IMAG-E-NATION the political & philosophical arts initiative blog

(re)imagining the political and philosophical in the 21st century

The Political & Philosophical Arts Initiative is interested in the ways in which people interact with and compose political and philosophical ideas and actions through the various, diverse media of technology and the arts. Participants in PAI seek to explore the ways in which poetry, literature, music, photography, performance and other creative arts interleave with the political and philosophical life, either as vehicles for criticism, elaboration, theorization, intervention or activism.
The Imag-e-nation blog is a forum for interested parties to share stories, images or other contributions. Contributors range from students and faculty to artists and musicians to professional and casual commentators. Pieces can be short opinions, re-postings of appropriate materials, or original compositions. In addition, the PAI at LUC will make a selection of relevant or provocative news items each week for (re)publication here.


Surviving Pathos: Diaspora and Displacement

Slavoj Žižek, in his new book Against the Double Blackmail: Refugees, Terror, and Other Troubles with the Neighbours, tackles another controversy head-on:

From within the safety of Europe, we face two versions of ideological blackmail—open-door solidarity with refugees and drawbridge-minded protectionism. Both prolong the problem—so, confronted with this double blackmail, we find ourselves back at the great question: what is to be done? The refugee crisis offers to Europe an opportunity: a unique chance to redefine itself. The only way to truly get to the heart of one of the greatest and most urgent issues confronting Europe today is to insist on the global solidarity of the exploited and oppressed. Maybe such global solidarity is a utopia. But if we don’t engage in it, then we are really lost. And we will deserve to be lost.
As political polemics and policy debates continue, two current art exhibitions offer fresh perspectives on the accommodation and integration of migrant communities. While one focuses on the Irish diaspora to explore multiplicitous translations of identity and belonging, and the other invites creative responses to illustrate empathy for Syrian refugees in The Netherlands, their respective curatorial concepts call for critical engagement in unusually effective ways.

The Survivors, which opened on 15 April in the Atrium of The Hague's City Hall, challenges the public of the international city of peace and justice to consider the daily realities of displaced peoples. This crowd-funded event, organised by The Hague Peace Projects and realised with the support of VluchtelingenWerk Nederland, gathered 16 local artists to respond to the drawings of Taim Safar, an 11-year-old who fled Damascus with his family when war broke out in Syria.

[Clockwise from top left] Castle in the Sky by Taim Safar; 8x12cm and 8x40cm by Malou Cohen;
Flags Flying by Leonard van de Ven; The Survivors by Bassam Alkhouri

Through the looking glass of Taim’s fears and dreams, the artists created individual works across a range of media and disciplines: from sculptures to collages, paintings to prints, video to embroidery, the rich array of artistic expression embodies the opening sentiment of artist Bassam Alkhouri, Taim’s art teacher in Syria and a close friend of Taim’s family. Violence is more insidious than war, he warned his audience; only those who refuse the language of violence and resist retaliation as a means to end wars truly survive political conflicts and involuntary displacement. Lamenting those who escape from war zones but perpetuate violence in word and deed in relative safety, Alkhouri collected Taim’s imaginative drawings to inspire artistic answers that can interrupt these cycles of violence and revive hope for peace.

[Clockwise from top left] Broken Family by Helen Hintjens; detail from Memoria City by Rik Smits;
detail from tribute to a city by Hanna de Haan; when reality unfolds by Wouter Willebrands

To be a survivor, then, is to seek a new direction out of difficulty and to find an alternative way to be in the world. How the 16 featured artists—Bassam Alkhouri, Alexandra Arshanskaya, Saskia Burggraaf, Malou Cohen, Hanna de Haan, Helen Hintjens, Jakob de Jonge, Eva Murakeozy, Robert Roelink, Rik Smits, Suzanne Somer, Rutger van der Tas, Leonard van de Ven, Wouter Willebrands, Albert Zwaan, and Airco Caravan—figure this concept of survival will accompany the figurative architecture of Taim’s experience in Syria until 4 May.

Two islands away from The Hague is Pathos of Distance in Dublin's National Gallery of Ireland. This art installation by Sarah Pierce results from her collaboration with the Centre for the Study of Irish Art to visualize the Irish diaspora through two central themes: displacement and hybridity. Tracing the history of Irish emigrants and immigrants with carefully selected images from 1813 to 1912, digitally photographed from around the world and reproduced to their original scale, the exhibition boasts ceiling-to-floor theoretical ruminations about diasporic identity inspired by, among others, Salman Rushdie and Judith Butler which flank assemblies of second-hand domestic furniture on and against which the historical and artistic images hang and lean.

The three rooms of the Print Gallery are thus transformed into a narrative of mixed forms and unexpected functions, an adventure in spatial and visual adjustment, and an experiment in transposition and translation. The artful juxtaposition of word and image, argument and affect, interpellates visitors from their geographical, ethnic, and cultural affinities and immerses them in a sense of longing for a concrete and abstract home. "Moved from source to source, each belonging to an original elsewhere", the reproduced images range from popular posters to portraits and paintings, "exceed[ing] their location, extracting from the limits of an original medium to reappear (everywhere, anywhere) as a digital copy". 
Emerging from the movement of people, ideas, and technology in the 21st century, global diasporas, displaced and distanced, appear and stand in their own right. This is perhaps the surest spring of solidarity as the ground shifts under all of our feet.


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