant-garde artists who in turn shaped and modified Indian modernism into what it stands for today. In doing so, Mitter introduces two very important Indian avant-garde artists, Ganganendranath Tagore and Jamini Roy for their contribution to Indian Modernism. Mitter also discusses the need for a more inclusive western art standard that is more fair and heterogenous. This paper will focus on the criticism of minority art and art movements through the lens of Partha Mitter’s work, and will question authority and standardization of the art world through in the western perspective. Partha Mitter is a writer and historian of art and culture, specializing in the reaction towards Indian art in the West. Mitter has also researched and written books on modernity, art and identity in India, and more recently in global modernism. He studied history at London University and achieved his doctorate with art historian E. H. Gombrich. He began his career as Junior Research Fellow at Churchill College, Cambridge and Research Fellow at Clare Hall, Cambridge, and in 1974 he joined Sussex as a Lecturer in Indian History, retiring in 2002 as a Professor in Art History1. His publications include Much Maligned Monsters: History of European Reactions to Indian Art; Art and Nationalism in Colonial India 1850-1922: Occidental Orientations; and Indian Art; The Triumph of Modernism: India’s Artists and the Avant-Garde 1922-1947. Some of his other works consist of various articles, research and reaction papers such as his response to V. S. Ramachandran & W. Hirstein’s paper, “The Science of Art: A Neurological theory of aesthetic experience” and Bauhaus in Kalkutta,” which talks about the introductions of Bauhaus in Kalkutta, now Mumbai, India and the reaction to it. He also produced “Frameworks for Considering Cultural Exchange: The Case of India and America,” and “Decentering Modernism: Art History and Avant-Garde Art from the Periphery.”2 In understanding Mitter’s scholarship, it is important to note that 1 2

Partha Mitter. (n.d.). Retrieved October 25, 2016, from Ibid.


his generation was at the cusp of late colonization/decolonization in India, and thus he benefitted as a child from being educated in both Indian and Western ways. Mitter grew up with multiple heritages, being brought up in an Indian Bengali household which was favored by the British during colonization, giving them access to the Western perspective. Although Mitter had his roots in India, his parents were very cosmopolitan and exposed him to Western ideals of modernism. The dual culture he experienced during the colonial period provided young Mitter with an enriching and strong foundation towards his understanding of history and art, which he later benefitted from. When Mitter decided to get a doctorate degree he went to see E.H. Gombrich, with whom he had a seminal conversation, in regards to which Mitter states, “I still remember the conversation. He said: I find the ornate decoration of Hindu temples difficult to come to terms with; with your knowledge of two worlds [India and the West], perhaps you could answer that question for me. Thus, began a long relationship that ended in 2001, with his death.”3 Over the years, Mitter began researching more about the relationship between Centre and Periphery, as it was very clear that cultural presumptions generally acted as a substitute for objective knowledge of Hinduism. This continued even as late as the nineteenth century. Despite the impressive colonial archive on Indian art and religion, misrepresentation by the western academics was prevalent. Mitter, in an interview with art historian Keith Moxey, gave two such examples, one of which being Georg Hegel, who put forward his own exaggerations regarding the monstrous depictions of Indian gods, stating “particular shapes are drawn out into colossal and grotesque proportions in order that they may attain to universality as in figures with many heads, arms, and so on.”4 The other example he gave was of John Ruskin who lamented on the absence of nature in Indian art, stating “It is quite true that the art of India is delicate and refined. But it has one curious character distinguishing it from all other art of equal merit in design -- it never represents a natural fact it will not draw a man, but an 3

Keith Moxey, and Partha Mitter. “A “Virtual Cosmopolis”: Partha Mitter In Conversation with Keith Moxey.” Art Bulletin 95.3 (2013): 382. 4 Keith Moxey, and Partha Mitter. “A “Virtual Cosmopolis”: Partha Mitter In Conversation with Keith Moxey.” Art Bulletin 95.3 (2013): 387.


eight-armed monster.”5 Mitter felt the tensions between his own cynicism about the insistent Western misrepresentations of Indian art in art history, thus through the efforts of his supported research he wishes to restore the religious, social, and cultural contexts of Indian art. Mitter’s most recent research is focused on ‘Global Modernism and Its Discontents.’ In this research, he is concerned with the interface between the East and the West. He discusses the chaotic nature of cultural exchange that is a result of the fast-paced society we live in today, which leads to increasing globalization in culture. Mitter is concerned with how “the last two decades have witnessed serious soul searching among art historians about the future of the discipline faced with the collapse of earlier certainties and the demise of art history as a grand Hegelian narrative.”6 This has led to diversity in the global contemporary art, which in turn has given rise to uncertainties. Despite all this confusion, the dominance of the Western canon continues to create exclusions and inclusions and uneven relationships between center and periphery. Decentering Modernism        Art History and Avant-Garde Art from the Periphery (Summary) Partha Mitter emphasizes the very progressive disjunction between the huge diversity that we see in art forms and practices today, and the very lacking and narrow focus of canonical art histories. He touches on the sensitive topic of how non-western art still faces western resistance, and how up until today many of the non-western movements and art forms are owed more than they are given in the west considering their inherent worth.  Furthermore, he explains how Modernism is like an ‘unmarked case’ that exclusively stands for ‘western’ modernism. He highlights important views of ‘Modernism in India’ by confronting the persistent Western standards of art history, studying the relationship between the Centre and the Periphery, and addressing theoretical, methodological and institutional concerns.  Mitter questions how the borrowings of Picasso and other modernist artists from other cultures and traditions in no way compromised their 5

Keith Moxey, and Partha Mitter. “A “Virtual Cosmopolis”: Partha Mitter In Conversation with Keith Moxey.” Art Bulletin 95.3 (2013): 387. 6 Current Research – Partha Mitter. (n.d.). Retrieved October 25, 2016, from


cultural integrity as artists, while Indian cubist artists like Gaganendranath Tagore’s paintings were seen as ‘derivative’. Tagore, who was among the first Indian painters to adapt and embrace the revolutionary style of distortion seen in cubist paintings, was critiqued by William George Archer who published India and Modern Art, as derivative, imitative, secondary or belated. Archer conjectured that “such appropriations must be ‘absorbed in the bloodstream’ of that society to be a genuine item … Gaganendranath’s pictures where were actually no more than stylized illustrations…weak as art, but what was more important, they were un-Indian… Thus, his pictures, despite their modernistic manner, had an air of trivial irrelevance.”7 This critique of Tagore’s cubist works, per Archer, was that they were imbued with the ‘“visual language of a culture to which Tagore did not belong.”8 Mitter contrasts Tagore with Picasso, “whose use of African sources did not compromise his integrity as a European Artist” with Tagore, whose “use of Cubism resulted in a loss of self as an Indian.”9 Mitter calls this complex discourse of power and hierarchy which involves the study of the non-western avant-garde ‘The Picasso Manqué Syndrome’. The cultural misreading of Tagore in contrast with the idolization of Picasso illustrates how the West dominates the art field and sets the standards of ‘what is good art’ or ‘good taste in art’, but is flawed within this process as it creates barriers for non-western art and individual artists from reaching as high of a status as western artists are able to. Mitter then goes to talk about the importance of influence and the concept of ‘paradigm change’ hypothesized by Thomas Kuhn. Kuhn provides a convincing argument about how change is a result of adoption, where a chain of tradition bound periods are interrupted by revolutionary breaks or paradigm shifts. These breaks result in the system breakdown, which in turn gives way for new paradigms to emerge. These new paradigms challenge norms and disregard practices that no longer conform to their criteria. One example of this is the advent of academic naturalism during the colonial period in India. The first revolutionary break introduced new ideas and concepts to the privileged population in India, which led to 7

Partha Mitter. “Interventions: Decentering Modernism: Art History and Avant-Garde Art from the Periphery.” Art Bulletin 90, no. 4 (December 2008): 537. 8 Ibid. 9 Ibid.


the emergence of independent professional artists who could express themselves more freely through their art and were appreciated for their works, rather than the old patronage system where the royals and the elites commissioned artists for their labor, taking more credit as the patron of the work than the artists themselves. The second revolutionary break happened in the 1920s, and to Mitter the struggle between Indian academic artists and the perception of the false, oriental art forced its inception. The language of modernism, along with the rapid globalization of the world, offered Indian avant-garde a new visual means to challenge the already existing artistic paradigm that revolved more around natural representations. This gave rise to artists like Jamini Roy. Mitter makes a strong point in bringing up the example of miniature paintings in India, which have been a style of art very much appreciated in the Indian courts for centuries. Today, they are considered only a respectable middle rank world art form. There hasn’t been a change in artistic standards, the West still has the power and continues to set standards for various non-western art styles by placing them below Western art. Mitter mentions how “The center-periphery relation is not only one of geography but also of power and authority that implicates race, gender, and sexual orientation. Modernism created its own tacit exclusions and inclusions, instances of which are scattered throughout Art since 1900.”10 Mitter questions how it is possible to shift the center of gravity of the modernist discourse. He believes the first step would be to destabilize Vasarian concepts of the artistic center and periphery while making the term “art history” more flexible. The second would be using a more Hegelian approach and theory of artistic progress in understanding a culture which is non-western, where a formalist analysis or approach may result in misrepresentation. Mitter mentions other views that make valuable points in support of the inclusive concept, such as ‘visual culture’ by Keith Moxey, where the aspect of culture is expressed in visual images and John Clarks’ view on semiotic theory expressed by Umberto Eco, where Western modernism is a ‘closed system’ of discourse that does not want to add the new modern discourses that non-western regions have given rise to. To Umberto, the most 10

Partha Mitter. “Interventions: Decentering Modernism: Art History and Avant-Garde Art from the Periphery.” Art Bulletin 90, no. 4 (December 2008): 540.


exciting part of modernism around the globe is their ‘plurality’ ‘heterogeneity’ and ‘difference.,’ qualities that make it more unique, important and full of new possibilities. Further, for Mitter the most persuasive of all tools for shaking the hegemonic canon is the concept of ‘hybridity’. The emergence of multiple international cultural centers, along with the constant gradual local developments of cultural hybridization, is resulting in global migration which automatically generates instances of inclusion and exclusion. Mitter describes how “the theory of hybridity undoubtedly offers empowerment to the minorities of multiple heritages, who are marginalized by what are characterized as ‘insiders’ rooted in a culture.”11 During his interview with Keith Moxey in 2013, Mitter discusseshow hybridity is changing the balance of power, stating that, “Strikingly, for the first time, Latino, African-American, Asian votes had a decisive role in the United States’ presidential election that tipped the balance in Obama’s favor. The emerging geopolitics and the changing balance of power with the rise of the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) is having an obvious impact on the art market.”12 In response to that, I assert that with the result of 2016’s presidential election, we can see a very recent example of the struggle for a more inclusive equal society within the Western standards that are very hard to break into. The backlash of the west may come with more vigor, with the possibility of the Western standards both in art and politics taking stricter measures to avoid the decentering of modernism or politics. Cosmopolitan Primitivism Mitter believes having one grand globalizing narrative is not an effective method, and that multiple local study and concentrations hold more possibilities in contributing to the conception of modernity. He presents the example of his own concentration in the field of the rise of the avant-garde in India in the 1920s, allowing him to research and formulate concepts that address the interactions between global modernity, artistic style, and the 11

Partha Mitter. “Interventions: Decentering Modernism: Art History and Avant-Garde Art from the Periphery.” Art Bulletin 90, no. 4 (December 2008): 541. 12 Keith Moxey, and Partha Mitter. “A “Virtual Cosmopolis”: Partha Mitter In Conversation with Keith Moxey.” Art Bulletin 95.3 (2013): 384.


construction of the national identity of India under the colonizing British rule. Like Gombrich, Mitter argues that “it is important to analyze art practices and reception as a cultural document that is historically situated. One serious criticism of influence as an analytic tool is that it views artists as passive agents of transmission rather than active agents with the ability to exercise choice.”13 Mitter, makes this clear with the example of Calcutta, the British capital in colonized India. Calcutta, being an example of a hybrid metropolitan city, had a large number of Bengali inhabitants, who benefitted from the modernism that was introduced in Calcutta. The privileged Bengalis had access to western knowledge and perspective, and this coupled with their rising level of fluency gave rise to great poets such as Rabindranath Tagore and many more in the Indian literary phenomenon, which led to the Bengali renaissance. In Calcutta, “modernity, which followed European expansion in India, gave rise to a globally ‘imagined community’ based on print capitalism. This essentially hybrid city of imagination engendered affinities between the elites of the center and the periphery on the level of intellect and creativity.”14 This led the educated Bengalis making the choices as artists, writers, poets, etc. to form the first revolutionary break leading to the new paradigm of Indian Modernity.        Although the Bengalis benefitted from the new paradigm, the western canon and monopoly over art, eventually led to the second revolutionary break in 1920’s. This led to the emergence of the ‘primitivism’, where the search for ideology of Indian avant-garde artists like Jamini Roy to rural village areas in India, for inspiration to bring to his painting the simplicity and primitivism he wanted. Thus, primitivism as a critical form of modernity was the bridge that connected Eastern and Western cities of industrial capitalism, which resulted in the peripheries being affected as much as the West.         In his initial works, Roy depicted a series of moral contrasts between urban and the rural values, rural honesty being compared to urban 13

Partha Mitter. “Interventions: Decentering Modernism: Art History and Avant-Garde Art from the Periphery.” Art Bulletin 90, no. 4 (December 2008): 541. 14 Partha Mitter. “Interventions: Decentering Modernism: Art History and Avant-Garde Art from the Periphery.” Art Bulletin 90, no. 4 (December 2008): 542.


‘decadence.’ Through these works, Roy tried to restore the pre-colonial community that had been forgotten by the elite’s national consciousness during the British rule. His works tried to reach out to the cultural mythenriched folk-traditional roots, which had not yet been tarnished by the western influence. He “sought to restore the link between art and society, thereby repudiating artistic individualism and the ‘aura’ of work of art, the twin hallmarks of colonial art.”15 Mitter makes a fascinating connection in pointing out how Kandinsky too drew upon Russian folk paintings to play an important part in his works. When the formal aspects of their arts are put aside, a striking similarity is noticeable between Roy’s primitivism and that of Kandinsky and other abstract art.        Roy’s art was different from the Western primitivism in the sense that it used its primitivism as an effective weapon to fight against colonial culture and influence. By using a meaningless signature, Roy made a playful attempt to undercut what Walter Benjamin called the “aura of masterpiece”. He also turned his studio into a workshop and reproduced his works cheaply. He made it a point to deliberately mock the artistic individualistic notion of the West. In his analysis, Mitter makes clear Roy’s statement with these acts, describing how “modernism spread worldwide because of the West’s dominance and yet modernism’s radical message inspired non-Western regions to create their own art of resistance against the colonial order.”16 Mitter concludes this article by emphasizing that the Western avant-garde failed to notice the unique richness and creativity that artists of the peripheries were able to bring to existence. His argument supports the need to shift the center of gravity from the original Western discourse to a more heterogeneous and inclusive definition of global modernism. Critical Appraisals In response to Mitter’s “Decentering Modernism: Art History and Avant-Garde Art from the Periphery”, scholar Rebecca Brown acknowledges Mitter’s desire to push towards an inclusive standard within art, but 15

Partha Mitter. Art and Nationalism: The Case of India 1850-1947. (London: University of London. School of Oriental and African Studies, 1981) 179. 16 Partha Mitter. “Interventions: Decentering Modernism: Art History and AvantGarde Art from the Periphery.” Art Bulletin 90, no. 4 (December 2008): 544.


argues that this very inclusive theory or strategy necessarily seeks to undermine the very foundations of modern art, by which works of art from the periphery remain derivative. The insertion of Indian artists into the modern standards will not be a success, Brown believes, even if they are given their own chapter, place, book cover or their own coverage within the art history curriculum. The major problem that modernism will face is the inclusion of the various other multiple, local modernities to be studied as separate, such as the shape readings of modernity of Tibetan exiles in Darjeeling, or neo traditional Thai painters in Wimbledon, etc. What results is a deftly juggle in Modern history and its curriculum. As a solution, Brown suggests fitting non-western art into a framework distant from of modernity that it can be studied within. Brown further states that the production of modernity in India happened actively under the colonial rule and not in Europe. Terms such as ‘modernism’, ‘postmodernism’, ‘liberalism’, and ‘nationalism’ cannot be applied, as they to the confine meaning to relationship between the modern West and the rest of the world. She expands on how the inclusion of artists such as Gaganendranath Tagore and Jamini Roy to existing narrative of modern art would go horribly wrong, stating that “Inserting them in between discussions of Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso, to demonstrate […] similar visual cues but in different regions specificities [...only recapsulates the ‘derivative’ argument in a different form, revealing the normative hierarchies so crucial to the edifice of modern art.”17 She further elaborates by revealing the fact that this would attempt to disregard the modern altogether to construct a more accurate and organized global entity. Brown, takes a rational view and says that we should acknowledge the gap- which is the result of feeling ‘being behind’ or ‘catching up’ – which remains still today in the pursuit of modern art. Conclusion The argument that Mitter poses against the center and periphery is really fascinating since he provides and backs his claims with clear, direct examples and theories of other critics and historians prior to his work. Mit Rebecca M Brown. “Response: Provincializing Modernity: From Derivative to Foundational.” Art Bulletin, December 2008., 556. 17


ter uses these theories to build arguments, adding to them by suggesting possible ways to approach the problem at hand. In particular, his illumination of how even in the contemporary art market we see the exclusion of non-western art styles in the West, and that new styles continue to be written without inclusion, is compelling. Mitter gives the example of a recent standard history of world photography, in which “not a single Chinese, Indian, or African photographer features [...] not for instance the stunning photographs of Raghubir Singh, nor the elegant black and white studio portraits of the African photographer Seydou Keita, whose works could well compare with that of August Sander… Indian-Hungarian Amrita Sher-Gil.”18 In addition, his approach to and explanation of the paradigm shift are very well explained. He gives the examples of Tagore, whose work resulted from the first revolutionary break in India, as well as Jamini Roy, the emerging artist that was affected by the second revolutionary break. Both avant-garde artists brought a new perspective to my view of Indian modernism, which I never knew existed, until I came across Partha Mitters books and articles. I do believe that trying to completely shift the center from the West is a very difficult approach, and a more inclusive one would be the best, as Mitter suggests the act of reorganizing modern history is best approached by studying it from a distant modernism perspective. This does not alter the necessity of including non-western forms in the current standard of art and raising red flags against the Western canon even as it exists today, for its hierarchy of power and continued labelling of non-western art as inferior or derivative. Keeping solely a formalist label of non-western art, does not give it justice and only leads to misinterpretation. Considering Mitter’s scholarship, it is clear that the need is dire to reevaluate our standards of art criticism to incorporate new, inclusive standards devoid of bias.

Partha Mitter. “Interventions: Decentering Modernism: Art History and AvantGarde Art from the Periphery.” Art Bulletin 90, no. 4 (December 2008): 531. 18


Works Cited Brown, Rebecca M. “Response: Provincializing Modernity: From Derivative to Foundational.” Art Bulletin, December 2008. 555-557. Current Research – Partha Mitter. (n.d.). Retrieved October 25, 2016, http:// Dadi, Iftikhar. “The Triumph of Modernism: India’s Artists and the AvantGarde, 1922--1947.” Art Bulletin 90, no. 4 (December 2008): 652-654. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed October 24, 2016).    Mitter, Partha. Art and Nationalism: The Case of India 1850-1947. London: University of London. School of Oriental and African Studies, 1981. Mitter, Partha. “Interventions: Decentering Modernism: Art History and AvantGarde Art from the Periphery.” Art Bulletin 90, no. 4 (December 2008): 531-548. Mitter, Partha. (n.d.). Retrieved October 25, 2016, from http://parthamitter. com/ Mitter, Partha. The Triumph of Modernism: India’s Artists and the Avant-garde, 1922-1947. London: Reaktion Books, 2007. Moxey, Keith, and Partha Mitter. “A ‘Virtual Cosmopolis’: Partha Mitter In Conversation with Keith Moxey.” Art Bulletin 95.3 (2013): 381-392. Sinha, Ajay. “Response: Modernism in India: A Short History of a Blush.” Art Bulletin, December 2008. 561-568.


