Going beyond photography as an isolated medium to engage larger questions and interlocking forms of expression and historical analysis, Ambivalent gathers a new generation of scholars based on the continent to offer an expansive frame for thinking about questions of photography and visibility in Africa. The volume presents African relationships with photography—and with visibility more generally—in ways that engage and disrupt the easy categories and genres that have characterized the field to date. Contributors pose new questions concerning the instability of the identity photograph in South Africa; ethnographic photographs as potential history; humanitarian discourse from the perspective of photographic survivors of atrocity photojournalism; the nuanced passage from studio to screen in postcolonial digital portraiture; and the burgeoning visual activism in West Africa.
As the contributors show, photography is itself a historical subject: it involves arrangement, financing, posture, positioning, and other kinds of work that are otherwise invisible. By moving us outside the frame of the photograph itself, by refusing to accept the photograph as the last word, this book makes photography an engaging and important subject of historical investigation. Ambivalent‘s contributors bring photography into conversation with orality, travel writing, ritual, psychoanalysis, and politics, with new approaches to questions of race, time, and postcolonial and decolonial histories.
Contributors: George Emeka Agbo, Isabelle de Rezende, Jung Ran Forte, Ingrid Masondo, Phindi Mnyaka, Okechukwu Nwafor, Vilho Shigwedha, Napandulwe Shiweda, Drew Thompson
In Before the Flood Jacob Blanc traces the protest movements of rural Brazilians living in the shadow of the Itaipu dam—the largest producer of hydroelectric power in the world. In the 1970s and 1980s, local communities facing displacement took a stand against the military officials overseeing the dam's construction, and in the context of an emerging national fight for democracy, they elevated their struggle for land into a referendum on the dictatorship itself. Unlike the broader campaign against military rule, however, the conflict at Itaipu was premised on issues that long predated the official start of dictatorship: access to land, the defense of rural and indigenous livelihoods, and political rights in the countryside. In their efforts against Itaipu and through conflicts among themselves, title-owning farmers, landless peasants, and the Avá-Guarani Indians articulated a rural-based vision for democracy. Through interviews and archival research—including declassified military documents and the first-ever access to the Itaipu Binational Corporation—Before the Flood challenges the primacy of urban-focused narratives and unearths the rural experiences of dictatorship and democracy in Brazil.
An anthropological study of Haitian migrant women’s mobility in the Dominican Republic.
Borders of Visibility offers extremely timely insight into the Dominican Republic’s racist treatment of Haitian descendants within its borders. Jennifer L. Shoaff employs multisited feminist research to focus on the geographies of power that intersect to inform the opportunities and constraints that migrant women must navigate to labor and live within a context that largely denies their human rights, access to citizenship, and a sense of security and belonging.
Paradoxically, these women are both hypervisible because of the blackness that they embody and invisible because they are marginalized by intersecting power inequalities. Haitian women must contend with diffuse legal, bureaucratic and discursive state-local practices across “border” sites that situate them as a specific kind of threat that must be contained. Shoaff examines this dialectic of mobility and containment across various sites in the northwest Dominican Republic, including the official border crossing, transborder and regional used-clothing markets, migrant settlements (bateyes), and other rural-urban contexts.
Shoaff combines ethnographic interviews, participant observation, institutional analyses of state structures and nongovernmental agencies, and archival documentation to bring this human rights issue to the fore. Although primarily grounded in critical ethnographic practice, this work contributes to the larger fields of transnational feminism, black studies, migration and border studies, political economy, and cultural geography. Borders of Visibility brings much needed attention to Haitian migrant women’s economic ingenuity and entrepreneurial savvy, their ability to survive and thrive, their often impossible choices whether to move or to stay, returning them to a place of visibility, while exposing the very structures that continue to render them invisible and, thus, expendable over time.
Nine interdisciplinary essays employ, explore, and critique the analytical category and the practical stakes of visibility.
Not only does visibility matter to politics, but it is an increasingly intrinsic constituent element and a crucial asset of it. Accordingly, the challenge to social science is that of understanding how the new institutional, urban, and technological settings are reshaping the organization of the visible.
Ranging from urban public space to the new media and social media platforms, a team of distinguished scholars and researchers here addresses a vast terrain of inquiry by joining together original theoretical elaboration with careful empirical studies. The result is a thoroughly interdisciplinary endeavor, conducted with passion and insight. The New Politics of Visibility comprises nine original interdisciplinary chapters that analyze topical areas in the newly emerging modes of governance and society. The transformations of urban space and the working of new media form a core concern recurring through many of the essays but is by no means the sole topic, as other essays address the politics of visibility in crucial cultural spheres, including gender relations and professional life.
How might art disrupt Arabophobia and Islamophobia in the US? In Poetics of Visibility in the Contemporary Arab American Novel, Mazen Naous argues that fiction is one of the ways in which Arab Americans can correct dominant narratives of themselves with representation of their lived realities. Looking at both the aesthetics and politics in contemporary Arab American novels, Naous demonstrates that the novels’ poetics cannot be extricated from or subsumed under political content. In his finely textured analyses of form and style, Naous uncovers crucial transcultural and transpoetic solidarities that extend beyond the politics of representation.
