[-empyre-] Welcome to week 4 of February 2020 discussion: Politicizing space and time

Parisa Vaziri pv248 at cornell.edu
Sat Feb 29 03:07:18 AEDT 2020

Yes, I wonder if inevitably, to work within an institutional space is necessarily to reproduce and perpetuate the very terms one seeks to disavow. 

I thought the initial prompt for this week was very interesting, and it's something I've been contemplating for some time now. The last piece of the prompt, with regard to how "minoritized and migrant groups navigate the intersections of race, gender, class, religion, and nation" really struck me. Part of my work grapples with the question of blackness in an Iranian context. Lately, some scholars, documentary filmmakers, and artists who have also become interested in this topic within the last decade have begun to employ the term "Afro-Iranian." On the one hand, this term seeks to situate black Iranians within the more global framework of a black diaspora. On the other, it relies upon a framework (also institutionalized) that does not exist or seem to make sense in the Iranian context. Though I have not been able to do ethnographic work in Iran (for various reasons), I have mediated contact with black communities in the South of Iran, and know that nobody employs the term "Afro-Iranian," nor its Persian equivalent, irani-i afriqa-tabar to describe him or herself. Nor is the term "black," or "siyah" (its Persian equivalent) accepted as a neutral way of describing oneself, or another person. In fact, there is *no* positive or neutral way to call oneself or to identify as black. 

This might not seem like a major problem from the outside, unless one takes into account the rampant anti-black racism black Iranians describe facing in their communities, however, without having the language to describe this either as racism, or as anti-blackness (cue the usual academic refrain: "We don't have race in the 'Middle East'"). Therefore, without having a discourse, or a community of others, with whom to communicate their experience. This has resulted in the complete erasure of black Iranians from public space, due not to the more abstract/obvious reasons (excision from the national narrative--which is of course also the case) but for the more prosaic fear of simply going outside. 

-----Original Message-----
From: empyre-bounces at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au <empyre-bounces at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au> On Behalf Of Dale Hudson
Sent: Sunday, February 23, 2020 4:13 AM
To: empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
Subject: [-empyre-] Welcome to week 4 of February 2020 discussion: Politicizing space and time

----------empyre- soft-skinned space---------------------- Thanks, Afrah and Sama, for nudging us to think about feminist interventions.

I’ve invited Joumana Al Jabri, Surabhi Shamra, and Parisa Vaziri to ways that space and time can be politicized through arts practice and scholarship.

I’m seeing the week’s welcome prompt a little easier since I am in transit today, but please feel free to respond to any of the previous weeks’ prompts.

Best from Beirut,

4—Politicizing space and time

Whether physical or virtual, space is a location of where rights can be enacted by communities when they are denied by states or social actors. Occupying spaces can serve as a mode of representation that moves from visual and auditory presence to political agency. Comparably, time has been a means of marginalizing or discrediting communities as “backwards” or somehow outside modernities.

This week considers communities that have been marginalized and otherwise disempowered by being erased or silenced in national or international representations of space and time. It asks questions about claiming visibility by stateless nations visible, claiming audibility by minoritized ethnicities, and claiming a place in histories.

Rather than discrediting such challenges to dominant powers as unruly. or uncivil, this week asks us to think about how minoritized and migrant groups navigate the intersections of race, gender, class, religion, and nation. It also asks which groups prefer to speak to outsiders and which prefer to keep conversations within the community.


Joumana al Jabri’s work revolves around creative processes and outputs to address pressing social issues. She is a co-founder along with Ramzi Jaber and Ahmad Ghunaim of Visualizing Impact, winner of Prix Ars Electronica 2013, partnered with Polypod. Joumana co-curated TEDxRamallah 2011 with Ramzi, organized between Ramallah-Bethlehem, Beirut and Amman and livestreamed to over twenty cities globally. She is a co-founder along with Reem Charif and Mohamad Hafeda of Febrik a collaborative platform for participatory art and design research projects concerned with social practices in public spaces, with particular focus on Palestinian refugee camps.

Surabhi Shamra has been an independent filmmaker making feature-length documentaries and short films since 2000. Her documentaries, fiction, and video installations engage with cities in transition using the lens of labor, music, and migration. Her films have been screened and awarded at international film festivals and include: Returning to the First Beat (2017); Bidesia in Bambai (2013); Jahaji Music: India in the Caribbean (2007); Above the Din of Sewing Machines (2004); Aamakaar, The Turtle People (2002); and Jari Mari: Of Cloth and Other Stories (2001). She is an assistant professor at New York University Abu Dhabi.

Parisa Vaziri received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from U.C. Irvine in 2018. Her work engages legacies of Indian Ocean world slavery in the long durée through prisms of visual media. Her research overlaps interests in critical theory, black studies, Middle Eastern cultural production, postcolonial critiques of history, film theory, new media, philosophy, anthropology, and histories of displinary formation more generally. Her current project recovers articulations of blackness in Iranian visual culture, primarily through the media of experimental documentary and art cinema. She proposes film as a site of transmission that disrupts traditional periodization schemes and that elucidates problems of temporality and geography in orthdox narratives about the concept of race. Two of her forthcoming publications position the history of experimental ethnographic documentary as supplement and stimulant to the Iranian New Wave film movement, while exploring how filmic blackness allegorizes modernity's spatial and temporal disjunctions.
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