Left: Jamini Roy, Mother and Child Above: Roy, Untitled[Drummers]

Right: Gaganendranath Tagore, Temple Cubistic Above: Tagore, Swarnapuri Dwarka 48

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o Grotesquery and Violence as Purification in Devil on the Cross by Phoebe Colby


Devil on the Cross, written by Ngugi during his year of detainment in Kimathi Maximum Security Prison, depicts the layers of systemic violence and oppression by interweaving the political, cultural and physical in neo-colonial Kenya. By emphasizing the grotesque and locating it in the body, Ngugi presents disruptive assemblages of violence in colonial, neocolonial and anti-colonial categories. The usage of allegorical and hyperbolized characters and characteristics not only exposes the hypocrisy of the comprador class, but also serves to characterize the duality of violence. While the usage of bodily absurdity (invocation of the grotesque) is fairly minimal in Devil when compared to Ngugi’s other works such as Wizard of the Crow, its role in the portrayal of the neo-colonial regime is essential in understanding the liberating potentialities of Devil on the Cross. Through the protagonist of Warringa, the duality of violence – violence as oppression and violence as liberation – is depicted against a backdrop of absurdity, at once epidermalized and internalized by the body. Ngugi’s utilization of the grotesque exposes the hypocrisy of the neo-colonial regime, and space opens for the violent to embody a process of purification, in which the oppressed - the “revolutionary world” can emerge, liberated.1 Body as the Platform for the Grotesque In Devil on the Cross Ngugi exposes the grotesque - the reviling, the revolting, that which disrupts the reader - in the site of the body and its functions, of eating, of shit. In his 1989 book L’État en Afrique la politique du ventre, Bayart references this drive to consume in physical and political categories as “la politique du ventre” or “politics of the belly.” By centering the plight of absurdity in the bodies of oppressors - characters representative of the national bourgeoisie or of the comprador class - Ngugi uses tropes typically saddled to the colonized (by the West) to delineate the pervasion of exploitation by neo-colonial figures and structures. The body and its status as simultaneously functional and performative provides the ideal platform from which to induce a hypocrisy construction. In Devil on the Cross this is primarily seen in the character of Gitutu who has “a belly that protruded so far that it would have touched 1

Ngũgĩ wa Thiongʼo, Devil on the Cross (Essex, England: Heinemann Educational, 2017), 184.


the ground had it not been supported by the braces that held up his trousers.”2 In effect, As the first competitor at the Feast of Thieves, Gitutu introduces himself, saying “I have two mistresses, for you know the saying that he who keeps something extra in reserve never goes hungry and when a European gets old, he likes to eat veal.”3 Gitutu’s belly holds the excess he has “thieved” from Kenya and dominates even his own body as “his head had shrunk to the size of a fist.” It is no longer his head that determines his actions, but his belly, his hunger and his penis. The centrality of the body to the hunger for exploitation is apparent again in Warringa’s nightmare about the white Devil on the cross and his rescue by fattened, fattening compradors. This invocation of religiosity and exploitation by the elite depicts the grotesque under the new lens of sanctity and worship. Thereby absurdity becomes lodged not only in the body of the comprador class, but in the “body of Christ,” thereby invoking the physicality of religion. As Ngugi states in his essay Church, Culture and Politics, “the missionary preached the need to obey the powers that be. The saying ‘render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s’ was held-up to the African church-goers and schoolchildren. No matter how morally corrupt Caesar was, the African Christian was told to obey him.”4. In this light, Christianity is portrayed as a tool of the missionary-settler as accomplice to the colonial state. In Devil on the Cross, Christianity is no longer the tool of the settler, but of the neo-colonial elite, with their large bellies and dangling prostates, wearing token crosses on gold chains on what was once a neck.5 Warringa’s vision, with the Devil on the cross instead of Christ, depicts both the transference of exploitative power and the bastardization - hyperbolic absurdification - of the cross as place of sacrificial suffering to colonial tyranny, and subsequently symbol of corrupt distribution. Violence and the Grotesque The presence of realistic absurdity - absurdity that borders on the



4 5

Ngugi, Devil on the Cross, 99. Ibid. Ngugi Church 33 Ngugi, Devil on the Cross, 99.


literal but remains allegorical - in the Devil on the Cross interlocks with the presence of violence, juxtaposing the “normal” as bizarre and the disruptive as “realistic.” In Ngugi’s essay Mau Mau, Violence and Culture, violence - or “conflict”- is located on three planes: the cultural, economic and political.6 These depict the zones of damage and destruction induced under colonialism - and now, neo-colonialism -encompassing the systems level exploitation that reveal themselves in Devil on the Cross. These violent domains are evinced throughout Devil on the Cross along largely capitalist tributaries - the booming market of skin whitening creams, the feast’s proposals, the loss of land to those like boss Kihura - generally in realistic, if not realist, terms. By locating absurdity in the body, Ngugi points to both the metaphysical and physical realities of exploitation, of systemized violence along these localities. This can be seen most explicitly in the proposals for “theft and robbery” given at the Devil’s feast. Mwireri wa Mukiraai, explains the practicality of theft and modern robbery: “I, Mwireri wa Mukiraai, have studied thoroughly the system based on the theft of the sweat and blood of workers and peasants - what in English we call capitalism.”7 These levels of oppressive violence are localized, directly or indirectly, in the body – and more specifically, in the bodies of the oppressed, the bodies of the peasant, the worker and the woman. Violence as Sexual Orientation Devil on the Cross centers on a female protagonist, Warringa, who navigates the stark realities (absurdities) of neo-colonial Kenya with the reader as witness. From Warringa’s perspective the reader is exposed to the violent hypocrisies of the comprador class and the congealed leftovers of direct colonialism. Through her vision of the Devil on the cross, this is shown prophetically; the bodies of the compradors grow more and more grotesque as they worship the crucified Devil.8 Descent into the grotesque is centered there, at the foot of the cross, in the act of worship, the act of consuming. This trope – of worship and consumption – is repeated 8 6 7

Ngugi, 28. Ngugi, Devil on the Cross, 166. Ngugi, Devil on the Cross, 14.


throughout the text, specifically in the form of sexual violence – both physical and explicit (Warringa’s rape and subsequent pregnancy) - and in the rhetorics of consumption proliferated by the compradors. During the feast, the role of the women present – “whether they are mistresses or girlfriends”9 – is to participate in a fashion parade, to display the development of “culture” as well as the economic. Women are categorized as “cultural,” as objects for viewing. This becomes more explicit in the speech of Mwireri: “if you come across a white girl, take her; if you come across an Asian girl, take her; if you come across a beautiful girl called Readyto-Yield, take her.”10 Violence is centered on sex; the desire to “take” or to assault formulates the body along aggressive lines of acquisition. As protagonist, Warringa is the primary character that we, as readers, see as the site of sexualized violence. We are witnesses to the myriad forms of sexual assault and harassment Warringa faces over the course of the narrative, voyeuristic and complicit. When she describes her interaction with Boss Kihara, she does so in the third person, already detached, exacerbating both our sympathy and intrusion. The grotesque – the allegorical – makes this scene universal , nearly mythical in status. Similarly to absurdity being rooted in the body as depiction of exploitation, violence in the Devil is largely sexual; Warringa undergoes repeated harassment and more general discussions of exploitation fall into sexualized terms. Sex - its orientation and acquisition - undergird Ngugi’s three planes both physically (via non consensual exploitation) and rhetorically (in the dual consumption of food and the feminine body). Violence, Internalized This violence is also, ultimately, internalized: twice Warringa attempts to kill herself, and in both instances, she is saved at the last minute by unknown men. In accordance with Mbembe’s “necropolitics,” she is not afforded even that right - the right to dictate the terms of her own death.11 The pain of sexualized violence is two-fold; internalized as violence to the self and compounded by the surrounding loss of life and gratuitous death. This motif of loss is often represented metaphorically as a knife to


10 11

Ngugi, Devil on the Cross, 125. Ibid, 160. Mbembe


the belly - “as if her stomach had been cut to pieces with a razor blade.”12 This both harkens to “politics of the belly” in which actions are dictated by the need to feed and to sexualized violence via the act of penetration. This imagery associating knife wound with loss is used for others as well: “But remembering the loss he had already incurred over the petrol, Mwaura felt as if a sharp knife were being driven into him.”13 Here, the knife violently enters the body and changes its physicality, becoming internalized into its superstructure via penetration. Violence is saddled with sexuality - or vice versa - both implicitly (metaphorically) and explicitly. From Warringa’s rape by the Old Rich Man to the fondling she receives in the auto shop, sexual violence is a constant reality, and is depicted as such against a backdrop of grotesque absurdity. Violence and Liberation While the depiction of violence in Devil on the Cross is myriad in form, violence appears as, at root sexualized and capitalist modes of exploitation. The depiction of violence in Devil on the Cross, as analysed above, appears as sexualized and capitalist modes of exploitation at root. This, however, presents only one side of the coin; flipped on its head, the coin depicts violence against neo-colonial tyranny, against the (neo)colonizer. Against the backdrop of the absurdly vile and the realities of exploitation, Ngugi draws forth a new form of violence; violence as liberation, even purification. This follows a Fanonian conception of physical violence as necessary to revolution; violent action not only rids the oppressed from the oppressor by ejecting them from the land, but also on cultural and even psychological levels.14 Ngugi further emphasizes: “in order to change an intolerable, unjust social order is not savagery: it purifies man.”15 In Devil on the Cross this phenomenon - violence as purification - is shown primarily through Warringa. The development of her character follows the progression from violence as injustice to violence as resurrection; her transformation from “weak” and pitiful to strong and “self-reliant” is culminated in the final scene, when she shoots and kills the Rich Old 14 15 12 13

Ngugi, Devil on the Cross, 141 Ngugi, Devil on the Cross, 34. Frantz Fanon, Ngugi, Devil on the Cross, 28.


Man, her rapist and her fiancé’s father.16 Ogude, in his essay Allegory and the Grotesque Image of the Body posits Warringa as the perennial victim-turnedvictim, capable of continuous rejuvenation, as is a cockroach. Locating the “spectre” of her person singularly in suffering, in the cadence of pain and rejuvenation, not in liberation. Ogude confines the allegory to fate - Warringa is “destined”17 to follow the path of Manichean fluctuation between reactionism against the oppressor and the consequences thereof. In this flux, “the plot points to the unresolved tragic conflict between the victim type and the exploiter type”18 as it is Warringa shouldering the pain and suffering of injustice. While this reading does speak to the allegorical depiction of her character as idealized “mother Africa,” beautiful, raped, abused but nonetheless sanctified, it ultimately does not address the question of violence, failing to visualize the possibility of liberation in the process. Over the course of the novel, Warringa progresses from “insistent self-doubt and crushing self-pity”19 to a “heroine of toil”20 - the changes take place not only internally in psyche but externally in appearance, as she stops using whitening cream and hair straightening. It is through toil, and then through “struggle”21 that Warringa is released from the flux of oppression, her body “purified” in the righteous toil, the righteous fight against neocolonial barbarity. Violence and Purification of the Grotesque In the culminating scene, the murder of the Old Rich Man from Ngorika, Warringa’s violence is not simply a reactionary act of desperation, as suggested by Ogude; it is the possibility of a new path, a new world, “a revolutionary world.”22 The supposed Devil asks Warringa “it becomes violence only when a poor man demands the return of his eye 18 19 20 21 22 16 17

Ibid, 216. Ogude 88 Ibid. Ngugi, Devil on the Cross, 12. Ibid, 217. Ibid. Ngugi, Devil on the Cross, 184.


or tooth?”23, dismissing the Christian ideal of “turning the other cheek,” the Devil proposes revenge, freedom from the “slavery imposed by [the men who preyed on you].”24 In the final chapter, Warringa has not only toiled virtuously and stopped her cycle of internalized violence, but takes revenge on her oppressor, naming him as grotesque even as she kills him: “There kneels a jigger, a louse, a weevil, a flea, a bedbug! He is mistletoe, a parasite that lives on the trees of other people’s lives.”25 Through violence, the grotesque is laid bare and is defeated. Warringa then shoots out the kneecaps of Kihaahu and Gitutu as she remembers the violence wrought against Wangari and Muturi – “the people who had roused her from mental slavery.”26 Wangari, the Mau Mau warrior; Muturi the tireless worker – both representative, in their own right, of the struggle for liberation. Like the Mau Mau uprising, whose violence “was anti-injustice,”27 Warringa uses her physicality, once exploited, to return the site of damage to the oppressor. Although Warringa’s identity and role remains lodged in her body as able and beautiful (able to pleasure, to toil, and finally, to fight) her aesthetic descriptions transform over the course of the novel from that of a disfiguring grotesque to “the black beauty”28 of the final chapters. This demonstrates visually The interplay of the absurd and the violent in Ngugi’s Devil on the Cross serves to centralize the body as both site of exploitation and of potential liberation, ultimately opening up the possibility of purification via toil and struggle. This is depicted primarily through the use of the character Warringa as allegory, who at first refuses the call of the devil but eventually seeks revenge for violence done to her body. The destruction of the grotesque, within herself and in the characters of Gitutu, Kihaahu, and the Old Rich Man, leaves open the continued struggle for liberation while still leaving inaction and ambiguity in its wake. The centrality of the body to this text acts in duality; its allegorical representation exacerbates readily known stereotypes (heroine as beautiful, able-bodied) while simul23 Ibid, 191. 24 Ibid. 25




Ngugi, Devil on the Cross, 254. Ibid. Ngugi, Mau-Mau, 29. Ngugi, Devil on the Cross, 218


taneously suggesting the Fanonian phenomena of violence as purification. Is this truly possible – can violence really be the answer, as a disruption of hegemony, as a disorienting assemblage of the body as consumer and consumed – injured, limping from violence - but also a weapon for liberation, purification? Once violence is wrought, can the oppressed walk away head held high, whole and healed? Of course, these questions are specific – to Kenya, to Warringa, , to the prison of Ngugi’s detainment, to Gikuyu. But do these questions apply more broadly as well? Do they apply to us? In the words of Ngugi himself, “This may also mean the act of reading becoming also a process of self-examination.”29

Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Globalectics: Theory and the Politics of Knowing (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014), 61. 29


Works Cited Bayart, Jean-François. L’État en Afrique la Politique du Ventre. Paris: Fayard, 1989. Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth, translated by Richard Philcox. New York: Grove Press, 2011. Mbembé, J-A. & Meintjes, L. “Necropolitics.” Public Culture 15 no. 1 (2003): 11- 40. Ogude, James A. “Allegory and the Grotesque Image of the Body: Ngugi’s Portrayal of Depraved Characters in Devil on the Cross.” World Literature Written in English 36. No. 2 (1997): 77-91. Routledge. Thiong’o, Ngugi Wa. Globalectics: Theory and the Politics of Knowing. New York: Columbia University Press, 2014. Thiongʼo, Ngũgĩ Wa. Homecoming: Essays on African and Caribbean Literature, Culture and Politics, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o (James Ngugi). London: Heinemann, 1972. Thiongʼo, Ngũgĩ Wa. Devil on the Cross. Essex, England: Heinemann Educa tional, 2017.


“The World is Watching” Facebook Live-Streaming and Resistance at Standing Rock Mars Zaslavsky


On February 16th, 2016 a Bustle article appeared on my Facebook newsfeed, entitled “DAPL Lawyer Lauren Regan Explains Why Social Media Is So Critical To The Protests.” Its first line read: “The ability to communicate through live-streams has enabled a brand new generation of information sharing,”1 and we can “see that in the ways social media has mobilized Standing Rock protesters”2. On July 25, 2016, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved the portion of the Dakota Access Pipeline route that crosses the Missouri River at the Lake Oahe reservoir3. Snaking through Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota - home to Dakota and Lakota people of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe - all the way into the state of Iowa, the pipeline would not only travel through stolen Sioux land but would potentially poison Standing Rock’s water supply4. Such a material threat prompted many Indigenous communities and nations, along with thousands of settler “allies”, to gather and set up encampments. Their presence asserted the obvious - “mni wiconi,” Lakota for “water is life”5. On April 1st, 2016, Sacred Stone Camp was established to protect the water. The Oceti Sakowin Camp, another encampment, was ultimately evicted February 23rd, 2017 marshaled by an “extremely large police presence” according to Facebook post made by Dallas Goldtooth (Mdewakanton Dakota & Dińe)6, a campaign organizer with the Indig 1

Bronwyn Isaac, “Why Social Media Is Critical For DAPL,” Bustle, February 22, 2018, n.p. 2 Ibid. 3 Rebecca Hersher, “Key Moments In The Dakota Access Pipeline Fight,” NPR, February 22, 2017, 4 “Dakota Access Pipeline spilled 84 gallons of oil in South Dakota,” CNBC, May 11, 2017, 5 Pat Nabong and June Leffler, “NoDAPL supporters chant ‘Mni wiconi’ and it’s not just about water,” Medill News Service, December 7, 2016, http://news.medill. -supporters-chant-mni-wiconi-and-its-not-just-aboutwater/. 6 “Dallas Goldtooth.” The Guardian. January, 2015, n.p.