Naous’s book offers analyses of Diana Abu-Jaber’s Arabian Jazz and Crescent, Rabih Alameddine’s Koolaids: The Art of War, Laila Halaby’s Once in a Promised Land, and Mohja Kahf’s The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf as ways to answer this question. Naous explores how these novels negotiate queer desire, music, Western and Middle Eastern art, gender, and relationships between other minorities. These poetics enable readers to see the nuance and richness of Arab American experience. Naous ultimately argues that fiction creates crucial spaces for reimagining and redefining intercultural relationships.
Contemporary visual and performance artists have adopted modern medical technologies such as MRIs and computer imaging—and the bodily access they imply—to reveal their limitations. In doing so they emphasize the unknowability of another’s bodily experience and the effects—physical, emotional, and social—of medical procedures.In The Scar of Visibility, Petra Kuppers examines the use of medical imagery practices in contemporary art, as well as different arts of everyday life (self-help groups, community events, Internet sites), focusing on fantasies and “knowledge projects” surrounding the human body. Among the works she investigates are the controversial Body Worlds exhibition of plastinized corpses; video projects by Shimon Attie on diabetes and Douglas Gordon on mental health and war trauma; performance pieces by Angela Ellsworth, Bob Flanagan, and Kira O’Reilly; films like David Cronenberg’s Crash and Marina de Van’s In My Skin that fetishize body wounds; representations of the AIDS virus in the National Museum of Health and on CSI: Crime Scene Investigations; and the paintings of outsider artist Martin Ramírez.At the heart of this work is the scar—a place of production, of repetition and difference, of multiple nerve sensations, fragile skin, outer sign, and bodily depth. Through the embodied sign of the scar, Kuppers articulates connections between subjective experience, history, and personal politics. Illustrated throughout, The Scar of Invisibility broadens our understanding of the significance of medical images in visual culture.Petra Kuppers is associate professor of English at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and the author of Disability and Contemporary Performance: Bodies on Edge.
Drawing on fifteen months of ethnographic research in one of the most under-developed towns on the Caribbean island of Trinidad, this book describes the uses and consequences of social media for the town’s residents. Jolynna Sinanan argues that this semi-urban region is a place in between: somewhere city dwellers look down on but that other villagers look up to. The town’s chief core value asserts that one should not elevate oneself over others, and Sinanan explores how residents carefully navigate social media as a tool for visibility while still advocating against more cosmopolitan values.
Examining how undocumented migrants are using film, video, and other documentary media to challenge surveillance, detention, and deportation
As debates over immigration increasingly become flashpoints of political contention in the United States, a variety of advocacy groups, social service organizations, filmmakers, and artists have provided undocumented migrants with the tools and training to document their experiences.
In The Undocumented Everyday, Rebecca M. Schreiber examines the significance of self-representation by undocumented Mexican and Central American migrants, arguing that by centering their own subjectivity and presence through their use of documentary media, these migrants are effectively challenging intensified regimes of state surveillance and liberal strategies that emphasize visibility as a form of empowerment and inclusion. Schreiber explores documentation as both an aesthetic practice based on the visual conventions of social realism and a state-administered means of identification and control.
As Schreiber shows, by visualizing new ways of belonging not necessarily defined by citizenship, these migrants are remaking documentary media, combining formal visual strategies with those of amateur photography and performative elements to create a mixed-genre aesthetic. In doing so, they make political claims and create new forms of protection for migrant communities experiencing increased surveillance, detention, and deportation.
In Urban Horror Erin Y. Huang theorizes the economic, cultural, and political conditions of neoliberal post-socialist China. Drawing on Marxist phenomenology, geography, and aesthetics from Engels and Merleau-Ponty to Lefebvre and Rancière, Huang traces the emergence and mediation of what she calls urban horror—a sociopolitical public affect that exceeds comprehension and provides the grounds for possible future revolutionary dissent. She shows how documentaries, blockbuster feature films, and video art from China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan made between the 1990s and the present rehearse and communicate urban horror. In these films urban horror circulates through myriad urban spaces characterized by the creation of speculative crises, shifting temporalities, and dystopic environments inhospitable to the human body. The cinematic image and the aesthetics of urban horror in neoliberal post-socialist China lay the groundwork for the future to such an extent, Huang contends, that the seeds of dissent at the heart of urban horror make it possible to imagine new forms of resistance.
In Visual Occupations Gil Z. Hochberg shows how the Israeli Occupation of Palestine is driven by the unequal access to visual rights, or the right to control what can be seen, how, and from which position. Israel maintains this unequal balance by erasing the history and denying the existence of Palestinians, and by carefully concealing its own militarization. Israeli surveillance of Palestinians, combined with the militarized gaze of Israeli soldiers at places like roadside checkpoints, also serve as tools of dominance. Hochberg analyzes various works by Palestinian and Israeli artists, among them Elia Suleiman, Rula Halawani, Sharif Waked, Ari Folman, and Larry Abramson, whose films, art, and photography challenge the inequity of visual rights by altering, queering, and manipulating dominant modes of representing the conflict. These artists' creation of new ways of seeing—such as the refusal of Palestinian filmmakers and photographers to show Palestinian suffering or the Israeli artists' exposure of state manipulated Israeli blindness —offers a crucial gateway, Hochberg suggests, for overcoming and undoing Israel's militarized dominance and political oppression of Palestinians.