Citizens and Borders: Joseph Carens, Bouchra Khalili, and Samar Yazbek | MoMA LIVE

Citizens and Borders: Joseph Carens, Bouchra Khalili, and Samar Yazbek | MoMA LIVE


Captions will appear here. Captions will
appear here. Good night. We’re
delighted to have you with us tonight,
welcome to our digital audience, as well. We’re
coming together on a very topical
discussion. In our world, despite the advances of
technology and commerce and enlightened
thought, more people are displaced by conflict than
ever before in recorded history.
The figures from the United Nations refugee
report that was released last week are
overwhelming. 65 million people have been
forced from their homes by political violence
and unrest and that’s not counting people who
are displaced by natural disaster. The
largest number come from Syria and Iraq, but
those places are hardly alone in feeding this
Exodus. There’s a surge of migrants coming
from the Congo, smallo, South Sudan, Nigeria,
Afghanistan, Haiti, and Colombia .
25 million people are taking refuge outside
of their country and the largest part of this
flood are not coming to rest in Europe as the
press might have you believe, but in Turkey
and Lebanon and Jordan and Ethiopia. Along
the way in seeking safety, 1 in 20 people
die. And nearly 100,000 children have
attempted the journey on their own. This is
the most staggering global crisis we have
seen since WWII, and it’s an existential one.
One that calls into question the adequacy of
many of our long-held thoughts and ideas, our
ideas about welcome, about citizenship, about
nation, and borders, about Europe itself.
And that seems clear with the shock of
yesterday’s news that Great Britain elected
to leave the European Union, motivated in
large part by a fear of open borders and
untramieled immigration, but of course this
is not just Europe’s problem. It is ours,
too, and I don’t just mean economic
implications of Brexit. I’m thinking about
the way that we are subject to the same
forces. It’s been made clear in Donald
Trump’s xenophobic proclamations or this
week’s Supreme Court decision about illegal
searches that justis society SO otomey proclaimed:
It’s been quite a week. In a civil society,
artists and other creative producers play a
critically important role in helping guide us
through these complex situation, they
function as s sensors. And that’s what
tonight’s conversation is about. It’s part
of our Citizens and Borders initiative
which is a series of discrete programs that
are organized by curators and other
program administrators are that offer on
displacement displacement. : It’s organized
by S Cormier and
Jean-Paul Comey it’s going to be up until
October 10th. Another addition to our
citizens border is an exhibition that will be
opening on October 1st, it’s organized by Anderson in the
department of architecture and design and will
explore architecture in relationship to
global refugee emergencies.
So tonight’s event is cosponsored by the
council on foreign relations, which is
committed to global literacy, and together
with the CFR, we welcome and extraordinary
group of individuals to our stage. The great
artist Bouchra Khalili herself, philosopher
and professor of political science and great
champion of open borders, Joe Carens, a
specialist on Islamic law and political
movements, and I’m afraid that I have some
bad news, as well, which is the extraordinary
writer and activist, Samar Yazbek can’t join
us because of visa difficulties. She travels
on an official refugee status. She happens a
French passport with an official refugee
status and encountered difficulties and we
weren’t able to work through them in time,
but she’s very eager to join us tonight to
address this audience and we’re keen to have
her, so we’ll have her for a while. Part of
the program, via Skype, and then we’ll bring
her back to the museum in the early fall when
we can secure her visa. So that’s a great
disappointment, but I’m very glad she’ll be able to join
us via technology.
And the run of the program will be that
everyone will come to stage, Bernard will
begin the conversation with Samar on Skype. discussion will
be about 50 minutes, then there will be time for Q & A,
about 20 minutes of Q & A, you have cards
in your program and you can write any
questions that come up during the conversation
on your cards, and you can also send us
questions with the hashtag citizens
borders and you can comment on the event that way,
as well. So thank you all for joining us,
we’re delighted to have you and I’m looking
forward to tonight’s event.
[applause] [applause]
Thank you. Thank you very much for the
introduction, and for the invitation. We have
Samar here with us. And also being an
academic, I got the books. [laughter]
And Samar has two wonderful books that we’ll
be discussing today, among other issues, the
first is.” A woman in the crossfire” which is
a book about her experience at the beginning
of the Syrian uprising and the second is “The
crossing” which is the journey out of Syria
because of the war, so hello Sam Samar.
>>So I will begin the question by asking
you, the role of the artist in talking about
these conflicts, in you know, being a witness
to these conflicts, can you tell us something
about that role and in particular, drawing
from your own experiences? (translator
speaking.) Translator: I believe that art
is against death and against war. Regarding that tragic
situation now in Syria , it is a situation
that was very important to all the
identities, the different aspects of the
identity of the artist. It could be like
different like aspects. It could be like
political activist and it could be like an
activist or it could be like a witness for
the truth. (Samar speaking).
Translator: One of the most important things
that came to me at the beginning of the
peaceful demonstrations in Syria, around like
five years ago … (Samar speaking in Arabic) Arabic).
Translator: I was at the front line at the
beginning of all of these demonstrations and
I was really very keen to try to convey the
really true picture right from the beginning
to the media. (Samar speaking in Arabic).
Translator: Even when I moved like — when I
went like to Paris and then I went back again
to the north in 2012 … Samar speaking
Prep (Samar speaking). Translator: As a writer, and
as a cultured person, also, I was eager just
to be a part of this change. (Samar speaking).
Translator: And lass in that case, Also
in that case I was just trying to document everything
that was going on in the north and also to
establish a civil establishment.
(Samar speaking). Translator: I was there in all
of these areas that was under like
bombardment from the Assad regime. And I was in the front line
in all of these battlefields where there was
also this presence of the ISIS, also, and
after that I went back to Paris. (Samar
speaking). Translator: And I have like
really horrible life stories about all of these
people that really lost their lives.