enous Environmental Network7. At the time, multiple live-streams were proliferating across my Facebook page. Each one was accompanied by an overflowing comment section where disparate populations commented feverishly: “The World Is Watching”8. Informational articles in dialogue with one another, as well as lists of items and resources needed by water protectors and links to crowdfunding campaigns, popped up on my feed almost every day at the height of the protests. As such, the technologies and techniques collectively understood as a “social movement media culture”9 that manifested at Standing Rock are germane to the current historic-political moment, and the event continues to unfold and transform as we speak. I intend to explore the particularities, or “affordances”10 , of Facebook video live-streaming as an emerging technology in the context of modern protest and on the ground resistance, specifically in its deployment by Indigenous11 and non-Indigenous water protectors at Standing Rock Indian Reservation in response to the illegal construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. I will be centering particular videos from certain Facebook accounts as the primary documents of my analysis, such as videos posted on Facebook by Indigenous Rising Media, “an indigenous-led media collective launched by the Indigenous Environmental Network” according to their Facebook page, in addition to the live-streaming updates of Dallas Goldtooth. In order to understand and illustrate the live-stream’s magnitude, I will first outline a very brief history of video technology’s signifi Dallas Goldooth, “#NoDAPL UPDATE 3pm 2/22,” Facebook, accessed April 15, 2017, posts/10106373380176843. 8 “At Standing Rock, ‘the World Is Watching’.” The Gazette, December 3, 2016, n.p. 9 Sasha Costanza-Chock,”Mic Check! Media Cultures and the Occupy Movement,” Social Movement Studies 11, no. 3-4 (2012): 375 10 Jenny Davis. “Theorizing Affordances,” Cyborgology, accessed March 18, 2018, 11 I am choosing to capitalize the word Indigenous in order to center the “leadership, authority and truths of the people I’m writing about.” See Alex Kapitan, “Ask a Radical Copyeditor: Black with a Capital ‘B’” Radical Copy Editor, accessed March 21, 2018, 7


cance in regards to witnessing and testimony, allowing me to locate its role in present day activism. To construct my analysis, I will build off of Affordance theory, which will enable me to elaborate on the affective potential of Facebook video live-streaming. I will engage with scholar J. Kēhaulani Kauanui’s text “‘A Structure, Not an Event’: Settler Colonialism and Enduring Indigeneity,” which critiques Patrick Wolfe’s settler-colonial analytic, in order to grasp the nuances of live-streaming at Standing Rock and provide a history of colonialism and repression that characterizes and contextualizes the current political moment. The intensification of affect enabled by the “parallax effect” and the affective connotations of sousveillance will additionally inform my analysis of live-streaming as a mobilizing tool of protest, as they facilitate the “acting in concert [which] can be an embodied form of calling into question the inchoate and powerful dimensions of reigning notions of the political”12. Truth as Witnessing, Witnessing as Truth Scholar and ethnographer Maple John Razsa’s work Beyond Riot Porn: Protest Video and the Production of Unruly Subjects seeks to examine the “political implications of the activist embrace of digital video”13. Within this statement lies the assertion that video as a medium is especially valorized within activist communities. He delineates several reasons for the centrality of the medium of video in technologies of social collectivities, including the realist interpretations of the medium; this points to “the belief that video is uniquely suited to forms of truth telling such as witnessing, documenting and reporting because seeing is believing”14. Razsa’s claim here is informed by Megan McLagan’s elaboration on the “Christian ideology of ‘witnessing’”, which produces “the belief in transformative experience and presence as a stimulus to political action” and positions “testimony [as] a deeply persuasive cultural form that Judith Butler, Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly, Volume 1 (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2015) 13 Maple John Razsa, “Beyond ‘Riot Porn’: Protest Video and the Production of Unruly Subjects.” Ethnos 79, no. 4 (2014): 496. 14 Ibid., 497. 12


animates and moves Western sensibilities”15. We can trace the linkages of media, testimony and the act of witnessing in the West to the Holocaust, a moment in history so atrocious, so unbearable that it simultaneously foreclosed the possibility of witnessing - as those who lived it could not have survived, and those who knew of it only had a fragmented understanding of the atrocities committed - and made witnessing that much more urgent and imperative. To “bear witness, the survivor has to reestablish an inner witness and build a discourse with an interlocutor”16. In order for an objective “truth” to be established through the memories, trauma, and deeply embodied knowledge of a speaker, there is need for a mediating agent to interpret and validate the legitimacy of the claim. As the testimonies of survivors of the Holocaust gradually began being recorded, “video cameras effectively constituted a technological surrogate for an audience of the witnessing process underway”17. So why specifically the medium of video? John Durham Peters suggests that “the cultural authority of mechanical recording lies in the claim to document events without the filter of subjective experience.”18. However, this “cultural authority” is built upon the manner in which mechanical recording substitutes its subjective, and therefore mediatory, aspect with the objective authority it saps from the indexical nature of such recordings. With the advent of live video broadcasting, the temporal distance between spectator and event begins to close in on itself. Thus, a curious mental slippage occurs - one could ostensibly have “been there” at the time of a historico-political event, but “being there” could now mean having watched that event transpire in real time on a mobile screen. With the temporal gap eliminated, there still remains the problem of space in the quest for “truth” and objectivity. Still, “[t]o bear witness is to put one’s Meg Mclagan, “Principles, Publicity, and Politics: Notes on Human Rights Media.” American Anthropologist 105, no. 3 (2003): 607. 16 Paul Frosh, and Amit Pinchevski, “Introduction.” Media Witnessing (2009): 3. 17 Frosh, Witnessing, 4. 18 John Durham Peters. “Witnessing,” in Media Witnessing: Testimony in the Age of Mass Communication, edited by P. Frosh and A. Pinchevski. (Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2009), 39. 15


body on the line”19 - to have intimately known and experienced an event is to carry an embodied knowledge of it. We know something has happened to us because we have felt it; we have registered it with our senses. In the case of testimonies of survivors of traumatic events, “pain [...] is the midwife of authenticity.”20 Testimony and witnessing thus acquired a “bodily basis,”21 which can be identified in Razsa’s text when he writes that “activists sought out, watched repeatedly, even valorized, unruly and insubordinate bodies, especially those confronting state violence.”22 “Liveness serves as an assurance of access to truth and authenticity”23 to compensate for the spatial gap. It is then politically useful, when seeking to persuade someone of the oppression of others, to offer a visually recorded presentation of the experiences of violence. Razsa concludes that “activists came to use video images, in other words, as a kind of ‘affective pedagogy’ to facilitate emotional relationships with activists elsewhere, to steel themselves for physical confrontation and to cultivate new desires and therefore new political subjects.”24 Emergence of Facebook Live-Streaming On April 6th, 2016, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg posted a Facebook status announcing that “Today [they were] launching Facebook Live for everyone -- to make it easier to create, share and discover live videos”. In his post, Zuckerberg included a nod to the live feature’s forefathers, the television broadcast, stating that “Live is like having a TV camera in your pocket”. Such a claim resonates with discourses around the figure of the “embedded” or “citizen” journalist, “dormant potential journalists ready for ‘activation’ when events (and an internalized sense of newsworthiness) require.”25 In essence, “Facebook Live” enables any user 19 John Durham Peters. “Witnessing,” in Media Witnessing: Testimony in the Age of Mass Communication, edited by P. Frosh and A. Pinchevski. (Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2009), 30. 20 Ibid. 21 Ibid, 29. 22 Razsa, “Protest Video,” 496. 23 Peters, “Witnessing,” 36. 24 Razsa, “Protest Video,” 497. 25 Frosh, Witnessing, 2.


to live-stream what is happening to them and around them. Since its inception, Facebook Live has taken on an unmistakably political connotation in mainstream public discourse. It has inherited a political legacy, as live-streaming as an activist tactic existed before then, thanks to the increased accessibility of cell phone technology. Jackie Zammuto, senior engagement coordinator of Witness, an international nonprofit that supports live-streaming for global social action, identifies the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street as watersheds for live-streaming.26 An article penned by Adrian Chen, published by the Daily Intelligencer, pinpoints the protests in Ferguson, Missouri following the murder of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson, to be another landmark instance. In the case of Facebook Live, it has been used to document state and police violence inflicted on Black individuals, as in the case of the murders of Korryn Gaines and Philando Castile (Stelter)27; and it has been a major source of information on the resistance of the illegal construction of the North Dakota Access Pipeline, as well as the primary vehicle for its circulation. Rose Aguilar, a correspondent for 48 Hills, writes about “a clear sense of frustration with the lack of coverage in the national media and the violent police response,”28 but that “thanks to Facebook Live, Native Ameri Lexi Pandell, “How Livestreaming Is Transforming Activism Around the World,” Wired, November 16 2016, 27 There is far too much evidence of the collusion between state and digital platforms, especially in perpetuating anti-Black violence. However, as this paper focuses on the resistance of Indigenous communities, I will not be exploring how non-Indigenous groups are surveilled. I do not want to make a monolith out of oppression, nor flatten and conflate how different communities and groups experience state violence. For more information on the manner in which social media has corroborated with structural oppression, see Tom Cleary, “Korryn Gaines Full Instagram Videos From Traffic Stop & Standoff”, August 2, 2016, korryn-gainesinstagram-videos-full-before-shooting-with-son-police-traffic-stop-shotgun-shesyourmajesty/; Abdullah Gondal, “Due to legal requirements in your country, we have restricted access to your profile on Facebook,” Facebook Post, March 14, 2016, https://www. 228957&id=100006615126777; Simone Brown, Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015) 28 Rose Aguilar, “Live from Standing Rock: Repression and Injustice on the Protest Lines,” 48 Hills, November 1, 2016. 26


cans like Indigenous Environmental Network organizer Dallas Goldtooth and writer Sarah Sunshine Manning are telling their own stories from or near the front lines in real time.” But as Emily Dreyfuss presciently notes in her article for Wired, “If social media and live streaming enabled the Standing Rock Sioux to amplify their protest for clean water, its speed and ceaseless flow also allowed the world to forget about them.”29 One such major source of live-streams was the Facebook page of Indigenous Rising Media, an indigenous-led media collective launched by the Indigenous Environmental Network. On November 20th, 2016, Indigenous Media Rising live-streamed the barricade on Highway 1806. Though the video is now archived on their page, one can still read “Indigenous Rising Media was live” above the video (see Appendix A, figure 1). The live-stream is 18 minutes long, shot in the middle of the night by a member of the collective. The disembodied voice behind the camera narrates. At a distance, the tear gassing, shooting of rubber bullets and water cannon hosing perpetrated by the Morton County police against water protectors is difficult to see, but is unequivocally heard. The video is blurry, a massive flood light illuminating the silhouettes of about 300 people, an estimation stated by the narrating voice. The person behind the camera notifies us that about 50 people have been injured so far, and requests viewers to share this video. Screaming and yelling can be made it out, and the stream lags every now and then - one commenter speculates that this is due to signal interference by the state (See Appendix A, figure 2). Comments on the live-stream are accompanied by a timestamp denoting the particular moment during the live-stream at which the comment was posted by a user. The video reached 63 thousand views, was shared 3,236 times, and accrued 1,126 comments. Though I cannot see it now as it is no longer live, if one were to click “like” or “react” to the live-stream by clicking on an “angry face” emoticon, a corresponding emoticon would flow across the screen. With so many people watching, a cacophonous flood of reactions is unchained as they travel across the screen in concert. Indigenous Rising Media posted 32 live streams over the course of two particularly violent weeks in November. On February 1st, 2017, alternative media source The Daily Haze published an aggregate Emily Dreyfuss, “Social Media Made the World Care About Standing Rock-And Helped It Forget,” Wired, January 24, 2017. 29


of live-streams on their website.30 Unicorn Riot, an independent media source, uploaded multiple live updates onto their page on ( Live-streaming played a fundamental role in illuminating the state sanctioned violence occurring at Standing Rock. More specifically, how? Juxtaposing live-streams with more traditional, mainstream media content provides insight as to why live-streaming became such a prominent feature of resistance. In the words of Tristan Ahtone, journalist and member of the Kiowa tribe of Oklahoma, “it took nearly five months for mainstream outlets to recognize that a few thousand Native Americans physically resisting the construction of an oil pipeline was newsworthy.” Ahtone states that, “when the mainstream media finally showed up en masse, the scene at the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) played out like a revisionist western movie,” reducing Indigenous individuals to Hollywoodesque stereotypes and narratives.31 According to a timeline published by Fusion, a multi-platform media network, the pipeline “received a green light” in January 2016 – “Standing Rock in the National Spotlight” occurred several months later, in September 2016. Conversely, social media does not wait for mainstream media to appear on the scene and embraces user-generated content, thereby enabling the rapid dissemination of personal information. Better yet, “a live-stream is limited by what the streamer can physically access in real time, and so the most compelling streams are often produced by sympathetic participants, rather than outside journalists”32. Born out of necessity, the use of live-streaming by Indigenous water protectors has actually amplified and centred indigenous voices within the media frenzy. Nonetheless, the sharing of information through seemingly informal channels was reflective of the structural colonial violence of invisibility and erasure, and mainstream media’s complicity in it. This structural control partially explains the usage 30 Meko Haze, “All Eyes on Standing Rock: A List of Livestreamers in the Area,” The Daily Haze, February 1, 2017. 31 Tristan Ahtone, “How Media Did and Did Not Report on Standing Rock,” Al Jazeera English, December 14, 2016. For more discussion of such tropification, and the manner in which cultural forms have supported settler colonial projects, see Thomas King, The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America (Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2012), particularly the chapter “The End of the Trail.” 32 Chen, “Is Livestreaming the Future?” Daily Intelligencer.


of non-traditional and spontaneous media platforms like live-streaming. “Liveness” and Affect But why specifically Facebook live-streaming? And what have we seen it do, what has it brought into being, if anything? As many scholars struggle to parse out the nuances of the witnessing of distant suffering and its potential outcomes, Susan Sontag notes that when responding to the pain of others, “compassion is an unstable emotion. It needs to be translated into action, or it withers.”33 Indigenous Rising Media could very well have recorded videos and uploaded them later, with proper editing. However, the immediacy conveyed through the live-stream can be understood as a simultaneously strategic and affective choice in its propelling of witnesses towards action. In her exploration of the political potential of documentary filmmaking, Jane Gaines is “concerned with the question of what it might be that moves viewers to want to act, that moves them to do something instead of nothing in relation to the political situation illustrated on the screen.”34 “The whole rationale behind documenting political battles on film, as opposed to producing written records,” for Gaines, “is to make struggle visceral, to go beyond the abstractly intellectual to produce a bodily swelling.”35 Gaines terms this bodily swelling, the compulsion to act generated by the relationship between the body on the screen and the body in the audience as “political mimesis”, claiming that “this kind of spontaneous reaction” is a “sign of the politicized body.”36 Bolstered by the newly afforded “liveness” of Facebook video, these video live-streams carried with them an affective, propulsive, mimetic power as they were shared thousands of times cross Facebook. The capacity for rapid sharing on Facebook allows for instantaneous mass circulation of live-streams; I remember my newsfeed being saturated with them, in addition to articles and links to crowd-funding campaigns. After watching the November 20th live-stream, I shared a link to the Sacred Stone Legal Defense Fund, thinking it was the most I could do as someone so far away Susan Sontag, “Regarding the Pain of Others.” New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2003. 34 Jane Gaines, “Political Mimesis,” Collecting Visible Evidence 6 (1999): 90. 35 Jane Gaines, “Political Mimesis,” 91. 36 Ibid, 90. 33


from North Dakota. Solidarity events were held in multiple cities, including Toronto and Montreal. Still, it is important to note that Facebook and live-streaming are not the only elements at play in the incitement to political action - I write this as a white settler, with no connection to the land I live on, and I recognize that people are propelled to assemble by myriad forces and factors. Nonetheless, I believe the sheer magnitude of views and shares the live-stream videos received gestures to the affective potential of live-streaming as a uniquely mobilizing political force. Paolo Gerbaudo’s discussion of the affective, embodied potential of online communication in Tweets and the Streets: Social Media and Contemporary Activism falls in line with my argument, and effectively contradicts the rhetoric of “slacktivism,” whose proponents I assume would view viewers’ engagement with and sharing of live-streams quite pessimistically. However, Gerbaudo does not shy away from grappling with the passivity afforded by social media clicks and shares. He demonstrates through his case studies that the power of social media lies distinctly in its ability to catalyze the “emotional condensation of people,”37 the gathering of thousands in the public spaces, such as Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Yet, what happens when live-streaming lags? What happens when the stream is interrupted, when our rapturous attention breaks when the screen alerts us, rather apologetically, that it is buffering? And what happens if we mute the live-stream, or simply scroll past it? Facebook live offers a realness, a “liveness” that can compel us towards action, but its ruptures, its glitchiness, also reveal its insidious capacity to lull us into a sense of complacency and complicity. Curiously, Frosh and Pinchevski argue that the “explosive spatial and temporal extension [of live-time broadcasting] means that television viewers are always already interpellated by the event as its witnesses in ways that those physically present at the horror of ground zero are not and cannot be.”38 However, the implication in the above statement that “the concept of distance is most important as it implies a neutrality and objectivity,” principles that are in turn required for the production of “true” narratives, relies on Western epistemological notions which are steeped in Paolo Gerbaudo. Tweets and the Streets: Social Media and Contemporary Activism. (London: Pluto Press, 2012) 65. 38 Frosh, Witnessing, 8. 37


a colonial history.39 In writing this paper I am benefiting from, and basing my analysis upon, the subjective experiences of Indigenous people who were on the ground, and in speaking of the “liveness” of video streaming, I have attempted to center their experiences of resisting state violence in order to make this “liveness” accessible to viewers. However, “Live’ coverage of global sorrow is ethically recalcitrant: because it is fact, we are not protected by the theater’s ‘teleological suspension of the ethical’ because it is spatially remote, our duty to action is unclear. We find ourselves in the position of spectators at a drama without the relief of knowing that the suffering is unreal.40 Employing Affordance theory can help further tease out some of the particularities of Facebook Live. Davis defines “[a]ffordances [as] the specifications of a technology which guide—but do not determine—[its] human users.”41 Scholars Peter Nagy and Gina Neff caution that the specificity of the term has been diluted by its varied usage. “Affordances have provided a kind of middle ground between technological determinism and social construction” in conceptualizing the relationship between user and technology, but its employment often devolves into deterministic arguments.42 Rather, “affordances can reveal how to think about ‘who has the power to define how technologies should be used’ and the dominant, negotiated, and oppositional positions in relation to them.”43 Within an analysis of Facebook Live videos, it is essential to bear in mind that though users generate the content, Facebook, the corporation, is always present in the backdrop of such productions. As with any other video on Facebook, live-streaming appears as a part of the larger Linda Tuhiwai Smith , “Research Through Imperial Eyes,” in Decolonizing Methodologies, Research and Indigenous Peoples (London: Zed Books Limited, 1999) 65. 40 Peters, “Witnessing,” 39. 41 Davis, “Affordances.” 42 Peter Nagy, and Gina Neff, “Imagined Affordance: Reconstructing a Keyword for Communication Theory,” Social Media + Society 1 no.2 (2015): 2. 43 Ibid, 4. 39


Facebook news feed; interestingly enough, “more than half of Facebook users are not aware that their Facebook News Feed is structured by an algorithm.”44 As such, a live-stream may never even show up in someone’s news feed. Alternatively, the live-stream’s inherently relational character, for it is intended to be (as Facebook Live describes itself) “a fun, powerful way to connect with your followers and create new ones along the way,” virtually necessitates its sharing. A live-stream can then presumably appear in someone’s feed more than once, thus augmenting its own memorability and asserting its presence. Nevertheless, one could still scroll right past the video. However, it should be noted that live-streams, and regular videos, have been newly programmed to play automatically; this potentially increases the likelihood of catching a viewer’s attention. Conversely, a user could be fed up with auto-playing videos on their feed and instantly tune out by scrolling on. The floating “reaction emoticon” is an especially striking facet of Facebook live, and a significant conduit for affect. The reaction feature was introduced to enable users to express more nuanced or varied responses than the simple like/dislike to posts, although the reduction of ineffable feelings and emotions such as sadness, joy and anger into simplistic emoticons can hardly be regarded as offering “nuance”. Nonetheless, when witnessing a veritable avalanche of emoticons move across the screen, overlaid on top of the live-streaming of bodies acting in concert, the viewer cannot help but feel as if they are a part of a larger collective. They are viewing alongside others, virtually assembling and gathering in cyberspace to watch bodies meet on the ground. Drawing upon Judith Butler’s work45, the performativity of assembly can thus be understood as twofold: it is rendered visible by the material camera recording the highway barricade in real time, and evidenced by the perpetually updating the viewer meter and the frantic pace of the comment section as observers hasten to comment. The reaction emoticon, thus, becomes the substitute for the body and the voice; it validates the protesters’ acts, and proves to other viewers that they are witnessing the event as a part of an online community. The specific affordance of the live-stream reaction emoticon is thus suffused with affect, as it wordlessly compels viewers to move, to comment,

44 45

Ibid, 3. See Judith Butler, Notes.


