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Author Archives: Euston_Madman

The Freedom to Dream

IS IT POSSIBLE FOR PUBLIC ART PROJECTS TO ADDRESS ISSUES OF SOCIAL AND CULTURAL JUSTICE? YES, ARGUES ZAYD MINTY IN HIS PROFILE OF DOUAL’ART, A CAMEROONIAN PUBLIC ART ORGANISATION 

Ananya Roy’s injunction that a shift in urban planning practices towards a distributive justice that profiles the object of urban planning – the people themselves – forms part of a growing critique of dominant modernist paradigms of planning.1 According to Roy, a comparative urban studies and international development expert at the University of California, Berkeley, this dominant paradigm is founded on an overriding “ideology of space” in which the built environment is given priority over people and their livelihoods. She suggests we need to engage with the so-called developing world more pragmatically and practically – to become involved with the “Politics of Shit”.

Roy’s critique proposes a city that is at once socially and culturally just, wherein citizens are active players in re-imagining and making real their own conception of place (rather than having it planned for them from above without their involvement). Collective or participatory engagements with planning are seen as particularly necessary. Such seemingly utopian approaches, which centre on dreaming better cities, propose that vibrant groupings in civil society can and do create such outcomes – better cities. It is precisely this sort of approach I hope to argue is what makes doual’art’s practice special. This Cameroonian public art organisation’s independently developed practice, which draws heavily on its work with artists, resonates strongly with a critical planning that emphasises the need to ensure a re-imagining of city through collective engagement. Doual’art’s greatest strengths, suggests artist Achille Ka, resides in its ability to allow the residents of a crumbling “pirate city” the freedom to dream new futures.2 Founded in 1991, doual’art’s premises are located in an old cinema behind La Pagode, an exquisite 1905 landmark in Bonanjo, Douala. A small garden cafe leads into espace doual’art where a small bar and stylish gallery – together with mezzanine offices and resource space – are located. The venue is used to host exhibitions, performing art events, conferences, seminars and a residency programme.

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gazasmoke

The Gaza conflict may have only lasted 22 days but its impact was one that has had far reaching consequences around the world. Not only did it lead to the ground-breaking Goldstone Report, hailed by many as the first real international attempt to hold Israel accountable for its actions in the region, but it also inflamed passionate public emotions and discourse across the globe. A rash of protests, marches, rallies and demonstrations against the Israeli aggression could be found in countries from Spain to America, and London was no exception. Within hours of the first Israeli air strikes against the civilian Gazan population, anti-war groups and other interested parties had arranged what was to be the first of many demonstrations, vigils and protests.

Muslims and non-Muslims alike, Arabs and non-Arabs, took to the streets to voice their horror and united opposition to the Israeli bombardment of the most populated region in the world.

However, many young protesters are now beginning to pay the price for their opposition to that conflict. Yesterday and today, 29th and 30th October 2009, many of those who took part in the London demonstrations were hauled before the West London Magistrates Court in Hammersmith. This included demonstrators who protested in the events on Sunday 28th December and Monday 29th December, both outside the Israeli embassy as well as the 3rd and 10th January.

Those young people, many of whom were attending their first ever demonstration, faced very severe consequences for their roles in that December/January opposition to the Israeli offensive.

As a result of the protests, primarily of the 3rd and 10th January, in the last two days alone 69 people have been charged with criminal offences. The primary charge, which applied to 61 out of the 69 cases were for violent disorder. Of all of the arrests made, judging from the names alone, almost all were young Muslim men.

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El Colegio del Cuerpo

In a country where bodies have been mutilated, disappeared and assassinated, celebrating the value of the human body through dance is important.

The Colegio del Cuerpo, or the body school, is a dance school in Cartagena, a Colombian city where 70 per cent of the population live below the poverty line.

The school brings youngsters from across the city’s social spectrum together through contemporary dance.

Another country

Baldwin

In 1955, the injustice of the black experience was no longer news, and if Baldwin’s warning drew attention it was overshadowed by the gentler yet more startling statements that made his work unique. In this newly politicized context, there was a larger lesson to be drawn from the hard-won wisdom, offered from his father’s grave, that hatred “never failed to destroy the man who hated and this was an immutable law.” Addressing a predominantly white audience—many of these essays were originally published in white liberal magazines—he sounds a tone very much like sympathy. Living abroad, he explained, had made him realize how irrevocably he was an American; he confessed that he felt a closer kinship with the white Americans he saw in Paris than with the African blacks, whose culture and experiences he had never shared. The races’ mutual obsession, in America, and their long if hidden history of physical commingling had finally made them something like a family. For these reasons, Baldwin revoked the threat of violence with an astonishingly broad reassurance: American Negroes, he claimed, have no desire for vengeance. The relationship of blacks and whites is, after all, “a blood relationship, perhaps the most profound reality of the American experience,” and cannot be understood until we recognize how much it contains of “the force and anguish and terror of love.”

When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery bus, in December, 1955, Baldwin was absorbed with the publication of his second novel, “Giovanni’s Room”; he watched from Paris as the civil-rights movement got under way, that spring. His new book had a Paris setting, no black characters, and not a word about race. Even more boldly, it was about homosexual love—or, rather, about the inability of a privileged young American man to come to terms with his sexuality and ultimately to feel any love at all. Brief and intense, the novel is brilliant in its exploration of emotional cowardice but marred by a portentous tone that at times feels cheaply secondhand—more “Bonjour Tristesse” than Gide or Genet. Although Baldwin had been cautioned about the prospects of a book with such a controversial subject, it received good reviews and went into a second printing in six weeks. As a writer, he had won the freedom he desired, and the decision to live abroad seemed fully vindicated. By late 1956, however, the atmosphere in Paris was changing. The Algerian war had made it difficult to ignore France’s own racial problems, and newspaper headlines in the kiosks outside the cafés made it even harder to forget the troubles back home. And so the following summer Baldwin embarked on his most adventurous trip, to the land that some in Harlem still called the Old Country: the American South.

He was genuinely afraid.

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