And they are the silent, like they are
silent, all of these factors, and they have
no — no voice for them. They were really
silent. Samar speaking) .
Translator: And this is one of the roles of
the artist during like wars or like dramatic
changes in history. And this is at least from
my perspective. If I may, one of the issues
that actually unites a lot of the work that’s
being presented here is the rejection
of the typical or the stereotypical
framing of the conflict, whether in your case
it’s the sectarian way in which Syria is
described as explaining all the problems, or
in the case of Bouchra, you know, the
stereotypical idea that we have of the refugee is
also interrogated in your work. And
is put into question. And I would like us
perhaps to talk about how the artist actually,
you know, shifts the focus on what the
problem is as it is defined, for example, in the
media. (Translator speaking to Samar.) (Samar speaking) .
Translator: After like in the situation of
Syria, after like it was like that way for part of that field … it’s very important
for the artist himself to be part, one of the
tools of the change. Samar speaking. Translator: But in my
situation, of course, the arts, like all of the arts
was really retreating in my situation
whatever was going on in Syria was a little bit
retreating. (Samar speaking). Translator: This relies on —
I think it is for each artist and what is the
relation between him and the society.
(Samar speaking) .
Translator: It was like really we should not
fight for this, the fear, like, the fear case
of the Syrian people. (Samar speaking). Translator: We, as artists, we
were part of this, like the demand for
democracy, and the demanding for peace and we just
were part of it as an artist.
(Samar speaking ) .
Translator: As I said, like also as a
writer, also with so many identities, I
should be also like, I should have a part of
the change that’s going to happen in Syria,
about the change in Syria. (Samar speaking) .
Translator: That will we should not really
limit the function of the art, because this
is not like really — limiting is no good,
like, we should not really limit the role of
the art. (Samar speaking) .
Translator: One of the most important
things, really, is to try and convey the
truth and to be the voice of all of the
victims. (Samar speaking). Translator: Because I am
believing of course about the word of media and also
the Syrian regime of course conveyed the
wrong image of what’s going on in Syria.
Samar speaking .
Translator: I was just to be part of that,
just to be bring justice to all of the
victims. >>Should you see your role
in similar terms, that you’re a witness to
events that you’re trying to reframe how the
media talks about refugees, for example? How
do you see what you’re doing? >>I mean I absolutely agree
with what Samar just said, and at the same time,
I stick with my own position that is quite
different, because I work within a
different context, I’m not Syrian, and my
experience is completely different, and an
artist also works with one’s own life and
own experience. So I won’t define my work or
myself as an artist as a witness, but rather
as someone who tries to ask a question, to
give the form to that question, and rather
than speaking for the others, giving that
opportunity to individuals who are often
silenced to speak for themselves, and with their
own words. But at the same time, it’s also what
Samar was saying about providing with
different images, and you started your question
with the comparison, with the media. The
media often produce images to illustrate the
discourse. My position is somehow the
complete opposite of that. It’s whether — how one
can ask a question, rather than
illustrating a solution, or a predefined or a
preconceived discourse.
So I don’t see myself as someone proposing
something that is complete, but rather asking
the question through an audience, and
inviting the audience to reflect on the
pictures that are shown and the words that
are said and not giving one solution, but
rather encouraging a dialogue and a debate in
a public space, because a museum is also a
public space, it’s a space for the public and
consequently it can be a civic space, as
well. So that’s also the reason why I do not
define myself as an activist but rather as a
citizen. Which is a different position, but
try to look at images as something that can
create a debate, a dialogue, in other ways of
saying, and suggest other perspectives, but
at the same time, not imposing them, but
rather, suggesting them to the public and
inviting the public to exercise its freedom
of reacting to an artwork and reflecting for
themselves through that artwork and
eventually speaking of it with others. So the
impact on reality is not direct, but it par
dissipates in the public debate. But I also
work with very specific questions with a very
singular trajectory that cannot become
examples to the media, often when they give
one minute or two minutes to someone to
express himself or herself, that person is
supposed to illustrate one specific case. But
I don’t believe that there are examples, that
individuals trajectories are examples. They
are what they are, they speak for themselves,
and at the same time they are universal.
>>There is definitely a universality and I
know, Joe, you got to see the installation
earlier. And the story that seems to be
universal are people from so many different
countries all trying to delineating their own
itinerary ies on this map and all the ethical
issues that arise. I mean some of them end up
almost enslaved in country, in several
different countries and what would he would
normally think as a journey that would take
10 hours and a flight takes three years, four
years, sometimes, to complete. >>Yeah.
>>I wonder what your sort of response,
given the work you’ve done on refugees, on
citizenship, on borders, how that — how that
installation spoke to you. >>Well, I found it very
powerful. And for precisely the reasons that
Bouchra just said, the kind of specificity, the
tracking of the individuals, so it’s a — doing
the sort of work that Bouchra does as an
artist is different from the sort of work
that I do as a philosopher. We paint pictures
with words and not like novelists, but
there is a way in what you do as a philosopher is
try to construct a vision of the world
and say isn’t it like this? So it’s an appeal
to a debate but it’s an attempt to use
reason and argument, so in that sense it’s
a — I think there’s less — I do try to tell
some stories and I actually think of them as
examples, so there are some tensions here,
because I’m trying to seek generalization,
so in a way, what I’m doing is quite
different from Bouchra, because I do want to
generalize. If one engages in a debate, then
one wants to have an answer. So a question
has to be posed and I think she’s quite good at
challenging the questions. But then a new
must be question must be posed and I’m
good at also subverting the questions and I
think Bouchra’s work does a good job
at that. >>Absolutely. And I know that
the medium that you chose — chose
— [mumbling]
The medium that you chose is the map and you
don’t see. >> so I was wondering about
the, you know, the choices that you made,
where, for instance, you choose not to show
their faces, and you chose the map. And I
know from an article that was written about
your work where you had shown or you had
discussed this wonderful map, Medieval Islamic
map which shows Europe in the south and
Africa in the north, so a total inversion. Why
the map? Why did you choose the map as this,
or cartography as a way of talking
and describing the questions and the
eye continue itinerary.