to share that “the world is watching”. On the November 20th video I described earlier, users were commenting their location alongside messages of solidarity, an action which speaks to Razsa’s elaboration of activist video usage as helping “facilitate emotional relationships with activists elsewhere.”46 Yet, suddenly the live-stream lags, and viewers are abruptly reminded that even though they are temporally “there,” their bodies are severed from the action. They are watching a recording that will ultimately be archived, mediated by cell phone technology and the platform of choice, in this case Facebook. The live-stream on its own remains an isolated glimpse into the lived reality of many. Though its affordances have the potential to produce affective responses, it is difficult to predict the sustainability of the initial political momentum. Its location on a social media platform, within a continuously updating feed, adds to its fleeting, ephemeral status. The more shocking live-streams, such as the nighttime November 20th stream, flirt with the possibility of reproducing the “mass-mediated imagery of ‘distant violence’,” 47 as viewers isolated from the conflict share only the most sensational and “newsworthy” streams with their respective networks. Live-Streaming and Indigenous Resistance What, then, happens when live-streaming occurs in the context of indigenous resistance, as those behind the camera and on the front-lines have been rendered invisible by the state? Such is the disappearing logic of the settler-colonial project, as detailed by the late Patrick Wolfe in his seminal work “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native.”48 Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) scholar J. Kēhaulani Kauanui takes up Wolfe’s text in order to critique its ubiquity in facile discourses on colonialism, which ultimately relegate the colonial project to the past. However, as the title of Kauanui’s text asserts, the violent logic of settler-colonialism endures through its structure, most prominently in the form of the state,


Razsa, “Protest Video,” 496. Wendy S Hesford, “Documenting Violations: Rhetorical Witnessing and the Spectacle of Distant Suffering,” Biography 27 no. 1 (2004): 104-144. 48 Patrick Wolfe, “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native,” Journal of Genocide Research 8, no. 4 (2006). 47


but so do Indigenous peoples, who “exist, resist and persist.”49 “In other words, the logic of elimination of the native is about the elimination of the native as native. And yet, to exclusively focus on the settler colonial without any meaningful engagement with the indigenous—as has been the case in how Wolfe’s work has been cited—can (re)produce another form of ‘elimination of the native.’”50 Because settler colonialism is a land-centered project entailing permanent settlement, as Wolfe points out in this same essay, “Settler colonizers come to stay: invasion is a structure not an event.”51 Even as settler colonialism can be characterized as a structure, a system, and a logic, according to Mark Rifkin’s Settler Common Sense, affective networks need to be explored as part of understanding how settler colonial governmentality comes to be lived as the self-evident condition of possibility for (settler) being.52 Thus understood as arising from a tension between the structural and the affective (as the horizon of possibility for subject-formation within a settler colonial framework), Indigenous water protectors’ deployment of Facebook is a stark illumination of ongoing colonial occupation and the resistance it produces. The harnessing of a diffuse yet powerful audience by Indigenous communities through Facebook is a subversive tactic when we investigate the censoring and silencing actions on the purportedly neutral platform itself, arguably but another limb of the ideological state apparatus.53Tarleton Gillespie further analyses the façade of neutrality that cloaks the politics of platforms, particularly in the case of YouTube. He writes, how the term “platform” “suggests a progressive and egalitarian arrangement, promising to support those who stand upon it.”54 Yet YouTube, and Facebook, are not the egalitarian J. Kēhaulani Kauanui, “‘A Structure, Not an Event’: Settler Colonialism and Enduring Indigeneity,” Lateral 5, no. 1 (2016): n.p. 50 Ibid. 51 Wolfe, “Settler Colonialism,” 388. 52 Mark Rifkin, Settler Common Sense (Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press, 2014), 29-31. 53 Geert Lovink, “On the Social Media Ideology.” On the Social Media Ideology no. 75 (2016): n.p. 54 Tarleton Gillespie, “The Politics of ‘Platforms’.” New Media & Society 12 no. 3 (2010): 350. 49


platforms they claim to be, as demonstrated in my previous statements55. One writer reported, “in September, Facebook’s automated spam filters took down a livestream of arrests at a Dakota Access Pipeline protests.”56 It can be argued that Indigenous pages and accounts on Facebook associated with Standing Rock are in a way simultaneously hyper-visible and surveilled, even as their communities, legacies and histories are erased. The live-stream is therefore a powerful gesture of resilience, of direct, embodied witnessing, one that works through and along with the same affective network. The successor to the shaky camera phone recording, live-streaming belongs to a lineage of technologies that facilitate witnessing. Its historical development, in effect, places it in the model of sousveillance, the recording of an activity using a portable, mobile technology.57 More specifically in the context of activism in the US, it has acquired political relevance with everyday citizens’ recording of state actors, such as police and law enforcement. The video as testimony of witnessing threatens the state, which in turn, criminalizes those who record state violence. Ramsey Orta, the man who recorded Eric Garner’s public murder, was the only person present at the scene to be charged58. Live-streaming, ostensibly legal under US law59, was introduced a little under two years after the aforementioned video was released. A Wired article points to the danger underlying live-streaming by noting that “livestreaming isn’t always protected by the law. And, no matter where in the world people are filming, doing so often puts the streamer’s life at risk”60. Open platforms often exacerbate the precarious position live-streamers find themselves in by readily providing information on


See f. 26 Dia Kayyali, “Hey Activists: You Need to Think Twice Before Livestreaming Protests”, Wired, March 19, 2017. 57 Steve Mann, and Joseph Ferenbok, “New Media and the Power Politics of Sousveillance in a Surveillance Dominated World,” Surveillance & Society 11 no. ½ (2013): 26. 58 “Why Is Ramsey Orta, Man Who Filmed Police Killing of Eric Garner, the Only One Criminally Charged?” Democracy Now!, December 3, 2016, n.p. 59 Pandell, “How Livestreaming Is Transforming”. 60 Ibid. 56


streamers’ identities, which is ironic, considering the supportive, egalitarian rhetoric they espouse61. The “equalization of power relationships”62 that sousveillance is meant to bring about is difficult to anticipate in the colonial context. As surveillance renders those “gazing back”63 at the state unseen, sousveillance falters as an accountability tool and can endanger activists and live-streamers, especially as the videos are uploaded onto the semi-open platform of Facebook. The live-streaming from Standing Rock nonetheless prevailed, even after the mass arrests of September 2016 and the ensuing censorship of their streaming. It continued to be deployed well into February of 2017, marking the last encampment’s evacuation. Publications continued to refer to live feeds throughout their coverage of the resistance, when outlets like the online news source Zero Hedge published a collection of live videos showcasing the evacuation on February 23rd64. As viewers continued to tune in and hear the familiar voices of water protectors, the live-stream came to be understood as sousveillance apparatus, thus enabling thousands of bodies and voices to gaze back in concert, “up against another person or group, find[ing] ourselves invariably joined to those we never chose.”65 I am aware that I am engaging in an attempt to ascribe meaning to the actions at Standing Rock through an academic lens, which has the potential of re-inscribing colonial expectations and narratives onto the work of largely Indigenous water protectors. The use of live-streaming by Indigenous peoples does not attribute some essential “indigenous” quality to the technology. However, what I do believe intensifies the live-stream’s affective, mobilizing power in the context of Standing Rock is the viewers’ visceral experience of the “parallax effect.” The parallax effect names “the phenomenon that occurs when a change in the position of the observer creates the illusion that an object has been displaced or moved,”66 provid


Gillespie, “‘Platforms’,” 350. David Bollier, “Using Sousveillance to Defend the Commons.”, June 24, 2008. 63 Mann, “New Media”. 64 Tyler Durden, “Live Feed: Riot Police And Humvees Move In To Remove Last Remaining Standing Rock Protesters.” ZeroHedge, February 23, 2017. 65 Butler, Notes, 88. 66 Faye Ginsburg, “Native Intelligence: A Short History of Debates on 62


ing a lens through which to understand the significance and impact of the location of Indigenous activists behind the smartphones and Facebook accounts. As Faye Ginsburg suggests, “the camera [has been] put in the hands of those who had historically been objects of the anthropological gaze.”67 Thus, one does not only see the spectacle of violence and “riot porn,”68 as we can only assume mainstream media would report on the most violent events. One is also privy to the care and relationships between water protectors, the aftermath of stand-offs with the state and the strategizing that goes into it, moments of intentional gathering such as rounddances and the sustained, daily resistance. Furthermore, the efficacy of the live-stream on Facebook, as it is easily filmed, uploaded and disseminated, makes it suitable for quick updates and check-ins. Dallas Goldtooth, an aforementioned Indigenous activist cited earlier, streamed many such updates of varied length and content. On November 27th, 2016, Goldtooth filmed himself with the use of a selfie cam walking through Oceti Sakowin Camp while talking in an informal, conversational tone.69 At the start of the live-stream he mentions that there is “better 4G cell coverage in the camp,” crediting Geeks Without Bounds, a humanitarian network of technologists, policymakers, attorneys and volunteers, for the improvement. He greets all viewers, and even includes a cheeky nod to the Morton County Sheriff’s Department.70 Throughout, he talks about various aspects of the camp: the main fire where water protectors convene when they initially arrive, the kitchens, the lodges (See Appendix B). Right in this moment, we witness the relationships that bring into being and in turn are brought into being through the “choreography of assembly,”71 with the live-stream as made possible by the cellphone the nucleus of this particular connection. Goldtooth addresses viewers amiably, comfortably, cracking Indigenous Media and Ethnographic Film,” in Made to Be Seen: Perspectives on the History of Visual Anthropology, by Marcus Banks and Jay Ruby. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011) 237. 67 Ibid. 68 Razsa, “Protest Video,” 497. 69 Goldtooth, “#NoDAPL UPDATE 3pm 2/22,” Facebook. 70 Ibid. 71 Gerbaudo, Tweets and Streets, 12.


jokes while providing essential information on the workings of the camp. Though he is speaking to a handheld cellphone, he is simultaneously addressing individual viewers, and in turn a social collective, which has the power to act and assemble - this particular update garnered 201,559 views. The harnessing of new media technologies such as the live-stream by Indigenous water protectors to share their realities and subjectivities foregrounds Indigenous voices in the broader community’s understanding of the conflict and illuminates the humanity, the “realness” of it all, as sensed through Goldtooth’s chuckles, the glimpses of bodies mulling about in the camp, and the ebb and flow of the sounds of life being lived heard throughout the recording. The authenticity of Goldtooth’s account is intensified by the “liveness” afforded by the Facebook live-stream, further building upon its affective dimensions. When combined, the live-streams of larger actions such as the barricade on Highway 106 and daily updates construct a nuanced narrative, one which effectively showcases the laborious work of assembly - the “exercising [of] a plural and performative right to appear, one that asserts and instates the body in the midst of the political field.”72 Through the live-stream, the encampment swells and breathes, and due to the almost banal, mundane nature of the updates and daily streams, a different, slower kind of violence is brought to light: the violence of colonialism, of “policies that produce conditions of systemic negligence that [...] let people die out.”73 Moving Forward In moving forward with making space for new media technologies in social collectivities, I think Anthony McCosker provides a rather hopeful departure point by calling for a new camera consciousness: A new camera consciousness designates a critically important tension within the proliferation of new forms and modes of mediation. We have the unprecedented capacity to create, communicate, and connect with and through images, with multitudes of intimate and widely public camera phone snaps and video grabs— wearable, autonomous, and remotely operated

72 73

Butler, Notes, 15. Butler, Notes, 15.


camera images distributed endlessly as the prized content of social network sites. But these images must be understood not only in terms of what they represent or reveal, but as the material stuff of life, as matter itself, as thought and as that through which action, communication, expression, and experience takes place.74 By conceptualizing these media artifacts as the “stuff of life”, the livestream not only acts a mobilizing vehicle for political engagement, but it is understood as the product of very real labor and energy. The physical gathering and the virtual assembling of thousands of bodies was a profoundly intentional, arduous process, spearheaded by Indigenous communities and made visible through their uses of Facebook video live-streaming. The live-streams’ depiction of the infuriatingly paradoxical need for Indigenous peoples to assert their ownership of their contested land in the form of encampments condemns the slow death imposed on marginalized bodies. Still, live-streaming remains but one element of resistance, and particularly in the context of ongoing settler colonialism in the United States, settlers’ engagement should not begin and end at Standing Rock.

Anthony McCosker, “Drone Vision, Zones of Protest, and the New Camera Consciousness,” Forthcoming Media Fields (2015): 11. 74


Appendix A Figure 1 See full video here: videos/1526535327363288/

Figure 2:


Appendix B See full video here: =100000332818175%3A1216853%3A1492306660


Works Cited “At Standing Rock, ‘the World Is Watching’.” The Gazette, December 3, 2016. Aguilar, Rose. “Live from Standing Rock: Repression and Injustice on the Protest Lines.” 48 Hills, November 1, 2016. Ahtone, Tristan. “How Media Did and Did Not Report on Standing Rock.” Al Jazeera English, December 14, 2016. Bollier, David. “Using Sousveillance to Defend the Commons.” OnThe, June 24 2008. Brown, Simone. Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness. Dur ham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015. Butler, Judith. Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly, Volume. 1. Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2015. Chen, Adrian. “Is Livestreaming the Future of Media or the Future of Ac tivism?” Daily Intelligencer, N.p., December 7, 2014. Cleary, Tom. “Korryn Gaines Full Instagram Videos From Traffic Stop & Standoff.” August 02, 2016. Accessed March 18, 2018. gaines-instagram-videos- full-before-shooting-with-son-police-traffic-stop-shotgun-shesy ourmajesty/. Costanza-Chock, Sasha. “Mic Check! Media Cultures and the Occupy Movement.” Social Movement Studies 11, no. 3-4 (2012): 375-85. 81

“Dakota Access Pipeline spilled 84 gallons of oil in South Dakota.” CNBC. May 11, 2017. “Dallas Goldtooth.” The Guardian. Accessed March 22, 2018. https:// www.theguardian .com/profile/dallas-goldtooth. Davis, Jenny. “Theorizing Affordances.” Cyborgology, accessed March 18, 2018. theorizing-affordances/. Dreyfuss, Emily. “Social Media Made the World Care About Standing Rock-And Helped It Forget.” Wired, accessed March 18, 2018. standing-rock-helped-forget/. Durden, Tyler. “Live Feed: Riot Police And Humvees Move In To Remove Last Remaining Standing Rock Protesters.” ZeroHedge, accessed on April 15, 2017. “Facebook Live.” Facebook Live | Live Video Streaming. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2017. Frosh, Paul, and Amit Pinchevski. “Introduction.” Media Witnessing. Lon don: Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2009. 1-19. Gaines, Jane. “Political Mimesis.” Collecting Visible Evidence 6 (1999): 84-102. Gerbaudo, Paolo. Tweets and the Streets: Social Media and Contemporary Activism. London: Pluto Press, 2012. Gillespie, Tarleton. “The Politics of ‘Platforms’.” New Media & Society 12 no. 3 (2010): 347-364. 82

Ginsburg, Faye. “Native Intelligence: A Short History of Debates on Indigenous Media and Ethnographic Film.” In Made to Be Seen: Perspectives on the History of Visual Anthropology, by Marcus Banks and Jay Ruby, 234-55. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011. Goldtooth, Dallas. “#NoDAPL UPDATE 3pm 2/22.” Facebook, ac cessed April 15, 2017, Haze, Meko. “All Eyes on Standing Rock: A List of Livestreamers in the Area.” The Daily Haze. February 1, 2017. Hersher, Rebecca. “Key Moments In The Dakota Access Pipeline Fight.” NPR. February 22, 2017. thetwo-way/2017/02/22/514988040/key-moments-in-the-dakota-access-pipeline-fight Hesford, Wendy S. “Documenting Violations: Rhetorical Witnessing and t he Spectacle of Distant Suffering.” Biography 27 no. 1 (2004): 104-144. Indigenous Rising Media. “In Dakota/Lakota we say “mni Wiconi.” Facebook, accessed April 15, 2017, ienearthposts/10153652563815642. Isaac, Bronwyn. “DAPL Lawyer Lauren Regan Explains Why Social Me dia Is So Critical To The Protests.” Bustle, accessed on February 23, 2017. Javier, Carla.”A Timeline of the Year of Resistance at Standing Rock.” Splinter. December 14, 2016. of-the-year-of-resistance-at-standing-rock-1794269727 Kapitan, Alex.“Ask a Radical Copyeditor: Black with a Capital ‘B’.” 83

Radical Copy Editor, accessed March 21, 2018, https://radicalco tal-b/

Kayyali, Dia. “Hey Activists: You Need to Think Twice Before Livestreaming Protests.” Wired. Accessed March 19, 2018.https:// think-twice livestreaming-protests/. Kauanui, J. Kēhaulani. “‘A Structure, Not an Event’: Settler Colonialism and Enduring Indigeneity.” Lateral 5, no. 1 (2016): n.p. King, Thomas. The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2012. Lovink, Geert. “On the Social Media Ideology.” On the Social Media Ide ology no. 75 (2016): n.p. Mann, S. and J. Ferenbok. “New Media and the Power Politics of Sous veillance in a Surveillance Dominated World.” Surveillance & Society 11 no. ½ (2013): 18-34. McCosker, Anthony. “Drone Vision, Zones of Protest, and the New Cam era Consciousness.” Forthcoming, Media Fields (2015): 1-14. Mclagan, Meg. “Principles, Publicity, and Politics: Notes on Human Rights Media.” American Anthropologist 105, no. 3 (2003): 605- 12. Nabong, Pat, and June Leffler. “NoDAPL supporters chant ‘Mni wiconi’ and it’s not just about water.” Medill News Service, December 7, 2016. Nagy, Peter, and Gina Neff. “Imagined Affordance: Reconstructing a Keyword for Communication Theory.” Social Media + Society 1 84

no.2 (2015):1-9.

Pandell, Lexi. “How Livestreaming Is Transforming Activism Around the World.” Wired, November 16 2016. Peters, John Durham. “Witnessing.” Media Witnessing. Palgrave Macmil lan UK, 2009. 23-48. Razsa, Maple John. “Beyond ‘Riot Porn’: Protest Video and the Produc tion of Unruly Subjects.” Ethnos 79 no.4 (2014): 496-524. Rifkin, Mark. Settler Common Sense. Minneapolis: University of Minne sota Press, 2014. Sontag, Susan. “Regarding the Pain of Others.” New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2003. Stelter, Brian. “Philando Castile and the Power of Facebook Live.” CNNMoney, July 7 2016. Tuhiwai Smith, L. “Research Through Imperial Eyes.” In Decolonizing Methodologies, Research and Indigenous Peoples, 42-57. London: Zed Books Limited, 1999. “Unicorn Riot.” Livestream. N.p., n.d, accessed on April 15, 2017. “Why Is Ramsey Orta, Man Who Filmed Police Killing of Eric Garner, the Only One Criminally Charged?” Democracy Now!, accessed April 15, 2017. Wolfe, Patrick. “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native.” Journal of Genocide Research 8, no. 4 (2006): 387-409. Zuckerberg, Mark. “Today we’re launching Facebook Live for everyone.” Facebook, accessed on April 15, 2017, 85



Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place The Danger of Ventriloquizing

by Bridget Walsh


Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place is a counter-travel narrative constructed in an attempt to write back to the Western literary canon. Kincaid reconfigures the form to reverse the gaze of the mobile Western tourist and focuses on the rooted local perspective. The expatriate narrator depicts Antigua as a country dispossessed by colonial exploitation, rendering the present a perpetuation of exploitative patterns via neo-colonial relations. However, Kincaid positions her expatriate narrator as, what post-colonial critic Gayatri Spivak terms, a “native-informant” who is able to speak on behalf of Antiguans for a Western audience. By positioning her narrator as an insider, Kincaid obliterates the disparity between portrait and proxy thus glossing over the distinction between the oppressed subject in the West and the oppressed subject in Antigua. Consequently, when “representing the oppressed the intellectual represents themselves as transparent”1. The Caribbean writer Jane King criticizes Kincaid for her portrayal of Antiguans as irrevocably perverted by colonialism such that they are incapable of effective self-governance. Anger and frustration permeate the essay but the rhetoric of recovery is absent. By fixating on the proclivity of dominant discourses working to marginalize the subaltern, the narrator makes it impossible to retrieve Antigua from the periphery. In a 1991 interview with Frank Birbalsingh, Kincaid explains she is an Antiguan, rather than a diaspora, writer because she has never taken American citizenship2. However, Spivak argues that everyone is a “subjecteffect”3, inescapably situated within a variety of discourses and Kincaid is no exception; her institutional influences are unavoidably written into her representations. By feigning she remains untouched by her Western geopolitical determinations, she refuses to divest her privilege and inevitably encounters Antigua hierarchically. Kincaid is a well-informed interrogator Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Can the Subaltern Speak?. (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1988a) 275. 2 Frank Birbalsingh, Frontiers of Caribbean Literature in English. (New York: St. Martin’s, 1996) 143. 3 Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Outside in the Teaching Machine. (New York: Routledge, 1993) 204. 1


of neo-colonial relations; however, by “clinging to marginality”4 she risks “essentializing ethnic identity and romanticizing national origins”5. Although she grew up in Antigua, it is dangerous to assume she can confront it “on a level playing field” as a writer living in the West. After all, Kincaid did not return to Antigua for twenty years. To assert that she is not a diasporic writer is an unethical position to hold in relation to the subaltern people she claims to speak for. As the investigating subject, Kincaid disavows her complicity in the process of Othering and in doing so “does the opposite of concealing [herself]: [she] privileges [herself]”6. By unaccountably narrativising Antigua, Kincaid’s narrator produces and disables the subaltern. As the figure of the tourist arrives in Antigua, Kincaid’s narrator imagines they think the weather is very beautiful because that is why the tourist comes to Antigua--- for a vacation. Yet, the narrator goes on to chide the reader/tourist for never considering, “what it must be like for someone who has to live day in, day out in a place that suffers constantly from drought […] it must never cross your mind”7. The narrator’s use of the imperative “must” requalifies the tourist’s unconscious as conscious denoting a degree of responsibility. In order to enjoy their vacation, the tourist “must” actively erase signs of global inequality in front of them. Places in the Global South, such as Antigua, undergo a process of commodity fetishism, which obstructs the labor behind its production as a place of leisure. Rather than investing in physical and cultural infrastructure, the government harbors foreign criminals to develop “boutiques—so that when the tourists showed up they could buy all those awful things that tourists always buy.”8 Accordingly, the tourist employs strategies of denegation, such as knowledge production, to erase signs of imperial aggression. The tourist comes to Antigua equipped with “one of those books explaining […]


Spivak, 1993. Ibid, 9. Qtd. in Ilan Kapoor, “Hyper-Self-Reflective Development? Spivak on Representing the Third World ‘Other’” Third World Quarterly. 25, no. 4 (2004) 630. 6 Spivak,1988a. Ibid. 272. 7 Jamaica Kincaid, A Small Place. (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1988) 4. 8 Kincaid, Ibid. 48. 5


how the West got rich”9, to prevent “that slightly funny feeling […] about exploitation, oppression, domination” from developing “into full-fledged unease, discomfort”10. According to the tourist, the West “got rich” autonomously, from “the ingenuity of small shopkeepers” and “the invention of the wristwatch”11. The tourist absolves their guilt by reassuring themselves, Antiguan’s “ancestors were not clever […] and not ruthless”12. While narrator draws attention to how vulnerable one is in the face of a narrative, she reinforces the perception of Antiguans as complacent, stupid people. The narrator observes, “it is a good thing” the tourist brought their own books, “for they could not just go to the library and borrow some”13. She notes that even if the tourist would like to learn from Antigua they cannot because the library is damaged and has been for twelve years. It is revealed that the library was once a “splendid old building from colonial times”14 yet, in the post-colonial era, the building is a “dung heap”15. The protracted renovation of the library becomes emblematic of the nation’s inability to rehabilitate. Instead of undergoing repair, the library is sidestepped in favor of foreign corporate development16. Besides the expatriate narrator, the only person “very active in getting the old library restored”17 is the white owner of the Mill Reef Club. Kincaid depicts native (black) Antiguans as either passive or actively involved in placing Antigua is the “gutter”18. It becomes impossible to see Antiguans as innovative people capable of changing the material conditions of their existence. Spivak warns against the “total repudiation of one’s ‘home’, arguing that it amounts to a disavowal of one’s complicities” 19. By constructing a “directly counter hegemonic discourse [that] is more liable to reappropriation by the 9 Kincaid, Ibid 8. 10 Kincaid, Ibid 10. 11 Kincaid, Ibid 10. 12 Kincaid, Ibid 17. 13 Kincaid, Ibid 8. 14 Kincaid, Ibid 9. 15 Kincaid, Ibid 43. 16 Kincaid, Ibid 48. 17 Kincaid, Ibid 47. 18


Kincaid, Ibid 47. Qtd. in Kapoor, Ibid 640.


dominant”20, Kincaid reaffirms colonial power and domination. Kincaid succeeds in emphasizing Antigua’s long history of imperialism; however, in her depiction the vestiges of imperialism are so immovable they work to paralyze the subaltern. Not only are the resources of knowledge production broken, but the entire educational system. Kincaid asserts Antigua’s public schools have gone downhill “since her [colonial] generation” and that “today, most young people seem almost illiterate”21. While attending a carnival, the narrator is stricken by “how stupid [Antiguans] seemed, how unable they were to answer in a straightforward way, […] simple questions about themselves”22. England’s retreat from Antigua leaves “millions of people […] orphans”23 bereft of a motherland and unable to speak. However, rather than “unlearn dominant systems of knowledge and representation” 24 , in order to learn new ones, the narrator valorizes colonial education. She categorizes the Antiguans post-colonial education as worse than her (hated) colonial education, inadvertently naturalizing Western superiority. To assume superiority is to forget that her concept of a quality education was “written elsewhere, in the social formations of Western Europe”25. The narrator tracks the “debacle in which [Antigua] now exists”26 to the epistemic violence of imperialism. Yet, in relentlessly disparaging the current state of Antigua, she reinforces racist attitudes and limits the hope for progress. The narrator explicates that Antiguans are corrupt because that is what they learned from the English colonizers. She appropriates the gaze of the Westerner observing “that all people like me seem to have learned from [the West] is how to imprison and murder each other, how to govern badly and how to take the wealth of our country and place it in a


1997) 85. 21

23 22


25 26

B. J. Moore-Gilbert, Postcolonial Theory: Contexts, Practices, Politics. (London: Verso, Kincaid, Ibid 43. Kincaid, Ibid 44. Kincaid, Ibid 31. Kapoor, Ibid 641. Spivak, 1993, Ibid 60. Kincaid, Ibid 36.


Swiss bank account”27. She reminds the tourist they are “forget[ing] their part in the whole setup” 28. The narrator uses apostrophe to implicate the tourist as a partner to Antigua’s degradation: You murdered people. You imprisoned people. You robbed people. You opened your own banks and you put your money in them. The accounts were in your name. The banks were in your name29. Kincaid does not use Antigua’s poverty as a heuristic tool but rather confronts the reader didactically. The reader feels an impetus to reject the colonial and neocolonial relations that engender the narrator’s rage; yet, contrary to the narrator’s wishes, Kincaid’s rhetorical strategy is unlikely to persuade a reader that they are personally responsible. Empathetic readers must not simply identify with injustice but also imagine themselves as capable and worthy to help. Social psychologist Melvin Lerner’s experiments on individual reactions to injustice indicate that readers will engage in psychological defenses such as denial and withdrawal.30 However, if individuals perceive that action has a reasonable chance of success given their position their first choice was to take action against injustice31. Yet, the narrator’s approach does not create an inclusive dialogue. Short accusatory sentences provoke reader resistance. Spivak aims to position readers from the Global North as accountable to the subaltern; thus, she advocates for a strategy of “negotiation from within” 32 . In contrast, Kincaid’s predominance of monologue betrays an urge “to always be the speaker and speak in all situations [which] must be seen for what it is: a desire for mastery and domination”33. 29 30 27

Kincaid, Ibid 34. Kincaid, Ibid 36. Kincaid, Ibid 35. Melvin Lerner and Sally C. Lerner, eds. The Justice Motive in Social Behavior: Adapting to Times of Scarcity and Change. (New York: Plenum, 1981) 40. 31 Lerner, Ibid 39. 32 Kapoor, Ibid 640. 33 Alcoff, Linda. “The Problem of Speaking for Others.” Cultural Critique 20 (1991) 19. 28


The tourist/reader is reduced to object status in the first two parts of the essay yet is “in a sense rewarded in the second half of the essay by […] a portrait of the post-colonial Caribbean and the way in which the new native rulers continue the pattern of greed and oppression”.34 The people for whom this transition is consequential are oblivious to their exploitation by neo-colonial relations. The narrator tells the tourist/reader that in Antigua, “people cannot see a relationship between their obsession with slavery and emancipation and the fact that they are governed by corrupt men, or that these corrupt men have given their country away to foreigners”35. She expresses anger and frustration at the determination of “people in a small place” to experience “every event [as] a domestic event; the people in a small place cannot see themselves in a larger picture” 36 because that “would demand […] a careful judging, careful questioning”37. The narrator suggests that Antiguans are inattentive to processes of globalization and imperialism, lacking the ability to think critically about their material conditions. When shown the causal links in history, “the people in a small place reveal themselves to be like children being shown the secrets of a magic trick”38. The narrator paints a disparaging portrait of Antiguans, characterizing them as infantile, passive recipients of history, rather than perceptive individuals. The word “cannot” disenfranchises Antiguans of their agency; it is not that Antiguans are unwilling to “see that they might be a part of a chain”39 but that they are unqualified to do so. As an expatriate, when the narrator “looks at these people (Antiguans)”40 she is unable to distinguish whether they are “children, eternal innocents, artists […] or lunatics”41. She blames the Western imperialist structures, but neglects to see how rewarding the tourist/reader with a portrayal of “black 36 37 38 39 40 41 34 35

Simmons, Diane. Jamaica Kincaid. (New York: Twayne, 1994) 136. Kincaid, Ibid 55. Kincaid, Ibid 52. Kincaid, Ibid 53. Kincaid, Ibid 54. Kincaid, Ibid 52. Kincaid, Ibid 57. Kincaid, Ibid 57.


people who are nothing but ugly”42 perpetuates damaging stereotypes. Kincaid may try to efface herself behind the narrator but because she does not “retrace the itinerary of [her] prejudices and learned habits” 43 she does not undergo what Spivak calls “a transformation of consciousness”. Consequently, her narrator is not “ready to accept ‘an unexpected response’ from the subaltern.”44 Instead of “coming to terms with the ‘non-speakingness’ of the subaltern […] as a form of resistance,” 45 the narrator characterizes them as naïve children. She fails to recognize the subaltern as “irretrievably heterogeneous”46, which allows her to narrativise Antiguans. The narrator ascribes the “people in a small place” a single ahistorical consciousness in which “the division of Time into the Past, the Present and the Future does not exist”47. The onus of revealing how the “magic trick” 48 of history works, falls on the expatriate narrator. As she traces “the ancestry” of the future with “trancelike retrospect,” 49 she reveals that she is privy to superior Western knowledge that the subaltern does not possess. Rather than adopt a “hyper-self-reflexive” awareness in order to clear the way for an ethical relationship with the Other, Kincaid privileges her narrator at the expense of the subaltern. The narrator experiences “the beauty [of Antigua as] a prison” 50 ; it is both idyllic and claustrophobic. King concedes that smallness does carry “sense of imprisonment” but also “means that if one sees things that need to be changed one has to find the energy to get up and change them--or stop whining”51. She finds a way to perceive the present from the perspective of an agent. King transforms the “conditions of impossibility into possibility”52, which implies a reversal of knowledge production that flows 42 Jane King. “A Small Place Writes Back.” Callaloo 25.3 (2002) 900. 43 Alcoff, Ibid 25. 44 Kapoor, Ibid 644. 45 Kapoor, Ibid 644. 46 Spivak, 1998a 284. 47 Kincaid, Ibid 54. 48 Kincaid, Ibid 54. 49 Kincaid, Ibid 54. 50 Kincaid, Ibid 79. 51 Ibid 898. 52 Spivak, 1998a 201. 94

from the Global South to the Global North. King lays the groundwork for a two-way conversation; she enables Antiguans to become, not the object, but rather, the subject of development. In contrast, the narrator is uncompromisingly ‘anti-globalization’ but does not provide any alternatives to globalization. The narrator remains obstinate that colonial mentalities are not only persistent, but also insurmountable: This wrong can never be made right, and only the impossible can make me still: can a way be found to make what happened not have happened?53 By explicitly rejecting the possibility of recovery, the narrator renders Antiguans powerless to change the conditions of their existence. Rather than create a silence in which the subaltern “can speak and be heard54 the narrator silences them. The effect of Kincaid’s discourse is to announce that Antigua is irrevocably despoiled by colonialism such that the people are not longer worthy or capable of development. Although Kincaid’s narrator reverses the gaze of the Western tourist, she continuously presents a single story of oppression. As Linda Alcoff writes, “the effect of her discourse is to reinforce racist, imperialist conceptions and perhaps also to further silence the lesser-privileged group’s own ability to speak and be heard”55. Her critique of neocolonial structures rests on the preposition that they are intractable; a claim only made possible by essentializing Antiguans as infantile, passive and deluded. During her TED talk in 2009, writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie warns the audience of “the danger of a single story”56. Adiche states that “the single story creates stereotypes, and the danger of stereotypes are not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete”57. Antigua may have a corrupt government, but that is not all it has. Jane King calls for “the evidence of a few more Antiguans... There are at least a few who are literate, politically 53

Kincaid, Ibid 32. Alcoff, Ibid 26. 55 Ibid 26. 56 Ngozi Chimamanda Adiche. The Danger of a Single Story. Performed by Ngozi Chimamanda Adiche. 2009. TEDGlobal. 57 Ibid. 54


aware and not living off corruption”58. Yet, Kincaid does not allow for the possibility of more voices. In order to prove her thesis, Kincaid requires neocolonial structures to be a totalizing force, ubiquitous to every aspect of Antiguan life. It is because Kincaid does not acknowledge her complicities in the representational process that her narrator is unable to posit anything constructive for the future of Antigua. Ironically, if neo-colonial relations are as dominant as she purports then she cannot claim to escape their prejudice. An alternative cannot arise from anywhere but neo-colonialism itself. Spivak believes “an ethicopolitical orientation towards the Third World” is retrievable only when one is open to the subaltern. She requires the investigating subject to be “unscrupulously vigilant about [their] complicities”59 to be ready to hear the subaltern. One must acknowledge their contamination to temper and contextualize any claims concerning the subaltern60. Jamaica Kincaid would benefit from a reminder that narration always functions at the intersection of geopolitical institutions, whether she would like to admit it or not. Her entanglement with the West, and Western academia, does circumscribe her writing. Antiguan’s might be grateful for a more “careful questioning”61 of the power of her words.

60 61 58 59

Ibid, 897. Kapoor, Ibid 641. Spivak 1988a, 287. Ibid, 53.


Works Cited Diane Simmons. Jamaica Kincaid. (New York: Twayne, 1994). Frank Birbalsingh. Frontiers of Caribbean Literature in English. (New York: St. Martin’s, 1996). Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Outside in the Teaching Machine. (New York: Routledge, 1993). Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Can the Subaltern Speak? (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1988a). Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. In Other Worlds: Essays in Cultural Politics. (New York: Routledge, 1988b). Ilan Kapoor. “Hyper-Self-Reflexive Development? Spivak on Represent ing the Third World ‘Other’” Third World Quarterly 25, no. 4 (2004): 627-47. Kincaid, Jamaica. A Small Place. (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1988). King, Jane. “A Small Place Writes Back.” Callaloo 25.3 (2002): 885-909. Linda Alcoff. “The Problem of Speaking for Others.” Cultural Critique 20 (1991): 5-32. Melvin Lerner and Sally C. Lerner, eds. The Justice Motive in Social Behavior: Adapting to Times of Scarcity and Change. (New York: Plenum, 1981). Moore-Gilbert, B. J. Postcolonial Theory: Contexts, Practices, Politics. (London: Verso, 1997). Ngozi, Chimamanda Adiche. The Danger of a Single Story. Performed by


Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. 2009. TEDGlobal. Suzanne Gauch. “A Small Place: Some Perspectives on the Ordinary.” Callaloo 25.3 (2002): 910-19.