>>I think my answer will be quite long.
[laughter] >>There are basically — I
would say three reasons. The first one is what I
have witnessed myself when I was a
teenager in Morocco. It’s quite ironic to
think of it today on the Brexit day, but I
was in Morocco when the agreement was signed
and this had immediate consequence on most
Africans, because before then, it was easy
to go to Europe. There was no need for a
visa. And this completely changed at the
moment when Europe was discussing the no
border for Europe. It’s not for the others.
So suddenly we became excluded from that
area, from a precise geographical area. For
us in 1991 the problem was not in getting a
visa, it was not having a passport. Because
having a passport was a privilege. It was at the
discretion of the state, who could decide who
could have a passport and who could not. From
’91 it became the opposite. It was
extremely easy to have a passport and extremely
difficult to have a visa. So I guess my
interest in geography started also with
this. With the contemplation of ancient Islamic
tradition of map-making because that was also
what I was in contact with, but also with
my own experience of living in a
country where suddenly we were banned to cross
borders. Why the distance between Morocco and
Spain is 14 kilometers, and not to mention
the history of with Spain, if we were to go
back in history. So I guess the interest started
with this. With the question of perception,
and the set of complications to the
perception when I started to live myself as an
immigrant in France. So I had somehow the
contra view or of being in that place that was
refused to us before, and living there as
someone who was not a citizen still. Even though
I could speak French fluently, because
of course the colonial history had an impact
on the independence until today. French
is still a prominent language in Morocco.
So it was as if I was not living in a
completely unknown country. There was a connection
between those places, but still I was not a
citizen. I was a foreigner. And I — I —
when I became an artist of course I also started to work
with this, with my own experience, my own
perception of the question. And being an
artist when I start working on a project, I
also start somehow formulating a question
and how to give a visual shape to the
question. And that is an image. It’s a convention.
It’s an image. We all know map from our
books, etc., it’s a familiar picture. But
what about that picture
pick if that picture is challenged by real
experiences? What about if that picture
becomes a sort of surface on which a sort of
contra map can be drawn? So for me it was an
idea was very simple. I want to show
something to someone. How can I show it?
Because eventually when one works with video
or film it’s always about showing something
to someone. It doesn’t mean that showing that
thing, you will say it means this, or this is
what the picture is about. But you show
something and you expect an answer. And
that’s also why I chose a map, because the
map is also in a sense datic, because it
shows something and when you show a hand
drawing on a map it’s also a performative
gesture. You’re showing something. So the
idea of working with the map was somehow
natural, because of my own commitment with
geography, conception, but also cinematic in
a sense that in one long shot I had the shot
and the contra shot. There was no need for
technical editing. The editing was already
there because of the different layers that
are combined. That’s a, yeah, visual shape.
And of course the voice plays also a
prominent aspect, because it’s not — I mean
it cannot be defined as: Because it’s
completely synchronized, but that sound is
also an image, and that’s how the position of
the viewer becomes extremely important,
because there is something that is being
shown, and there is something that is being
narrated, and they are all the peculiarities
peculiaruleis of one voice. Because every
specific voice has a different brain, there are
accents. Three of the videos are Arabic
and there are different Arabic, so for an
Arabic speaker it’s also challenging to realize
how diverse the Arabic is in a region that
is depicted as completely homogeneous, which is
not true. And I can give more and more
details on why every single thing is extremely
specific, but at the same time, very simple.
>>The story of the * you know, of the
intimate stranger, you know, in the case of
the Moroccan or the north African who comes
to Europe and speaks French but is still
having to be made into someone, an othering,
this is a story that also comes out in your
work that you see these norms when they’re
constructed, often there’s something very
contrived and arbitrary about them and you
have this wonderful story, I mean tragic
story, actually, in the chapter on refugees,
where it’s a story of Jewish refugees from
the Holocaust who are not allowed into the
United States, and then the ship is sent back
and presumably most of them perish in Europe.
And the arguments that were being made at the
time about these people, which I mean there’s
almost an immediate and direct echo to how
we, you know, listen to people who are
talking about Muslims or talking about people
from the global south. There’s something so
familiar about that voice from the ’30s and
now again today, and I know that you were
telling me earlier in your work, that it
seems that the situation is only getting
worse as you’ve been studying these issues
over the last several decades. Why do you
think that is? I mean not just why is it
getting worse but why are these echoes, these
trajectories so similar? Why is it that we
never seem to learn to change how we talk
about these others? >>I wish I had an answer to
that. I do think it is — so first of all
I’m not a complete pessimist. I think
these things shift and you do sometimes find
an opening, and a willingness to understand.