The Arusha Peace Agreement The Recurrence of Violence in Burundi, 2015 by Maxine Both


Background A brief overview of Burundi’s history of ethnic violence is necessary in order to understand its current conflict and to draw similarities and differences between previous incidences and 2015. Burundi’s colonial history began in the late 19th century, with Belgian control of the political administration laying the groundwork for ethnic violence later.1 Belgium granted Burundian Tutsis (a small minority) more political and economic power than Hutus, thereby strengthening Tutsi dominance against increasing Hutu underrepresentation.2 Even after independence in 1962, pre-existing structural characteristics of Tutsi domination persisted, and led to, “…a sociopolitical climate marked by chronic tension, and plagued by coups d’état, localized insurrections followed by brutal military repression, and ethnic exclusion in the military and the government sector.”3 Violence in 1965, 1972, and 1988 all involved either Tutsi oppression of Hutu attempted coups (1965) or Hutu violence against Tutsi civilians (1972, 1988). Additional factors such as spill-over effects from the 1990 Rwanda Tutsi invasion rekindled fears in Burundi with two Tutsi attempted coups and a Hutu coup repression in 1991.4 Even after Burundi’s first competitive presidential elections in 1993, this pattern continued, with the assassination of Hutu President Melchior Ndadaye during a Tutsi military coup four months after elections, triggering Hutu violence against Tutsi civilians and Tutsi government crackdown.5 By 1996, Major Pierre Buyoya took power by military force.6 Under growing international pressure towards a worsening ethnic conflict situation, Buyoya agreed to negotiations in 1998, and under the leadership of former Tanzanian President Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, peace


Abrams, “Burundi: Anatomy of an ethnic conflict.”, 145-146. Ibid., 146-147. 3 Central Intelligence Agency, “The World Factbook: BURUNDI.”.; Ndikumana, “Towards a solution to violence in Burundi: A case for political and economic liberalisation.”, 433. 4 Ndikumana, “Towards a solution to violence in Burundi”, 434.; Abrams, “Burundi: Anatomy”, 148. 5 Abrams, “Burundi: Anatomy”, 148.; Ndikumana, “Towards a solution to violence in Burundi”, 434.; BBC News, “Burundi profile - Timeline”. 6 BBC News, “Burundi profile.”; Ndikumana, “Towards a solution to violence in Burundi”, 435. 2


talks began in Arusha, Tanzania.7 The Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement was officially signed on August 28, 2000 and resulted in a power-sharing agreement between the Tutsi UPRONA party (led by Pierre Buyoya) and the Hutu FRODEBU party (led by Domitien Ndayizeye).8 However, not all parties signed the agreement in 2000 as two hutu groups, the CNDD-FDD and the Palipehutu-FNL, did not sign until much later (2003 and 2006, respectively).9 This transition period lasted 3 years, requiring the first 18 months of government under Tutsi leadership (Buyoya with a Hutu as vice-President), and the remainder under Hutu Presidency (Ndayizeye with a Tutsi vice-President).10Aspects of the new 2004 constitution included a quota system of representation, with 40% governmental seats reserved for Tutsis and 60% for Hutus, 50/50 ethnic representation in the senate and military, and a 67% limit of mayors from one ethnic group.11 In 2005, the CNDD-FDD led by Pierre Nkurunziza won the elections with 62.6% of the vote.12 Additionally, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was proposed, but not implemented until after the 2015 violence. While the Arusha Peace Agreement was largely seen as a solution, violence continued to affect Burundi in the transition period from 2005-2015. This period displayed similar patterns to past violence (protests followed by repression), yet developed a more political, rather than ethnic, dimension of violence due to the system of ethnic quotas. Moreover, Burundian politics experienced increasing authoritarian tendencies (echoing past regime repression, elimination of opposition, and coup attempts). This involved a 2010 opposition election boycott, extrajudicial killings of opposition members, tightening limits on political and media freedom, and an unsuccessful governmental attempt to change the constitution in March 2014.13 In 2015 the situation reached an unexpected critical turn for the


Ndikumana, “Towards a solution to violence in Burundi.”, 435. Check, “Beyond the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Accord for Burundi: Challenges of preserving peace in an ethnically fractured society.”, 110. 9 “Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement for Burundi.”, Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. 10 Ibid. 11 Lemarchand, “Chapter 11: Burundi’s endangered transition.”, 168. 12 Ibid., 170. 13 BBC News, “Burundi profile - Timeline”. 8


worse. On April 25th, President Nkurunziza announced his intention to run for a third term (disregarding the agreed two-term presidential limit), resulting in an outbreak of violent protests in Bujumbura.14 Moreover, an attempted military coup occurred on May 13th while Nkurunziza was at the East African Community meeting in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.15 The election proceeded on July 2015 (albeit with another opposition boycott) with President Nkurunziza winning 70% of the vote.16 In response to third-term opponents, security forces violently repressed protesters, leading to more than 400 deaths and forcing 260,000 people to flee.17 Existing Literature and Theoretical Explanations on the Case A large majority of academics have focused on the case of Burundi pre-2000, explaining its causes, consequences, and possible solutions, widely praising the Arusha Peace Agreement in particular. René Lemarchand highlights elements of political, economic, and social exclusion and how past memories of violence fuelled later outbreaks.18 Others, such as Patricia Daley and Carla Schraml, underline how ethnicity is intertwined with political conflict, as political elites used ethnicity to control the state.19 Furthermore, Philippe Ntahombate and Gaspard Nduwayo show how the colonial state institutionally created ethnic categories and radicalised ethnic identities in Hutu and Tutsi consciousness.20 Nicasius Achu Check points institutional weakness as a factor, and Jason S. Abrams reveals changes from more elite-level to civilian killings.21 14 Ibid.; Daley and Popplewell, “The appeal of third termism and militarism in Burundi.”, 648. 15 Daley and Popplewell, “The appeal of third termism and militarism in Burundi.”, 648. 16 BBC News, “Burundi profile - Timeline”. 17 Ibid.; International Crisis Group. “Burundi: Peace Sacrificed? Crisis Group Africa Briefing N°111.” 18 Lemarchand, The Dynamics of Violence in Central Africa. 19 Daley, “Ethnicity and political violence in Africa: The challenge to the Burundi state.”, 657-79.; Schraml, The dilemma of recognition: experienced reality of ethnicised politics in Rwanda and Burundi. 20 Ntahombaye and Nduwayo, “Identity and Cultural Diversity in Conflict Resolution and Democratisation for the African Renaissance: The Case of Burundi.” 21 Check, “Conflict in the Great Lake Region: Revisiting the case of Burundi.”,


While pre-2000 literature underlines those structural factors continuing throughout today’s conflict, few academics have explored post-2000 violence. Literature between 2000-2015 emphasizes how the Arusha Peace Agreement may not have been as effective as predicted, highlighting President Nkurunziza’s slide into authoritarianism. Daley and Popplewell explore the international community and civil society’s response in combating political exclusion, rising youth militias, and economic marginalization as contributing factors (especially land scarcity).22 Janvier D. Nkurunziza (not to be confused with President Pierre Nkurunziza) highlights the issue of political elites’ strong influence, as they selected aspects of the agreement that provided them self-serving benefits, and Julia Grauvogel suggests that academic’s overly positive outlook negatively impacted the international community’s power to affect change in the Burundian government.23 Alternatively, Cori Wielenga and Sinmi Akin-Aina discuss the 2010 elections unresolved tensions, and Stef Vandeginste views these elections as a strategy of CNDD-FDD power consolidation.24 Although there are many general theories outlining ethnic divisions which have led to Burundi’s history of violence, explaining the outbreak of violence in 2015 must include a theoretical analysis focusing on the Arusha Peace Agreement itself, as the agreement was first praised as the solution, yet was not able to prevent recurring conflict. Thus, we need to ask: why was the agreement unable to prevent conflict? Were weaknesses in the agreement itself to blame, or rather the ability of power-seeking individuals to supersede the agreement? Or is it possibly an interplay of both? In this regard, a theoretical framework based on bargaining failures and pact-breakdown can provide the best tool for analysis. Barbara F. Walter posits that civil wars persist due to bargaining failures; when conflicts lack a decisive military win but have a negotiated 44-62.; Abrams, “Burundi: Anatomy”, 144-64. 22 Daley and Popplewell, “The appeal of third termism and militarism in Burundi.”, 648-57. 23 Nkurunziza, “Timing and sequencing of post-conflict reconstruction and peacebuilding in Burundi.”, 1-23.; Grauvogel, “Burundi after the 2015 elections: A conference report.”, 3-14. 24 Wielenga and Akin-Aina, “Mapping conflict and peace in Burundi: An analysis of the Burundi conflict terrain.”, 1-43.; Vandeginste, “Power-sharing as a fragile safety valve in times of electoral turmoil”, 315-335.


settlement, it predisposes a country to future conflict.25 Walter further argues how in civil war, information about the other warring party is scarce and warring parties infrequently “credibly commit” to an agreement over time (given few mechanisms to check behaviour), both of which make war more likely.26 Even more so, countries with weak political institutions, fixed cleavages and changing population demographics, those where one party is significantly weaker than the other, or those with a powerful state discouraging peacekeeper engagement, are more prone to civil war.27 Suzanne Werner also offers further insights into the failure of peace settlements and post war instability. She tests three different hypotheses using dyads from Singer and Small’s study on conflicts between 1962-1992.28 The first being “…the failure of the original peace settlement to resolve underlying issues.” (little support for), second that the peace agreement may not have protected against signatory defection (mixed support), and third that there may be shifts in power or a signatory may be incentivised to renegotiate aspects of the agreement (strong support).29 While Werner is only able to prove her third hypothesis, all three still provide useful insights into the 2015 conflict as a result of the peace agreement breakdown. More importantly, as the data presented only includes Burundi up to 1992, Burundi’s case in 2015 may be an exception, and thus it is important to test if her hypotheses hold true and offer possible explanations. Thus, both Werner and Walter’s theories on bargaining failures are valuable in gaining a greater understanding of how the Arusha Peace Agreement itself may have affected 2015 violence (in its limitations) as well as how political actors, institutions, and past violence impacted the agreement’s success. This paper’s hypothesis (broken into 3 sections) aims to analyze Burundi’s 2015 recurrence of violence within the theoretical framework of both bargaining failures provided (testing Werner’s hypothesis’ applicability) in that: the 2015 outbreak of violence recurred due to a breakdown in the Arusha Peace Agreement because of (a) an inability to address underlying 27 28 29 25

Walter, “Bargaining Failures and Civil War.”, 244-245. Ibid., 258. Ibid., 258. “Study -9905- Description.”, Werner, “The precarious nature of peace: Resolving the issues, enforcing the settlement, and renegotiating the terms”, 913, 931-932. 26


and unresolved issues/sense of fear, (b) institutional weakness which allowed actors to renege on agreements, and (c) political actor’s incentives to change the agreement, giving way to increasing authoritarianism. This paper will use historical accounts from academic literature, news reports, interviews, and official documents from the United Nations and the International Crisis Group. It will focus on a national-level scale of analysis, as violence occurred in both rural and urban (Bujumbura) areas. Unresolved Histories of Violence Various post-2000 authors have argued that in hindsight, one of the foremost limitations in the Arusha Peace Agreement was its inability to, in effect, “solve” underlying causal factors and left past grievances of violence unaddressed. The 2015 conflict was addressed through imposed negotiations (not a military victory); a system of impunity of violence was left intact which in turn created a sense of fear and heightened grievances for the Burundian population. Walter states that, “if a settlement cannot be enforced over time and leaves one or both sides vulnerable to attack or abuse, then a decisive military victory may be viewed as the safest and most stable way to resolve a conflict.”30 She thus argues that a clear military win puts the winner’s chosen policies into direct action eliminating discussion.31 In Burundi, however, the 1993-2000 civil war ended through negotiations with the Arusha Peace Agreement, not in a “decisive military victory”. Even more so, not all parties signed on to the agreement in 2000 (the CNDD-FDD would do so later in 2003 and the FNL in 2006), leaving past, disagreeing elements intact. Nkurunziza thus importantly questions, “how could these negotiations end the war when the rebel groups, the main belligerents, were not involved?”32 Werner’s first hypothesis contends that settlements “imposed” by other parties can be more susceptible to recurrent conflict.33 In Burundi’s case, many international actors strongly encouraged the Arusha Peace Agreement, disregarding the lack of interest and “agreement” between 32 30

Walter, “Bargaining Failures and Civil War.”, 246. Ibid., 257. “Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement for Burundi.”, Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.; Nkurunziza, “Post-conflict reconstruction and peacebuilding in Burundi.”, 9. 33 Werner, “The precarious nature of peace”, 914. 31


all parties. For example, Daley and Popplewell point out that rebel groups signed on because of international pressure and the prospect of international aid, which in turn caused the international community to ignore warning signs in eagerness for success.34 Thierry Vircoulon, the Senior Consultant for Central Africa, demonstrates the extent of lack of consensus, stating: In truth, the success of Burundi’s peaceful transition was overstated to begin with. The implementation of the Arusha Agreement was both unfinished and undesired by the government. The ruling party never genuinely adhered to its principles and had not been part of the negotiations process to begin with. It even blocked the implementation of several conditions, including, most prominently, those related to the creation of a special tribunal to judge the crimes of the civil war. Consequently, nobody has answered for these and Burundi has failed to move past them.35 He thus highlights key limitations in the agreement to unite all warring parties, leaving many loose ends waiting to re-ignite later on. Even more so, a society of impunity continued to impact Burundi’s peace process. Most importantly, the agreed upon National Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) faced implementation challenges. The TRC was created with the purpose to “…investigate human rights abuses, promote reconciliation and deal with claims arising out of past practices relating to the conflict in Burundi,” and was to be established no later than six months after the transitional government took office.36 However, it took until March 4th, 2016 for the actual operational phase of the TRC to be launched.37 Many authors argue that this was one way that the Nkurunziza government avoided accountability and maintained control. After all, government actors previously involved in violence wanted to avoid punishment, 34 Daley and Popplewell. “The appeal of third termism and militarism in Burundi.”, 655.


Vircoulon, “Burundi: How to Deconstruct Peace.”. Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement for Burundi, Chapter II, Article 18. 46, 90. 37 Impunity Watch, “Burundi’s TRC officially launched: but will victims participate?”, 1. 36


even if investigated.38 Vandeginste illustrates how this “alliance of impunity” allowed parties such as the UPRONA, FRODEBU, CNDD-FDD and the FNL to uphold their political power.39 In effect, this aspect greatly encouraged the recurrence of violence. Janvier D. Nkurunziza elaborates and writes: During the previously four episodes of the civil war, interventions had been limited to verbal condemnations of the violence without taking any strong action against the perpetrators of crimes. This culture of impunity both within Burundi and at the international level could help to explain why the conflict has been recurring. Had the international community stood against the Burundian leaders who orchestrated the violence in 1972, for example, maybe the country would not have experienced other violent episodes of war.40 Moreover, unaddressed violence was structurally embedded in a lack of an independent judiciary, normally key in holding all perpetrators accountable, regardless of political position. According to the Annual Report of the United Nations Human Rights Council on the Independent Investigation on Burundi in September 2016, Burundi experienced an increasing dominance of the executive branch over the judicial branch, to the point where the executive branch’s “… members have used violent methods against its (perceived) opponents.” This led victims to fear taking action against perpetrators and even avoiding the judicial system as a whole.41 Even more so, the 2015 violence itself further limited prospects for governmental accountability. Impunity Watch in March 2016 asserted that, “a climate of fear, intimidation, lack of genuine free speech and a ruling party that maintains a tight grip on power provide the conditions that are anything but conducive

Nkurunziza, “Post-conflict reconstruction and peacebuilding in Burundi.”, 12. Vandeginste, “Power-sharing, conflict and transition in Burundi: Twenty years of trial and error.”, 83. 40 Nkurunziza, “Post-conflict reconstruction and peacebuilding in Burundi.”, 7. 41 United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Office of the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General. Report of the United Nations Independent Investigation on Burundi (UNIIB), 16. 38 39


to the work of a TRC.”42 Lastly, these unaddressed issues manifested themselves within the collective memories of Burundi’s population, playing a role in the 2015 violence. David A. Lake and Donald Rothchild describe how often ethnic violence is not caused by “ancient hatreds” between groups, but rather by “collective fears of the future”, whereby “…political memories and emotions also magnify these anxieties…”43 While Lake and Rothchild use this concept in regards to strategic dilemmas, past memories of violence continue to haunt current day events in Burundi, augmented by the inability to address fears and past perpetrators. For instance, Lemarchand claims that the 1972 Burundian conflict affected current Hutu political leaders, such as Nkurunziza and Adolphe Nshimirimana (former head of security), as they had lost family and friends in the 1972 conflict, and “… as ‘the orphans of genocide’, they are deeply aware of the horrors endured by their families.”44 Thus, key political actors bearing strong memories of violence influenced decision-making in current events, and did not depart from their own past histories. Additionally, in December 2016 the International Refugee Rights Initiative conducted interviews with displaced persons in Burundi, where refugees described how past memories of violence impacted their decisions to flee in 2015. For example, an older male refugee explained, “Back in 1972 both of my parents, my two uncles, and my other relatives were killed. So now, when I hear about war, and killings, I straight away recall the past and just pack and leave. I do not take chances. I must be mindful of what I hear.”45 While this statement refers to decisions to flee, it nevertheless shows that memories continued to play a role in the 2015 crisis. Institutional Weakness and Reneged Agreements Burundi’s ongoing institutional weakness created an environment


pate?”, 1.

Impunity Watch. “Burundi’s TRC officially launched: but will victims partici-

Lake and Rothchild, “Containing fear: The origins and management of ethnic conflict.”, 41. 44 Lemarchand, “In the shadow of genocides past: Can Burundi be pulled back from the brink?”. 45 Refugee Rights Initiative. “‘I know the consequences of war’: Understanding the dynamics of displacement in Burundi.”, 24. 43


conducive to key actors reneging on promises made in the Arusha Peace Agreement. Walter argues that countries with weak political and legal institutions are predisposed to ethnic violence as, “groups worry, however, that governments will renege on their promises, exploit the peace, and use an agreement to their long-term advantage” as institutions lack the ability to “check executive control.”46 Burundi, too, falls under this category, threatening the success of the Arusha Peace Agreement. In fact, these structures were set in motion since colonialism. Lemarchand writes, “if history never repeats itself, in Burundi as elsewhere, it provides important clues to an understanding of the present. Some people suffer from inherited diseases; Burundi suffers from its inherited history. In order to grasp the roots of the current crisis, something must be said of the historical legacy bequeathed by previous regimes.”47 In this way, the political system under Tutsi control established by Belgium came at a cost, with Hutu political marginalization running parallel with the increasing power concentration under Pierre Nkurunziza in post-2000 events. Nkurunziza’s party (the CNDD-FDD) never fully stepped away from its role as a wartime rebel group, and regardless of the Arusha Agreement and the first democratic elections in 2005, “extrajudicial killings, endemic corruption and brutal repression of the opposition and civil society members characterize the current leadership, more than 10 years after the civil war officially ended.”48 In order to further demonstrate the interaction between institutional weakness and violence, we must analyze how the current government reneged on settlements made in the Arusha Peace Agreement. Particularly, if institutional weakness reduces government accountability and is unable to check actions, actors can more easily renege on previously established agreements. Werner provides important theoretical insights in her second hypothesis, stating, “the peace may fail and hostilities may resume if the original peace settlement failed to protect adequately against defection by one or both of the belligerents.”49 However, her hypothesis attributes defection to weaknesses in the agreement itself. Conversely, in Burundi in 2015,


Walter, “Bargaining Failures and Civil War.”, 251. Lemarchand, “Chapter 11: Burundi’s endangered transition.”, 159. 48 International Crisis Group. “Burundi: A Dangerous Third Term.”; Nkurunziza, “Post-conflict reconstruction and peacebuilding in Burundi.”, 2. 49 Werner, “The precarious nature of peace”, 915. 47


the success of the Arusha Peace Agreement can be regarded as impacted by pre-existing institutional weakness, which fostered an environment favorable to political disregard of promises made and engendered citizen frustration and protest. Thus, her hypothesis is important in highlighting governmental defection, but it is difficult to attribute weaknesses in the agreement itself as cause for the 2015 conflict. Not only did the Nkurunziza government undermine the Arusha Peace Agreement in not implementing the TRC, allowing the party to avoid accountability for their past role as rebel group, but stipulations on ethnic quotas were also further violated. The agreement laid the groundwork for a constitution in 2004 which maintained that 40% of governmental seats had to be reserved for Tutsis, and 60% for Hutus.50 However, contrary to this, the CNDD-FDD increasingly eliminated Tutsi elements, shifting the ethnic power-balance towards the Hutus favour. An instance of this occurred in 2014, when the CNDD-FDD replaced First vice-President Bernard Busokoza of the Tutsi UPRONA party with a CNDD-FDD party member.51 Three UPRONA cabinet ministers then resigned in protest and UPRONA lost its position as a junior coalition partner.52 Theoretically, Walter highlights how countries in which the “… relative power of different groups is expected to change over time” can predispose a country to ethnic violence.53 In this regard, Burundi’s current government similarly aimed to shift the ethnic balance of power in their favour, predisposing Burundi to the 2015 violence. For example, between 2000 and 2005 all but 2 senators were replaced by those with closer ties to the military wing of the party.54 Moreover, the CNDD-FDD’s March 2014 failed attempt to pass a constitutional amendment would have allowed the existing two vice-President positions (currently shared between Hutu and Tutsi) to be replaced with “…a single powerful prime minister from the ruling party.”55 Additionally, Vandeginste explains


Lemarchand, “Chapter 11: Burundi’s endangered transition.”, 169. Kishi, McKnight and Moody, “Country Report: Burundi Crisis Year One. Armed Conflict Location & Event Dataset.”, 3. 52 Nantulya, “Burundi: Why the Arusha Accords are Central.”. 53 Walter, “Bargaining Failures and Civil War.”, 252. 54 Vandeginste, “Power-sharing as a fragile safety valve in times of electoral turmoil”, 328. 55 Nduwimana, “Burundi’s ruling party fails in first bid to change constitution.”. 51


that the 2010 elections set a precedent in concentrating the CNDD-FDD’s power due to the opposition’s boycott. For example, he writes, “as a result of the elections, the CNDD-FDD has… all it needs to undo the constitutional requirements for a grand coalition, proportionality and ethnic quotas. Provisions which, in the spirit of the constitution, were clearly intended to require close to national consensus for their amendment, can now be unilaterally annulled by the CNDD-FDD.”56 Nkurunziza’s most recent third term announcement can also be seen as directly disregarding the Arusha Peace Agreement. Chapter I, Article 7 states that the President “…shall be elected for a term of five years, renewable only once. No one may serve more than two presidential terms.”57 However, President Nkurunziza argued for third term eligibility because he won in 2005 by votes from the National Assembly and the Senate, not by the electorate.58 As a result of this ambiguity, Nkurunziza took it to the Constitutional Court, which ruled in his favour.59 Yet this court’s objectivity has been put into question, as Court Vice-President Sylvère Nimpagaritse fled to Rwanda “…so as not to ‘cede to the pressure’ that he claimed was exerted on the Court’s judges.”60 This violated promises of those hopeful of the agreement’s potential for peace, and in 2015, caused groups such as the Halte au troisième mandat movement or “stop the third term” movement (and those with more violent intentions) to protest.61 Lastly, the Nkurunziza regime has reneged on the ethnic composition of the security forces. While the national army maintained its 50/50 ethnic representation, the national police experienced increasing violations.62 One 56 Vandeginste, “Power-sharing as a fragile safety valve in times of electoral turmoil”, 330. 57 Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement for Burundi, Chapter II, Article 18. 33. 58 Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Electoral Observation Mission in Burundi. Report no. S/2015/510. 2.; Vandeginste, “Burundi’s electoral crisis – back to power-sharing politics as usual?”, 626. 59 Report of the Secretary-General. Report no. S/2015/510. 3. 60 Ibid. 61 Grauvogel, “Burundi after the 2015 elections: A conference report.”, 9-10.; “About us.”, Mouvement Citoyen Halte au Troisieme Mandat. 62 Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement for Burundi, Chapter II, Article 18.


reason was that former rebels could be easily incorporated into the pre-existing military structure, whereas the national police force had to be entirely reconstructed.63 Janvier D. Nkurunziza explains that as a result because “… almost all ex-combatants were Hutu, the police force became dominated by former Hutu rebels.”64 This, he argues, was likely government supported as it would “…offer employment to the masses of combatants who had fought together with them.”65 Additionally, as the police force consisted mainly of those sympathetic to the government’s cause (as previous Hutu rebels) the government increasingly used security forces to violently attack the opposition, intensifying 2015 violence.66 For example, in January 2016, Amnesty International published satellite evidence of 5 mass graves on the outskirts of Bujumbura, claiming that, “these images suggest a deliberate effort by the authorities to cover up the extent of the killings by their security forces and to prevent the full truth from coming out.”67 Increasing Incentives for Defection and Move Towards Authoritarianism Not only did Burundi’s government simply defect on many aspects of the agreement, but Nkurunziza took additional action to solidify power, becoming increasingly authoritarian in nature. Werner’s third hypothesis considers this problem precisely as, “conflict may recur as a consequence of a belligerent’s attempt to renegotiate the distributional terms of the agreement.”68 She explains this as a result of changes in “expectations” or in seeing conflict as a way to secure additional gains.69 Thus, while the Nkurunziza government did not seek conflict itself to improve their position, their strategy involved renegotiating the settlement in their own interests. Additionally, Werner posits that this hypothesis “… does not assume as the others do that the problem rests in flaws in the original settlement. Rather, it 65 66 67 63

Nkurunziza, “Post-conflict reconstruction and peacebuilding in Burundi.”, 14. Ibid. Ibid., 20 Grauvogel, “Burundi after the 2015 elections: A conference report.”, 10. Amnesty International. “Burundi: Satellite evidence supports witness accounts of mass graves.” 68 Werner, “The precarious nature of peace”, 918. 69 Ibid. 64


implies that an agreement that was originally acceptable became untenable as a consequence of changes subsequent to the settlement. As a result, it avoids the necessity of drawing the problematic conclusion that the belligerents initially accepted a flawed agreement.”70 Thus, as stated before, it may not entirely be the Arusha Peace Agreement itself which led to Burundi’s 2015 recurrence of conflict (which explains previous hopeful predictions), but rather pre-existing institutional weakness and an increasing concentration of executive power led by government action itself outside of the agreement. Not only was the CNDD-FDD a previous rebel group and thus kept many of its own personal interests (President Nkurunziza himself fought in opposition rebel groups), but since the government took power in 2005, Nkurunziza aimed to expand the party’s relative power position.71 Vandeginste suggests that, “the repeated use of power sharing in Burundi has clearly created a new mindset and an incentive structure among political elites. Leaving aside the ethnic dimension of the conflict and the peace process, Burundian politics for the past two decades has been dominated by discussions on how to share control of the state among elite actors and their networks.”72 Crisis Group further states: The control of the institutions by the ruling party and the absence of a genuine opposition made the power-sharing system defined by the Arusha agreement irrelevant. The ruling party is managing state business and the transitional justice process as it wishes. In addition, it is instrumentalising the security services and is preparing a constitutional change behind closed doors. Today, the only checks and balances are the media and civil society.73 However, by now, the media and civil society face strong repression. If gaining power meant reneging on agreements, repressing citizens and limiting political and media freedoms, Nkurunziza showed no hesitation. In fact, repression has once again become a tool to curb dissent and maintain power in the post-2000 era, as Nkurunziza increasingly lacks pub 72 70

Ibid., 919. Lemarchand, “Chapter 11: Burundi’s endangered transition.”, 166-167. Vandeginste, “Burundi’s electoral crisis – back to power-sharing politics as usual?”, 624. 73 International Crisis Group, “Burundi: Bye-bye Arusha ?” 71


lic and governmental support. This came at the cost of intensifying a cycle of violence in 2015, as groups attempted to protest but faced violent repression instead of governmental policy response.74 Specifically, the Nkurunziza government has been sponsoring and arming the youth wing of the CNDDFDD (the Imbonerakure), a wing responsible for violence against peaceful protesters and Nkurunziza opponents in the 2015 violent events.75 According to Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, there have been “… consistent testimonies indicating that Imbonerakure members operate under instructions from the ruling party and with the support of the national police and intelligence services who provide them with weapons.”76 Furthermore, a 2015 Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Electoral Observation Mission in Burundi claims that the Imbonerakure increasingly intimidated protesters and the opposition to motivate further violence.77 This is not a new phenomenon as the Nkurunziza government supported their training in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 2013.78 Additionally, the government carried out extrajudicial killings of opposition members unsupportive of ruling party decisions. These too, started well before 2015. In 2007, former Chairman of the CNDD-FDD party (who often supported sidelined Hutu political actors) Hussein Radjabu, was arrested and detained by the government for “corruption charges”. Check asserts that this is another way the government extinguished opposition. This manifested itself, as discussed earlier, with Bernard Busokoza’s removal from office in 2014, ultimately disqualifying UPRONA as a junior coalition party.79 Even after 2015, eliminations extended to within Nkurunziza’s own party. As Daley and Popplewell state: “high-profile party members who signed a petition opposing his intention to run for a third term had their secu Lemarchand, “Chapter 11: Burundi’s endangered transition.”, 171.; Wielenga and Akin-Aina, “Mapping conflict and peace in Burundi.”, 8. 75 Daley and Popplewell, “The appeal of third termism and militarism in Burundi.”, 653.; Wielenga and Akin-Aina, “Mapping conflict and peace in Burundi.”, 11-12. 76 Deutsche Welle. “Burundi pro-government youth linked to violence.”. 77 Report of the Secretary-General. Report no. S/2015/510. 7. 78 Kishi, McKnight and Moody, “Country Report: Burundi Crisis Year One”, 3. 79 Check, “Beyond the Arusha Peace”, 121.; Nantulya, “Why the Arusha Accords are Central.” 74


rity details removed. Nkurunziza dismissed his spokesperson, Leonidas Hatungimana, and attempted to oust the President of the National Assembly, Pie Ntavyohanyuma, both of whom warned against him standing again.” Additionally, many saw the May 2015 attempted coup as another way to eliminate dissenters.80 In fact, the principal leader of the coup, General and former Chief of Intelligence, Godefroid Niyombare, avoided arrest, while the Deputy Vice President of the National Assembly and critic of the government, Gervais Rufyikiri, was forced to flee.81 Hence, those implicated in the coup were not held accountable, yet those dissenting the government were pressured to leave. Moreover, preceding the 2015 elections, opposition leader of the UPD (Union pour la paix et le développement), Zedi Feruzi, was assassinated on May 23rd, 2015.82 The post-2000 period, especially 2015, saw government crackdown in media, political, and civil society freedoms. In May 2010, the Human Rights Watch representative was expelled, and by June 2013, Nkurunziza implemented a media law restricting journalists from reporting “… on matters which could undermine national security, public order or the economy.”83 After Nkurunziza’s third term announcement, demonstrators set fire to the pro-government Rema FM radio station, with government soldiers reacting by attacking four independent radio and television stations, leaving only the Radio Télévision National du Burundi (state controlled media) as the sole information source.84 Since 2015, journalists experienced harassment, assaults, and grenade attacks.85 In December 2013 the government passed the Law on Demonstrations and Public Meetings which, “… allows the authorities to prevent public assemblies and effectively bans spontaneous protests and those not approved by the authorities.”86 Intimidation Daley and Popplewell. “The appeal of third termism and militarism in Burundi.”, 649-650. 81 Ibid. 82 Report of the Secretary-General. Report no. S/2015/510. 3-4. 83 Vandeginste, “Power-sharing as a fragile safety valve in times of electoral turmoil”, 329.; BBC News, “Burundi profile - Timeline”. 84 Report of the Secretary-General. Report no. S/2015/510. 13 85 Ibid. 86 Daley and Popplewell. “The appeal of third termism and militarism in Burundi.”, 652. 80


of the electorate by the Imbonerakure continues to present challenges and civil society remains removed from national political debate.87 The election boycotts by opposition parties, both in 2010 and in 2015, were also a government strategy to ensure a majority win. The 2015 Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Electoral Observation Mission in Burundi expresses that, “… I equally regret that opposition parties have once again opted to boycott the polls because the conditions for free and fair elections have not been put in place.”88 Thus, yet again, Nkurunziza’s intimidation of opposition limited any potential for Burundi’s peace process. Vandeginste presents the significance of the boycotts by arguing that, “…a carefully designed power-sharing arrangement may offer a temporary protection against this risk, but—in particular if some of the players (bad losers) decide to spoil the power-sharing game and leave the electoral process—no firm guarantees.”89 Thus, regardless of the Arusha Peace Agreement, governmental desire to gain power factored prominently in Burundi’s recurrence of violence. International Crisis Group states similarly that, “due to the 2010 electoral impasse, the Arusha Agreement has been replaced by a de facto one-party system characterized by the end of dialogue between the opposition and the ruling party, the government’s authoritarian drift and the resumption of political violence.”90 Conclusion The use of a theoretical framework and empirical accounts of violence between 2000-2015, can therefore answer the question of why the 2015 violence recurred in Burundi despite the implementation of the Arusha Peace Agreement. Thus, the agreement in itself was not adequate in preventing further violence (contrary to previous predictions) as many issues were left unaddressed (such as the TRC, absence of independent judiciary, and past memories of violence). The agreement suffered from pre-existing institutional weakness and actors reneging on promises made, and political Ibid.;Vandeginste, “Power-sharing as a fragile safety valve in times of electoral turmoil”, 324. 88 Report of the Secretary-General. no. S/2015/510. 17. 89 Vandeginste, “Power-sharing as a fragile safety valve in times of electoral turmoil”, 327. 90 International Crisis Group. “Burundi: Bye-bye Arusha?” 87


actors seized power incentives to either change the agreement or directly violate it, all of which fostered an environment ripe for spiral back into violence from a frustrated citizenry and repressive authoritarian violent government response. While Walter’s theory on bargaining failures underlines Burundi’s institutional weakness in allowing further governmental negligence of accountability, which set the stage for increasing governmental human and political rights violations as well as shows how Burundi’s negotiations themselves (instead of a clear military victory) were predisposed to conflict, Werner’s hypothesis on pact-breakdown fills in the missing links. Werner’s three hypotheses conform quite well to explaining Burundi’s 2015 violence, in that past grievances were unaddressed, which led actors to frequently renege on agreements and attempt to change the agreement stipulations itself. However, not all elements of her hypotheses conform, and in fact, her third hypothesis, especially her arguments made on the importance of aspects subsequent to the agreement, have the most relevance in explaining Burundi’s 2015 case. This is because despite the original positivity for the Arusha Peace Agreement, many of its aspects in theory would have protected against recurring violence (going against Werner’s predictions on limitations in the agreement itself). However, actions by government forces as well as underlying structural institutional factors dating back to colonialism allowed the government to either ignore, change, or directly violate the agreement, paving way for present violence. In this way, Burundi requires strengthening of independent institutional systems to hold violators accountable and address persisting tensions, and demands the motivation for peace to be cultivated from within Burundian society, especially those in key positions of power. While the Arusha Peace Agreement was successful in ending some ethnic aspects of the conflict, it still suffers from politically caused violence, and, if left unaddressed for too long, could once again revert back to former ethnic and genocidal scales. Given the severity and precariousness of Burundi’s current situation, identifying and remedying key elements exposed as causal factors to the conflict can support a more lasting and inclusive peace process before additional conflict destroys a society already fragile with deep seated trauma and violence. 117

Works Cited Abrams, Jason S. “Burundi: Anatomy of an ethnic conflict.” Survival 37, no. 1 (Spring 1995): 144-164. “About us.” Mouvement Citoyen Halte au Troisieme Mandat, accessed March 9, 2017. Amnesty International. “Burundi: Satellite evidence supports witness ac counts of mass graves.” Last modified January 28, 2016. Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement for Burundi, Chapter II, Article 18 (Arusha 2000): 1-93. Accessed March 9, 2017. “Burundi pro-government youth linked to violence.” Deutsche Welle, De cember 6, 2015.

“Burundi profile - Timeline.” BBC News, December 14, 2016, “Burundi’s TRC officially launched: but will victims participate?” Impunity Watch, March 2016. Check, Nicasius Achu. “Beyond the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Ac cord for Burundi: Challenges of preserving peace in an ethnically fractured society.” Africa Insight 39, no. 4 (March 2010): 109-26. EBSCOhost (accessed March 1, 2018). Check, Nicasius Achu. “Conflict in the Great Lake Region: Revisit ing the case of Burundi.” Africa Insight 37, no. 1 (April 2007): 44-62. EBSCOhost(accessed March 1, 2018). Daley, Patricia. “Ethnicity and political violence in Africa: The challenge to the Burundi state.” Political Geography 25, no. 6 (August 2006): 118

657-79. Daley, Patricia, and Rowan Popplewell. “The appeal of third termism and militarism in Burundi.” Review of African Political Economy 43, no. 150 (2016): 648-57. Fearon, James. “Commitment problems and the spread of ethnic conflict” in The International Spread of Ethnic Conflict: Fear, Diffusion, and Escala tion edited by David A. Lake and Donald S. Rothchild. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998. Grauvogel, Julia. “Burundi after the 2015 elections: A conference report.” Africa Spectrum 51, no. 2 (2016): 3-14. “‘I know the consequences of war’: Understanding the dynamics of displacement in Burundi.” International Refugee Rights Initiative. Last modified December 2016.

International Crisis Group. “Burundi.” Accessed March 9, 2017. International Crisis Group. “Burundi: A Dangerous Third Term.” Last modified July 31, 2016. International Crisis Group. “Burundi: Bye-bye Arusha ?” Last modified February 21, 2017. International Crisis Group. “Burundi: Peace Sacrificed? Crisis Group Af rica Briefing N°111.” Last modified May 29, 2015. International Crisis Group. “Insights from the Burundian Crisis (III): Back to Arusha and the Politics of Dialogue.” Last modified July 24, 2016. Kishi, Roudabeh, Janet McKnight, and James Moody. “Country Report: Burundi Crisis Year One. Armed Conflict Location & Event Data set.” Last modified 2016. 1-14. 119

Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. “Arusha Peace and Recon ciliation Agreement for Burundi.” Accessed March 9, 2017. Lake, David A., and Donald Rothchild.. “Containing fear: The origins and management of ethnic conflict.” International Security 21, no. 2 (Fall 1996): 41–75. Lemarchand, René. “Chapter 11: Burundi’s endangered transition.” In The Dynamics of Violence in Central Africa. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011. Lemarchand, Rene. The Dynamics of Violence in Central Africa. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012. Lemarchand, René. “In the shadow of genocides past: Can Burundi be pulled back from the brink?” African Arguments. January 22, 2016. Accessed March 9, 2017. Lemarchand, René. “Managing Transition Anarchies: Rwanda, Burundi, and South Africa in Comparative Perspective.” The Journal of Mod ern African Studies 32, no. 04 (December 1994): 581. Nantulya, Paul. “Burundi: Why the Arusha Accords are Central.” Africa Center for Strategic Studies, August 5, 2015. Ndikumana, Léonce. “Distributional conflict, the state and peace building in Burundi.” The Round Table 94, no. 381 (September 2005): 413 27. Accessed March 9, 2017. Ndikumana, Léonce. “Towards a solution to violence in Burundi: A case for political and economic liberalisation.” The Journal of Modern African Studies 38, no. 3 (September 2000): 431-59. Cambridge Core. 120

Nduwimana, Patrick. “Burundi’s ruling party fails in first bid to change constitution.” Reuters, March 21, 2014. Nkurunziza, Janvier D. “Timing and sequencing of post-conflict recon struction and peacebuilding in Burundi.” In Building Sustainable Peace, edited by Arnim Langer and Graham K. Brown, 2016, 1-23. Ntahombaye, Philippe, and Gaspard Nduwayo. “Identity and Cultural Di versity in Conflict Resolution and Democratisation for the African Renaissance: The Case of Burundi.” African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes, September 25, 2007. Posen, Barry R.. “The security dilemma and ethnic conflict.” Survival 35, no. 1 (Spring 1993): 27-47. Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Electoral Obser vation Mission in Burundi. Report no. S/2015/510. Security Council, United N ations. (July 7, 2015). Schraml, Carla. The dilemma of recognition: experienced reality of ethnicised politics in Rwanda and Burundi. Wiesbaden: Springer VS, 2012. “Study -9905- Description.”, accessed March 9, 2017. “The World Factbook: BURUNDI.” Central Intelligence Agency, last modified January 12, 2017. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Office of the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General. Report of the United Nations Independent Investigation on Burundi (UNIIB) established pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution S-24/1*. Report no. A/HRC/33/37. Office of the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General, Human Rights Council. (20 Septem ber, 2016) 1-23. Accessed March 9, 2017. Vandeginste, Stef. “Burundi’s electoral crisis – back to power-sharing polit 121

ics as usual?” African Affairs 114, no. 457 (August 2015): 624-636.

Vandeginste, Stef. “Power-sharing, conflict and transition in Burundi: Twenty years of trial and error.” Africa Spectrum 44, no. 3 (2009): 63-86. Vandeginste, Stef. “Power-sharing as a fragile safety valve in times of elec toral turmoil: The costs and benefits of Burundi’s 2010 elections”. Journal of Modern African Studies 49, no. 2 (2011): 315-335. Varshney, Ashutosh. “Introduction.” In Ethnic Conflict and Civic Life : Hindus and Muslims In India. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003. Vircoulon, Thierry. “Burundi: How to Deconstruct Peace.” International Crisis Group, July 29, 2016. Walter, Barbara F. “Bargaining Failures and Civil War.” Annual Review of Political Science 12, no. 1 (June 2009): 243-61. Werner, Suzanne. “The precarious nature of peace: Resolving the issues, enforcing the settlement, and renegotiating the terms”. American Journal of Political Science 43, no. 3 (July 1999): 912-934. Wielenga, Cori, and Sinmi Akin-Aina. “Mapping conflict and peace in Burundi: An analysis of the Burundi conflict terrain.” Research gate, January 2016, 1-43. Wilkinson, Steven. “Explaining town-level variation in Hindu-Muslim violence” in Votes and Violence: Electoral Competition and Ethnic Riots in India. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006.