And I actually think a lot of these
things are contagious, that it just depends
on a set of circumstances and who makes the
argument. I mean we just went through an
election in Canada in which there was a
right-wing party that was taking the kind of
conventional, anti-refugee and a kind of
mainstream but liberal party and said we should
take in more refugees and they loved it. So
it’s an appeal to a certain kind of identity
and that’s what I thought in the book in the
section on refugees, so if you ask people
in North America, Canada, the United
States about the history of the Holocaust,
everyone would say that was terrible, we failed,
this was a terrible moral failure and exact
ly right, the language when you looked at how
people justified that at the time, how
is it that they explained to themselves, it
was already to exclude Jewish refugees, why
to deny them visas, why to accuse them of
being smugglers, if they have this much money,
they can’t really be in need. And all of
the same arguments, they’re dangerous,
some of them may be communists. Some of them
are actually Nazis, but they’re pretending to
be Jewish. All of the same arguments that
you hear today were the arguments that were
made at that time and my hope is that by
drawing attention to that, people will come to see
that there’s something problematic about the
discourse that is dominating the
discussion of refugees today, and I do think it’s
contingent, that if enough people see it and hear
it, we have both of these forces out there.
You saw that in Germany, right? There was a
very positive response to the refugees, and
then some negative things and it’s not
predetermined. It’s not fixed. And it matters
what people say.
>>Although the legal structures and the
legal norms seem not to have been updated to
deal with this reality, or at least the
intensity of the refugee crisis that we’re
seeing today. >>Right.
>>And one of your pleas in the book is to
actually lessen that. >>Yes and no. I think if you
had said what would be the right frame to admit
refugees, you would have a much more
expansive definition. And I deed you
indeed you see some progress.
It has been expanded to exclude persecution
on the basis of gender, sexuality. Those were
not envisaged when they wrote the rules. But
in other ways it’s been narrowed and
constrained. And I do have to say that I
would not, as a — if I were recommended to
policymakers, I wouldn’t recommend opening up
the definition now, because in this climate
what would happen is it would be narrowed
further still, so … although the definition
as it currently is imperfect, if you tried to
make it better, it would probably make it
worse. So there’s a difference what you think
in principle and what actions you take in the
world. You have to think about the
consequences of the actions. >>And are you still engaged in
some of these issues around — I know
that you know, you don’t really like to talk
about the work you’re doing, but are you still
engaged in some of these questions, big
questions about identity, borders, citizenship,
belonging? >>Somehow I always considered
that my work was not necessarily about
refugees or migrations, it was whether sort
of integration and what this means
to be a citizen. Including when the law
doesn’t give you the right to be a citizen.
Is it still possible to consider society
where anyone can be a citizen or in more simple
words, can we consider citizenship not as an
exclusive club, which membership is your
ID card, but something completely different
that would be a commitment to society. And
that would be the only condition that would be
demanded by a state that recognized someone
as a citizen. But to go back to your previous
questions, if you ask a question of
alternative forms of citizenship, you also integrate
to society the state, and what it means
today, and I guess the process is also
integrate the nation state and what it means,
and the Brexit somehow is a sort of
victory of the most conservative conception of
what is a nation state, as opposed to the
Europe union that was supposed to be not an
addition, but a sort of combination of nation
states that somehow go over various
conceptions of belonging to the point of
bringing the opposite of Europe citizenship,
but that depends on everything that could
be more inclusive somehow and what we
are seeing today is also the failure of
that. The failure of that utopia, so maybe
my work is eventually about dysutopia or
citizenship not being to nation states, but to
other forms of belonging, and I guess that’s
the reason why these last few years, I went
back to the history of — … because there was a time
when the nation state was not defined as a
horizon of independence, but more a set of
perception of the world as a coalition of a
political utopia, and that was enough to
consider that I can support a Vietnamese in
his independence or somebody from South
Africa, etc., etc., and of course I
understood that I had an impact on that,
because I understood that I was confused by
the way it was pictured in the media as the
face of revolution. As the history of
revolution, needed modern and western
technology to become possible. But there’s a
very long history of revolutionary thinking
and progressive thinking in the area, so I
have dedicated the last few years in somehow
investigating that history, and articulate ing
different moments in the history of the
region when that utopia was somehow
implemented or discussed. At least discussed
in a very concrete way. And to answer your
question, I’m currently working actually on
two projects, one that will be the closing
shop somehow and the investigate and the
history of utopia but more — it actually
starts with a French writer and the … And
another project about theater and community,
and again, what would be at stake is the
question of belonging. And a community. What
is a community. And what is a community that
aims to achieve equality? And of course this
results in many problems, including
decisionmaking and etc. when you’re in a
group, if you want to be an equal in the way
you function, you have to invent ways of
making decisions so I’m giving here specific
examples of this to give you an idea of why
it is together. And it will be a film that
will be produced in a theater with nonact ors.
And involving different people from different
backgrounds. But it also originates in a real
story. >>In a real story?
>>Yeah. But I cannot say more than that.
[laughter] >>Can I say something more
about Bouchra’s projects that I found really
moving and effective? So in my book I say
that the modern nation state, the rich
western modern states, are like — it’s a form
of feudalism, really, to be born in a rich
western modern state is to be born in know
built in the middle ages and to be born
anywhere else world — even though lots of us
are not mobility. And to be born into
the poor states is like to be born into the
peasant states. And it’s that way because then
your life chances are so dependent on
where you’re born, and one of the things that
comes out in the mapping project is you can
see these are just ordinary people, you know
that the immigrants get constructed as
threats and dangerous and trying to take
stuff from us, and you can see — and it’s —
the simplicity of it because you don’t know a
lot about the story, you just have a map
tracing, but this voice saying, well I went from
here, and I was looking for work and so I
went there, so these are just ordinary people,
trying to find jobs, trying to make a life
for themselves and that comes out I
think very vividly in the way in which all
these different stories reflect that
and they then call into question the
legitimacy of exclusion. So why do we get to
say no to these people? Why are we
entitled to what we have in the United States and
Canada and in these European states? Why do we
get to keep them out? What is the foundation
for that and that’s what I think kind of
comes out in your project.
>>I absolutely agree with your comment and
I hoped that this would be understood when
explaining the work, because again what I
tried to reflect on this conception of
citizenship that originates in the conception
of nation state, meaning again the
citizenship as a sort of VIP area in a big
club, that the club is the world and there’s
the VIP area, and that’s the area where you
have the open part and the others are at the
door and they cannot get in. And to continue
your own idea with peasantry. >>No, no, right.
>>And I became more and more sensitive to
this, of course as someone who was born as a
subject of the king and not as a citizen,
because that’s technically what we were in
the early 2000s, and when I lived in France
with a residency permit, I was excluded from
the club in many, many different aspects,
even though I was going to the same schools
as the others. I was given the same
education, I was speaking the same language,
sharing the same culture, etc. etc. etc.
etc., and of course this was also reflected
in the daily discourse of French politicians
as an example. So why should we be surprise ed
that she is so popular, because she’s the one
claiming citizenship in an exclusive club and
this should be the privilege of the French
only, and therefore also giving legitimacy to
a conception of French citizenship that
somehow absolutely contradicts the principle
of the French Revolution. >>Right.
>>I was rereading the article 3, I think of
the French constitution of 1793, which was
probably the most progressive ever written in
that country and there’s one sentence,
absolutely beautiful that says, “Every alien
who each man or orphan is (much).
That’s enough. It’s not about being
born in France or spending five years or ten
years or whatever, it’s about being a
human being. And France can give you French
citizenship to someone who has demonstrate ed
great humanistic things. Someone living in
Morocco, or Syria, or I don’t know, can become
French. So the question can be also asked in
that way, why are so-called progressive
democratic countries became nation state on
the basis of very open conception of
citizenship, and why why — and the complete
opposite. Somehow you answered the question before,
when you mentioned that the
instrumentation of citizenship for a short-term
political agenda by politicians in many western
countries there’s a wonderful play by a
French historian on the history of
French citizenship. It’s extraordinary.
How it was instrumentalized in the late
17th and 18th Century and one understands that
there is a sort of opportunistic agenda in
granting citizenship to foreigners and
suddenly making it more difficult to the exactly
same people, and even worse than WWII. >>I mean there is something —
there is something to be said for what’s
happening in Europe, in particular. The
instrument instrumentalization, and the
description of the immigrant and the refugees
in particular, as a real threat to national
identity, to the collective itiy. Speaking from
the Middle East, you see countries like Turkey,
Lebanon, Jordan, even Saudi Arabia has
taken in several hundred thousand
Syrians, and these Syrian refugees are not necessarily
treated well, but they’re not — the
state doesn’t use them as a foil to construct
a sense of identity, an exclusive sense of
identity in opposition to that. And it’s
curious that that’s not the case in the
Middle East, given that they’re taking in many more
than Europe is.
>>So this is a, for me, you know, laya
mentioned it in the opening and you just
brought it up again. If you look at the
debate that people say we can’t take them in
Europe or the United States, 10,000 that
would be too many, and Lebanon has over a
million refugees, so this idea that it’s too
many, we can’t manage, what is it that people
imagine who say that is going to happen to
these refugees? Do they think they should die
and if not, who should take care of them and
why should Lebanon take care of them or
Turkey or Jordan. So there’s some confusion
with the implications. So if you’re saying
this, why does that imply for what should
happen to these refugees? Who is responsible?
And why do we assume that these states, as
you say, these states in the Middle East,
which are not a model, they are often
undemocrattive and they are oppressive in
many ways, but they are the ones who are
admitting them and taking care of them and
the rich liberal democratic states are
excluding them. So I think that’s a deep
puzzle and contradiction in the values that
we claim to profess. >>That’s absolutely true.
>>But I think — I mean I suspect that the
answer to that why that is has to do with
politics. It doesn’t have to do with —
>>The answer has to do with privilege,
right? That what people feel that we will
have to give up some of the privileges that
we enjoy and that is true, so if you accept
this model of feudalism, then mobility has to
give up some of its privileges. Any yes, we
cannot enjoy all the privileges that we have
in a just world. In a just world, people
won’t need to leave home to find work,
because the opportunities will be more widely
distributed. But then there’s kind of refusal
to acknowledge our role in maintaining this
present order. Notice even in your comments,
you know, we presuppose, and that’s one of
the things that Bush Bouchra’s mapping project
underlies. We proceed presuppose a state. We take
those as given entities. But there’s a
way in which one of the things that one want
to do is problem advertise that. And what
if we wanted to define organizing the world
into states, what is the story we tell as to
why that’s good for everybody? Not just
good for us. You have to say it’s good for
everybody, right? There has to be some story and
there isn’t a good story to tell about that.
>>And that would be through geopolitics.
And we have learned this last year that also
conducted to what is going on in Syria and
other areas of the region when you think of
acknowledging the situation. To acknowledge
that the consequences of gee geo political
agendas that are contemplated and operated in
very specific areas lead to the disasters
that we have been seeing in Iraq, actually
for months and months and months. We won’t
speak only since 2003, because between 2001
and 2003, a lot of refugees were leaving out
of the consequence of the war. And I met a
lot of them in Istanbul in 200 6, 7, so
speaking of equality is also speaking of
geopolitics, and it’s a true, and extension
form, and that opportunistic and cynical, and the
consequences to the neighboring area, because that also what
happens, just to give an example.
>>So I have a couple of questions. One has
to do with, you know, the individual that you
know, spoke to, and how you got them to tell
their stories or the mechanics of it. But
before I get into that, I’m wondering about
the, again, in a way your interrogation, your
questions are also a representation of this
situation, that I know they were done before
the Arab Spring, but really, they could have
been done after the Arab Spring, they would
have been done almost any time, because the
story of these people trying to leave, you
know, is decades old. Even from the regions
where — that they come from. So in terms of,
you know, in a sense giving them voice,
representing them, there’s something to me at
least that the artist does, and certainly in
your case, it’s almost Christian, you know?