Reclaiming the “Sauvage� The Reconfiguration of Exoticism in Portraiture by Indigenous Women by Marina Maric


In theorizing the nature of portraiture, George Keyes posits that the artistic endeavour involves collaboration between artist and sitter in a quest for likeness between the patron and the finished piece.1 Keyes discusses portraiture within a historical framework where wealthy patrons would commission portraits in the hopes that their likenesses would reflect their essences. This paper will examine contemporary photographic portraiture through the lens of four representations of Indigenous women by Indigenous women; in each of the portraits to be discussed, the subject is immortalized not through likeness with the sitter, but rather through pointed distortion. I will be analyzing the transformative power of photographic portraiture which permits female Indigenous artists to reclaim the racist and sexist images of Indigenous women that have pervaded settler society, reconfiguring and decolonizing them in order to highlight the discursive and compositional violence committed against these very same bodies. I have determined two artistic methodologies within this realm: the faceless subject and the ‘in-your-face’ subject. The faceless subject will be examined through two works by Dana Claxton and Rebecca Belmore, respectively. In these pieces, the hiding of the subject’s face highlights the erasure of each individual woman’s identity, as well as her relegation to a position of outside observation and curation by such contemporary colonial realities as the Western appropriation of Indigenous cultural belongings and the gendered and racialized violence directed against Indigenous women. The ‘in-your-face’ subject, on the other hand, will be examined through two works by Lori Blondeau and Erica Lord, which serve as bold deconstructions and reconfigurations of the Squaw/Princess binary that push audiences to rethink stereotypical images permeating both Indigenous and settler colonial society.2 1 George Keyes, “Portraiture – Mirror or Mask?” Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts 83, no ¼ (2009): 5. 2 There are two competing representations of Indigenous women in North American settler society. The “Squaw” is primitive, hypersexual, and morally debased. The “Indian Princess,” on the other hand, originates from the legend of Pocahontas. In this tale, the eponymous Pocahontas is depicted as a good and ‘pure’ Indian for having defended John Smith from her own people, who are painted as savages in contrast to the supposedly civilized colonizers. The “Squaw” is a savage while the “Princess” is pure – and, most importantly, sexually available for the white man. This metaphor is often extended to include the ‘pure’ and virginal lands of the American West, which are ready


Through careful, conspiratorial collaboration with her sitter, Samaya Jardey, Vancouver-based Lakota artist Dana Claxton distorts art and artifact in the photographic portraits of her 2016 solo exhibition, “Made To Be Ready,” at the Audain Gallery in Vancouver. In doing so, she calls into question the misappropriation and devaluation of Indigenous cultural belongings. In light of the increasingly popular donning of Indigenous traditional garments by non-Native peoples at events where Indigenous representation is lacking – for example, on runways for non-Native fashion brands or at mainstream music festivals – Claxton’s exhibition addresses the question of cultural appropriation by curating her photographs in the style of a high fashion photo shoot, with stylized clothing and staged sets, in effect re-appropriating the garments that had been misappropriated by Westerners and thereby creating a space for them within a highly respected Western institution.3 In this way, Claxton combats the structural dehumanization of Indigenous peoples, devalued of their prized and often sacred belongings, by elevating them to the revered mainstream sphere of ‘high fashion.’ She places them in the realm of ‘art,’ rather than in their traditionally relegated status as ‘craft’ or ‘artifact.’ This is important work because in the process of crafting Indigenous peoples’ belongings into curio pieces, Native peoples themselves have also been converted into curios, relics of a dying culture, which has in turn created a dynamic of adoration and fascination with the ‘dead Indian’ alongside the complete marginalization of those still living today.4 In Headdress (2015) (Figure 1), Claxton addresses this tradition of museum-like curation by creating a headdress-type piece which strings together her own jewelry into a veil that is placed to completely cover the face of the model. The model’s face is hidden in such a way that it gives primacy to the artwork while the sitter becomes a mannequin of sorts, reminiscent of a mere Styrofoam head meant only to display the Indigenous garment. Claxton is herein making a direct statement about the concurrent adoration of Indigenous belongings and the erasure of the individual identities of the Indigenous women to whom they belong in favor for the taking by white settlers. 3 Shauna Jean Doherty, “Dana Claxton: Made To Be Ready,” BlackFlash Magazine, February 11, 2016, 4 Ibid.


of their ‘exotic’ adornments: in short, Claxton critiques the simultaneous appropriation of Indigenous beauty and rejection of Indigenous women. There further remains an element of repossession within her work, demonstrated more fully within another piece featured in the same exhibition entitled “Cultural Belongings” (2015) (Figure 2). In this work, Claxton’s staging of the photographs as high fashion rather than as craft or artifact serves to reclaim non-Eurocentric senses of Indigenous beauty which can now be repossessed and exhibited by Native women themselves. In this way, although the model’s face remains hidden, the faceless portrait is successful in “centralizing the objects while combating objectification.”5 Anishinaabe artist Rebecca Belmore’s faceless photographic portrait, Fringe (2008) (Figure 3), offers a sharper juxtaposition between traditional Indigenous garment motifs (such as fringe or beadwork) and their relationship to Indigenous women and their bodies via the surrealist sewing of a “fringe” onto a woman’s back. It carries a similar symbolism to Claxton’s Headdress in that it is a portrait purposefully configured to have the sitter turn her back to (and more specifically, hide her face from) the viewer, which can once again be seen as the symbolic erasure of Indigenous women’s’ identity in favor of their traditional cultural belongings. The fringe beading, however, is not sewn into the woman’s skin for the sake of art or fashion, but rather as the first step in the process of healing the large scar across the woman’s back. A pressing difference, then, between Headdress and Fringe is that while Headdress addresses cultural violence inflicted against Indigenous cultural belongings, Fringe addresses gendered violence, as Rebecca Belmore has become well known for her work regarding missing and murdered Aboriginal women. Fringe was first produced on a backlit billboard in downtown Montreal at the corner of Duke and Ottawa, which is now the up-and-coming Griffintown area. However, at the time of its installation in 2008, it was still a declining industrial area of the city. The billboard could be seen from the highway; at a distance, it looked simply like a seductively reclining female figure, expected content on a billboard in an abandoned industrial zone.6 Yet upon closer examination, the viewer notes the long slash Ibid. Kathleen Ritter, “The Reclining Figure and Other Provocations,” in Rebecca Bel126

5 6

across the woman’s back, which had to have been inflicted by someone else, perhaps a husband or a lover. However, the suturing of the wound, which incorporates Anishinaabe beadwork, also represents a process of healing and support from the hands of other women within her community. Therefore, while the fringe of red beads appears to be trickles of blood streaming down her back, its ties to Anishinaabe women’s beadwork provide a counter to the associations of violence in the piece.7 Scholar Kathleen Ritter notes that the reclining figure is a central motif in Belmore’s work, commenting that it is unexpectedly political in nature considering that this type of recumbent position is not normally seen in contexts of resistance.8 She further remarks that Belmore’s reclining figure is never as it initially appears, since the artist makes sure to “disrupt an otherwise passive gaze” in order to push viewers to think critically about their own experience and position as a viewer.9 In the case of Fringe, the menacing scar provides a point of departure from the scopophillic gaze across the already sexualized female form.10 Because the viewer cannot see the subject’s face, there is an ambiguity as to whether the recumbent figure is resting, sleeping, or dead. Belmore has mentioned that some viewers think that the woman is in fact a cadaver, demonstrating the artist’s play on the “voyeuristic gaze fueling conventional modalities of museological representation,” which also becomes a pressing similarity between Headdress and Fringe.11 In addition, the ambiguity revolving around the suggested lifelessness of the recumbent figure in Fringe makes reference to the history of showcasing Indigenous bodies in museum exhibits. The interruption of the “voyeuristic gaze” by the scar guides the viewer to ask questions about the subject’s individual life experiences as well as question the more: Rising to the Occasion, eds. Diana Augaitis and Kathleen Ritter (Vancouver: Vancouver Art Gallery, 2008), 62. 7 Ibid. 8 Ibid, 55. 9 Ibid. 10 Ibid, 62. 11 Claudette Lauzon, “What The Body Remembers: Rebecca Belmore’s Memorial to Missing Women,” in Precarious Visualities: New Perspectives on Identification in Contemporary Art and Visual Culture, eds. Olivier Assellin, Johannes Lamoureux, Christine Ross (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queens Press, 2008) 158; Ritter, 65.


implications of their own viewing experience. In manipulating the figure of the recumbent female form through the addition of a mark of indelible trauma, Rebecca Belmore reclaims the figure of the naked, bleeding, carnal, and sexualized Native woman and transforms her into a figure undergoing healing and positive change. This provides a counter-narrative to the broken Indigenous woman who only carries scars which symbolize the violence she has suffered, a counter-narrative that promises a brighter future for victims of gendered violence. While Belmore and Claxton take a more subdued, subversive approach to challenging settler colonial artistic constructions of Native women, Erica Lord and Lori Blondeau take a much bolder approach vis-à-vis self-portraiture by reconfiguring their images around the stereotype of the exotic American Indian woman. Cree performance artist Lori Blondeau made her debut as the persona CosmoSquaw, otherwise known as Betty Daybird, on a magazine cover image on a light-box, COSMOSQUAW (1996) (Figure 4), created in collaboration with Bradlee LaRocque for a 1996 show entitled Native Love. CosmoSquaw is one of Blondeau’s many performance personas created with the express purpose of inverting and subverting traditional stereotypes of Indigenous women.12 Although COSMOSQUAW is a photograph, Carla Taunton has included it in her discussion of Blondeau’s performance personas because, according to Blondeau herself, “her photo shoots constitute a performance, and … such work is ‘performative photography;’” it is precisely through the use of this performance in conjunction with humor and parody that Blondeau hopes to spark a change in her audience’s conscious conception of Indigenous stereotypes, particularly regarding the Squaw.13 Although she was initially conflicted as to whether she should harness the Squaw stereotype as a means of deconstructing stereotypes, Blondeau ultimately decided to show that a squaw – the Cree word for “woman” – is just that: a woman. The main stereotypes surrounding the Squaw figure claim that “[t] he Squaw is the other side of the Indian woman – a drudge who is at the beck and call of her savage Indian husband, who produces baby after Carla Taunton, “Lori Blondeau: High-Tech Storytelling for Social Change” (Master’s thesis, Carleton University, 2006), 109-110. 13 Ibid. 12


baby, who has sex endlessly and indiscriminately with whites and Indians alike,” resulting in “the overwhelming image of the Squaw [a]s indeed that of a sexual convenience.”14 Elizabeth Bird describes the generalized image of Native women in pop culture as faceless and sexless (in other words, both unappealing and unattractive) background figures carrying children on their hips.15 In COSMOSQUAW, however, Lori Blondeau gives the Squaw a face, providing her with the spotlight and thereby reversing these dehumanizing images of Native women. Furthermore, through the CosmoSquaw persona, Blondeau reclaims Indigenous sexuality by parodying the conventional white settler beauty conventions expressed in magazines like Cosmopolitan. In curating her own magazine cover shoot, Blondeau is able to command possession of her own sexuality. For example, the caption hinting at an advice column for how to please a man says, “Is your man getting tired of the same old dish? Learn How to Spoon-feed your Man!” This sends an empowering message to other Native women by encouraging them to harness their sexuality (since “spoon” is local slang for vagina) and to not let white society shame them with the threat of being called a Squaw.16 Through CosmoSquaw, Blondeau embraces her sexuality by being the Squaw because, in the end, squaw is simply the word for “woman;” in so doing, she empowers other Indigenous women to reclaim their sexuality and their femininity in order to combat the racist sexism imposed by settler society. Also worthy of note is Blondeau’s choice of a red background and a red dress, which in Rebecca Belmore’s 2002 performance piece Vigil functions as a site of physical trauma with reference to missing and murdered Indigenous women. In the same way that Belmore uses “her own skin, and the metaphorical skin of the red dress, as surfaces on which to reinscribe the traumas inflicted on Vancouver’s missing women”, the red dress in Blondeau’s piece blends with the red lighting so that both her Elizabeth Bird, “Savage Desires: The Gendered Construction of the American Indian in Popular Media,” in Selling the Indian: Commercializing and Appropriating American Indian Cultures, eds. Carter Jones Meyer and Diane Roger (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2001), 80-81. 15 Ibid., 125. 16 Taunton, 111. 14


torso and parts of her arms disappear; thus this red can also be read in the vein of ‘red skin,’ a common racial slur directed against Native peoples.17 Both forms of red can be regarded as persistent reminders of the trauma surrounding the generations-old dehumanizing image of the Indigenous woman, which, in turn, has led to the erasure of the identity of Native women today.18 Perhaps even more ostentatious than COSMOSQUAW is Erica Lord’s rendering of Josephine Baker’s banana skirt in Danse Sauvage (2005) (Figure 5). If Lori Blondeau’s mission is to manipulate, reconfigure, and de-stigmatize the Squaw image, Erica Lord’s mission is to stop further colonization and conquest efforts done in the name of the Pocahontas, or “Indian Princess,” figure through the metaphor of the ‘exotic’ princess. Like COSMOSQUAW, Danse Sauvage is a self-portrait of Inupiaq/Athabaskan artist Erica Lord which serves as a reclamation of the exotic and the “sauvage” by paying homage to another exoticized woman of color. A notable shock factor is the particular placement and arrangement of the banana skirt which renders the image rather phallic due to the positioning of the frontal banana. Through the use of bananas – recognizably phallic objects – the image subverts conventional standards of beauty by rendering the traditionally feminine masculine, as well as by inverting traditional notions concerning ‘mainstream’ and ‘exotic’ beauty. This exotic/erotic attraction – alongside its potential repulsion upon the viewer’s realization of the androgynous nature of the subject – stands as a safeguard against the idealized and ever-sexually available “Indian Princess” trope. This can be linked to Elizabeth Bird’s stipulation that the image of the “Indian Princess” has been widely used to represent the exoticism of America, since imagery concerning the conquest of new lands in the American West was paralleled in the conquest of the Native woman.19 Bird remarks, “the Princess represents the ‘virgin land’ that will be possessed by the white man.”20 If the woman, like the land, is virginal, pure, and “nonthreateningly erotic,” then the phallic symbol in Erica Lord’s photograph is non-traditionally erotic, and as a non-traditional portrayal of sexuality, Lauzon, 166-167. Ibid. 19 Bird, 78-79. 20 Ibid. 17 18


there is a shock value to it; Lord’s androgynous assertion of the masculinity underlying her femininity transforms this non-threatening stance into one that is no longer non-threatening.21 In so doing, Lord demonstrates her refusal to be the passive instrumental image in the settler-colonial expansionist project.22 She is the land which is not weak, and she is neither virginal nor conquerable, as her banana skirt acts as a barrier to her genitalia and thus quashes the possibility of her being ‘conquered.’ In this way, Lord indirectly deconstructs the ‘exotic’ and ‘conquerable’ Pocahontas image by detangling it from its legacy of domination.23 All four works showcased above demonstrate how Indigenous female artists have been able to reclaim their self-images within mainstream visual culture through the use of photographic portraiture, in which their subjects have been manipulated in a way that serves to parody and invert racialized stereotypes as well as push the viewer to more fully engage with their experience of viewership. Through their photographs, these four Native female artists have reclaimed their sexuality, femininity, and their configuration within mainstream standards of beauty. In addition, they continue to fight back against the exoticization of their bodies and images through the reclamation of their identities and agency in their performance of Indigeneity.


Ibid. Gail Guthrie Valaskakis, “Sacajawea and Her Sisters: Images and Native Women,” Canadian Journal of Native Education 23, no. 1 (1999): 121. 23 Sherry Farrell Racette, “‘This Fierce Love’: Gender, Women, and Art Making,” in Art in Our Lives: Native Women Artists in Dialogue, eds. Cynthia Chavez Lamar, Sherry Farrell Racette, and Laura Evans (Santa Fe: School for Advanced Research, 2010), 28. 22


Left: Dana Claxton, Headdress, 2015, LED firebox with transmounted Lightjet Duratrans. (Figure 1)

Rebecca Belmore, Fringe, 2008, backlit transparency in lightbox, 2/3 (original billboard version, 2007). (Figure 2)


Lori Blondeau, COSMOSQUAW, 1996, duratran in light box, 28 x 23 cm (Figure 3)

Erica Lord, Danse Sauvage, 2005 Pizeograph, print, ~44”x55”, 2005. (Figure 4)


Works Cited Belmore, Rebecca. Fringe. 2008. Backlit transparency in lightbox, 2/3. billboard, Montreal, QC. Bird, Elizabeth. “Savage Desires: The Gendered Construction of the American Indian in Popular Media.” In Selling the Indian: Commercializing and Appropriating American Indian Cultures, edited by Carter Jones Meyer and Diane Roger, 62-98. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2001. Blondeau, Lori. COSMOSQUAW. 1996. Duratran in light box, 28 x 23 cm. “Native Love”, Artspace, Peterborough, ON. Claxton, Dana. Headdress. 2015. LED firebox with transmounted Lightjet Duratrans. “Made to be Ready,” Audain Gallery, Vancouver, BC. ---. “Cultural Belongings” 2015. LED firebox with transmounted Lightjet Duratrans. “Made to be Ready,” Audain Gallery, Vancouver, BC. Doherty, Shauna Jean. “Dana Claxton: Made To Be Ready.” BlackFlash Magazine, February 11, 2016. Keyes, George. “Portraiture – Mirror or Mask?” Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts 83, no ¼. (2009): 4-11. Lauzon, Claudette. “What The Body Remembers: Rebecca Belmore’s Memorial to Missing Women.” In Precarious Visualities: New Perspectives on Identification in Contemporary Art and Visual Culture, edited by Olivier Assellin, Johannes Lamoureaux, and Christine Ross, 155-179. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queens University Press, 2008. Lord, Erica. Danse Sauvage. 2005. Pizeograph, print, ~44”x55”. http:// 134 Racette, Sherry Farrell. “‘This Fierce Love’: Gender, Women, and Art Making.” In Art in Our Lives: Native Women Artists in Dialogue, edited by Cynthia Chavez Lamar, Sherry Farrell Racette, and Laura Evans, 27-51. Santa Fe: School for Advanced Research, 2010. Ritter, Kathleen. “The Reclining Figure and Other Provocations.” In Rebecca Belmore: Rising to the Occasion, edited by Diana Augaitis and Kathleen Ritter, 53-65. Vancouver: Vancouver Art Gallery, 2008. Taunton, Carla. “Lori Blondeau: High-Tech Storytelling for Social Change.” Masters thesis, Carleton University, 2006. Valaskakis, Gail Guthrie. “Sacajawea and Her Sisters: Images and Native Women.” Canadian Journal of Native Education 23, no. 1 (1999): 117-135.



Volume 1  

The First Volume of The McGill Journal of Decolonization, Postcolonial, Anti-Colonial Studies (Previously titled Sankofa: A Journal of Postc...

Volume 1  

The First Volume of The McGill Journal of Decolonization, Postcolonial, Anti-Colonial Studies (Previously titled Sankofa: A Journal of Postc...