You almost put your finger on on a problem
that exists, and told the story of the
problem in a way that hasn’t been told by
anyone else. Certainly not by the media.
There’s something almost, you know, as I said
prescient. You could tell that this was a
problem that’s very major in the world today,
and you could tell that story in a way that I
think is much more effective than other ways
of telling it that are — that we hear about,
typically from the media. And so the role of
the artist in that telling, if you can maybe
say something about whether you think you,
you know, you put your finger on something in
any particular way, how is it that you even
came up with this idea? Did you notice it
from Morocco and it was something you
experienced yourself? You wanted to reproduce
it through these individuals, as well, or was
it something else? >>
>>Again, I can’t make a short answer to
this. >>I’m sorry to ask you just
deep questions. [laughter]
>>Even when I was in the art school in
Paris, I was working on the question of
being, of not being a citizen and being
somehow excluded to the margin of society,
because you don’t hold the right paper.
>>Right, mm-hm. >>I guess it’s something to
which I have always been very attentive. My
own situation was different because I was a
student, and I moved with my parents, and I was
very lucky, because often it’s also a
complete conflict. The first time I went to France
I was 3 months old and . So when I
applied for a permit, they said that I already came,
there was a connection. It makes things
easier. But what about if a different law was
written two days before. It was — at that time
it was easier. Today it would be impossible. It
would never happen. But 20 years ago, it was
possible for someone like me, who did not
face that many difficulties in getting a
residency permit. But it was more difficult to
apply for residency, which was a another
story. To go back to your question, I cannot
answer it in a simple way, because I cannot
say I have experienced this myself the same
way. It’s not true. What I have experience
ed is witnessing in my own
environment, and every single Moroccan knew a lot of
people who crossed the strait of Gilbrat lter. And it
created a culture with songs, jokes, music.
It is almost a subculture because it was
massive in the early ’90s until the early
2000s. >>So the journey, right?
>>Yeah, leaving? Leaving. >>
>>We said burning. >>Burning?
>>Yeah, because you burn the — the — air abic.
Or he’s a burner. He burned last month.
That’s what we used to hear almost every day.
Hamad, he burned last night. So that was
really in our environment. So of course this
creates another perception of crossing
borders illegally, not to mention the history
of immigration that is completely linked to
it and the authority of immigration is very
strong. Because there’s a huge from Morocco,
all over the world and these also participate
in that structure that I tried to describe
before. I’m not sure actually if I’m
answering your question, but I’m trying to
connect very complex things together that
somehow enrich that work in particular. But
to say it in more simple words, I worked with
what I knew. And I worked also with what I
researched, because there is also a lot of
research behind it which I conducted out of,
let’s say, — because I like making my
homework, I know a bit what I’m talking
about, and of course I was also dealing with
different cultures, it was important to have
a sort of precise knowledge of specific
situations, and the visa effect I described
it before, so it gives you an idea of how all
those things combine. But it’s also the same
methodology I used for all of my projects.
I’m always working with things I have
experienced with or know about in my
environment, including the ones — : But it was
also stories I heard when I was a kid.
African national Congress, headquarters were
located in Morocco in 1962, so I always
worked with things that I knew about in my
environment and I researched, too, and
somehow all of this becomes a sort of —
stays in my head, but it’s not only more
important when I’m on the south, when it’s
happening. And to answer your other question
about how it happened that I met so many
individuals who told me their stories, it’s
just that we talk a lot together . So the
videos are not based on interviews, there’s
no questions being asked. It was very long
conversations and I think throughout those
conversations there was also a form of
empowerment that was developing, because they
were somehow becoming the author of their own
story. It was not being told by someone else.
It was being told by themselves, so, yeah,
there was also a form of camaraderie.
>>So I’d like to remind the audience that
you can ask questions and I think there are
cards amongst you that have been distributed
so please do so. Write out your questions,
and Bouchra, I know you wanted to show a few
slides. >>Not necessarily. I mean we
can keep talking. I also find it very
nice just to have this conversation.
>>It’s really up to you. >>No, I’m totally OK. >>All right, you had mentioned
earlier that you didn’t think that social
media, the internet, you know, Facebook,
etc., all of these things, had really played
such an important role, I think in the
context of the Arab Spring.
>>I haven’t said that. >>Oh, OK, well, but you said
that you know they were revolutionary ideas
and connections that predated social media. I
wonder, though, how you think these technologies
are — and this question is for you, as
well — how these technologies may or may
not alter the stories of some of these people
who are, you know, who are refugees, whether
— I mean I know that if I recall correctly
in some of your — in your installation,
there were accounts of people saying, you
know, I was able to call my mother, I was
able to, you know, maybe, you know, face time
with her or whatever, so in what ways do
these technologies make a difference?
I mean, are they, for instance, you know,
helping in any way to make less imposing the —
you know, the power of the nation state,
the overwhelming sort of
oppressiveness of the nation state? Do you find that
in any way they play a role, or not?
>> way to say is I
do think that the phenomenon of migration, of
course it’s an old phenomenon, but it has
been accelerate ed by technology and that’s not
just kind of a communication technology,
though that is part of it, because now
everybody understands the possibilities out
there. There’s this global communication and
people have pictures and they have
understandings and they have communications
and networks, and so this sense that there’s
a possibility to move if you want to, is I
think enhanced by technology, and of course
then the physical possibilities of moving are
enhanced by id modern means of transportation.
So globalization and the way that connects
people together, economically, socially,
culturally, that certainly has an impact in
challenging and then making people nervous
about their understanding of what their
community is and membership in the community
and outsiders, so yeah, I think so.
>>In connection with the Arab Spring, of
course the social media were extremely
important, because I mean one of the
vocations is to allow communities to exist or
to invent other communities, strategically
speaking it’s extremely important in Syria
and other countries, maybe not as important
in Tunisia, because the demonstrations were
so immense and — so if there are maybe
producing the sort of own pistmology, it is
in the conception of the community. It
doesn’t need to be present in one space. That
can exist and be effective virtually. In a
virtual space and that has an impact on the
reality. Maybe that connection, in that way,
from the virtual community to the physical,
political community that becomes visible , so to give you an example of maybe
2014 work based on the … that really happened, but
that was never documented, and well, what
surprised me a lot is when I started seeing
in demonstrations in Morocco, pictures and
seeing in Paris a few weeks ago, the look
forward, there was a demonstration against
racism and for equality, and there are
pictures of : And this is a result of the
reconnection of community. You know.
>>We have a number of questions, by the
way, from the audience, so I’ll start with
one but , and this is a question of: Do you see
the artist as being necessarily progressive.
>>That’s a very good question. I think hi
history has shown that not artists are
progressive. I don’t believe that an artist
has to be necessarily progressive or being a
good artist or that you’re a good artist it’s
because you are progressive. No, not really.
Great artists, whom I personally admire as
artists, not as human beings, that are not
progressive. Their art has been regarded as
great art but they are not progressive.
>>So the first question is — the power of
between today’s issues with the refugees and
the crisis and the Holocaust exist but
there’s an underlying difference. Today’s
refugees come from political belief systems,
but that seek to dominate others. The excessive
accommodation of refugees demands are
suicidal. How do you balance? >>One of the problems with
this sort of question is one asks what is the
empirical evidence and if one looks at the
facts over the last, recently hundreds of
thousands of refugees admitted to the United
States over the past 20, 30 years, and four
incidents of terror, so there’s just no
reason to believe. Bouchra’s story captures it
nicely, the vast majority of refugees, what do
they want? They want their children to be safe.
They want to find a place where they can live
a life, grow up with their kids, have a job,
and live a normal life. And so the idea
that somehow — so some from oppressive regime,
but the fact that the — the idea that they
would then want to reinstitutionalize those
oppressive regimes is without foundation.
Not to say nobody, but almost nobody and
the idea that we should exclude all these
people for the possibility of the one or the
two is just inhumane.
>>I absolutely agree with you, too, because
if one makes leaving an oppressive regime to
reinstitute an oppressive regime as well,
they are not refugees, they have a plan.
>>I saw something somebody had said, you
know, people do not put their kids in boats,
unless you know being on a boat is less
dangerous than being on the land. People are
not fleeing to dominate others. They’re
fleeing to save their lives, so it’s just
unreasonable to construct them in that way.
>>And to give an example that is probably
not absolutely relevant for all the
situations that are occurring today with
regards to the migration crisis, but as an
example, in north Africa, — again I speak of
what I know from experience. >>Leaving the country without
a visa was also against the regime, but also
there are millions of people who could
travel freely and to make a life of their own
where they wanted to live. So there is also
a form of — I won’t call it a political
statement at all. Because that’s not the case. But
as you said, no one risks their life and the
life of their kids to implement an oppressive
regime, as well, it is simply not to become
a millionaire or whatever, but to
have a decent life, and a life where respect
is guaranteed, but also liberty, and that’s
also the difference between us being like
in Lebanon or Jordan or Turkey, and being
in Germany, mostly Germany and Europe. In
one cases there are many restrictions to the
liberties in being a refugee, and that’s also
the reason why, if you take the risk to or
if you are willing to risk your life
because it’s a matter of survival, liberty is
also somehow at stake.
>>Absolutely. >>Can I say one other quick
thing? Jews were just leaving to assimilate.
But that way of phrasing it forgets all of
the anti-Semitic tropes. It was precisely that
this false construction that they were bent
on domination, and I think that again these
tropes are repeated today, but now with
respect to others. >>We have one more question
here and I’m going to add to it a little bit.
So did you have to choose between which
refugee stories to tell and display, and if so,
how did you choose? And I’m adding to it, I
recall, was it one woman or maybe more? At
least one was a woman, and could you speak a
little bit about the difference between the
males versus the females in the story, in the
narrative? Because I imagine being a woman,
I think it was a Somali woman in that case.
I mean the experience of traveling must
have been harrowing. It’s harrowing for
all of them, but that much more so for her.
If you could say something about that.
>>Well, actually, there was no casting.
There are no videos that were filmed that are
not being shown there. All of them are there.
And I have not selected, because it was not
what was at stake. What was at stake was
meeting an individual and going back not going back
to the media question. It is
somehow the opposite of looking for a good
example. Because there are no good
examples. Every single life deserves or every
single story deserves to be told. Because
they are universe al. So, no, they are
all there. Speaking of the video with the
woman from Somalia, I think of course I was
very touched
by her, but she’s a very strong woman,
extremely strong. But she was also protected
by other Somali men, and going back to the
previous question and the answer you gave to
it, those also in Europe a very popular — :
Called Arabs had a plan to invade
Europe and to submit Europe to Islam. That
woman was protected by older men, not very
older, but old y and they made sure that … She was not
a or not — was in a group. And she was the
only woman and she was perfectly safe among
those men. So there was no the Arab
conception of woman that is: Or whatever,
absolutely not. She was, yeah, in a community
of mep. >>Another one is what has
changed in the refugees’ visibility in the
media or elsewhere since you made this
work in 2008 to 2011? That’s
>>That’s a very good question. Actually, I
think it will speak of visibility, but the
challenge should be specified. Was the
migration crisis discussed every single day,
but it is also discussed by the politicians
in Europe and also here. I heard that Donald
Trump made some comments on his views on
migration. Can we call it visibility? I’m not
sure. What is certainly visibility visible is
certain discourses but it doesn’t mean
that they are visible, that there are
individuals that are suffering the conditions of
being forced to live is visible. And therefore
one can also ask another question, at what
point is she visible, too? Because speaking
of the visibility of the refugees, is
— doesn’t answer the question of why are
they forced to expose this very hard life that
can last for literally years for some of
them. And so I’m not sure if — let’s say
humanitarian comments are enough to make
visible the question of ownership, because
again the question of what is at stake is
again equality. Until that point are
we ready to accept an other that can be
radically other? That can be undergo a certain
type of otherness that is not popular in
the country or whatever. Whatever they have
in mind the very specific concepts in
Germany and France, which I am aware because I have
lived in those places and this also
affects the visibility or nonvisibility of
the individual’s liberty. I’m not
sure if I’m answering the question. It’s a
very difficult question to answer because
advicibilities means many, many different
things. I think for me what should be visible is
their own views and the perspective of the
individuals who are experiencing this crisis
in their life that really impacts their
life, and how are we willing to shape our
perspective on otherness but also on equality.
>>I mean I’ll just say that thinking that
Bush Bouchra’s project is to render
people visible who are not, right? That’s what
the mapping journey does, it makes it
possible to see people in a certain kind of way
who normally are just unseen. So they’re
visible in one sense as objects, as threats, as
depersonalized others, and then you have a
project that helps you make them see them as
human beings. >>We have a question, I think
this one is addressed to you. So this
question says, commitment to society as a basis
of citizenship is a lovely idea. On
the flip side, the anxiety or suspicion
about refugees and economic migrants comes from a
suspicion of whether they’re committed to
this notion of a society. Do we need to
think of these categories separately when
considering immigration? I guess the
category of immigrant versus economic
migrant. >>Yeah. So I guess I would be
answering that question distinguish two
levels of thought. So if you are asking as
a kind of practical policy matter today,
should we try to distinguish between economic
migrants and refugees, I think it does make
sense to distinguish between those who
have an urgent need for safety, for their basic
need for safety and protection of human
rights to gain entry, between others who have a
life and they’re trying to better
themselves. Those are not the same situations and
we do need to make distinctions. But it’s also
important to step back — and that’s in the
kind of context where we’re accepting
the existing background framework in place,
but it’s also important to step back and
criticize that framework. I guess one of the
things that I’m trying to get people to think
about is that the fundamental background
structure of the way we’ve organized the world
and to see that that is deeply unjust, in a just
world, this — this difference would
disappear, because people would not feel
the need to leave, either because they were
being driven out as refugees or because they
had a need to move elsewhere for economic
reasons. There’s no reason in principle why we
couldn’t organise the world in a just way
so that people have decent opportunities
at home. Then if they wanted to move,
they could have the freedom to move if they
wanted to. Most people probably wouldn’t,
because most people want to live where they grow up,
where they have family, where they have
cultural roots. That’s the way most people want
to live but then some people want to move
for one reason or another, and their movement
would not be a problem if so many didn’t have
urgent other needs to move. So I think that’s
what’s at the heart of the problem.
>>I make a distinction between economic
migrants and — >>Well, I think there is a
continuum. That you recognize that there are
people who are being bombed, so if they don’t
get to leave, they will die. And other people
— so if we look in the United States, for
example. Most of the people who come from
Mexico to the United States, who I think ought
to receive legal status after they’re
regularized. But in most cases they would not die
living in Mexico, they would simply have a
more limited life and they’re coming to seek
a better life for themselves and their
children. Which I think is a perfectly reasonable
thing for them to be but their need to be
outside their country of origin isn’t as
urgent and dire as the needs of some people who
really can’t survive without it. So I think
we have to recognize that function amount.
ality? You don’t? [laughter]
>>Can we say one more question?
>>Yeah. >> I started a story that is
actually about citizenship. The first one in
Paris, the second one in Italy, and the
third here. And the third was about articulation
between labor and citizenship. And the
whole case, it’s a video about, is structure
around somehow public speech given by
— that is defined today by undocumented
workers. A few of them from Mexico, and
defining other forms of citizenship based on their
belonging to the workforce. One of them
specifically says that I find personally very
powerful. Even though he’s undocumented, he
considers that he belongs to the, to think
community, because his political
consciousness grew up here.
>>I agree with that, though. But in saying
that I think you have to distinguish, it
doesn’t mean that the people who have come
here and settled here as undocumented workers
are not members or don’t belong or don’t have
a right to stay, which I think they do, they
have a right to get legal status and to get
citizenship. It just has to do with the
urgency of people who are now outside. What
is the relative urgency of people who are
outside, I think we can distinguish between
different conditions. But the people who are
already here, they are members from my point
of view and they ought to be accepted. I
agree with that. >>Good. Maybe one last
question, so this again is a question that says,
why isn’t there more focus directed on the
people or leaders who are responsible for
creating refugees rather than the rev
refugees themselves? In other words, on the systems
that produce this.
>>Well, again, I think that you know, the
story of — one of the arguments you heard in
the 1930s was, you know, admitting Jewish
refugees will not solve the problem of
Hitler, and that’s true. It wouldn’t. And so
of course, the problem is the leaders and the
oppressive regimes that are generating these
refugees, but the question is what are you
going to do with the people that are You can’t finesse that
problem and there’s nothing to be gabbed by
making — do you want Syrian toes bombed by
Assad and is that going to do something to
remove Assad from power? I don’t think so.
>>Please join me in thanking our panel.
[applause]

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