I have publicly and on this forum very explicitly argued against the strange ‘disappearance’ of black/brown bodies that are the actual targets and victims of our ‘liberal’ state policies of surveillance, entrapment, drone assassinations, renditions and indefinite detention. I recently argued:
“Western visual journalism, and visual artists, have erased the actual victims of the criminal policies of the imperial state. Instead, most all have chosen to produce a large array of projects examining drone attacks, surveillance, detentions and other practices, through the use of digital abstractions, analogous environments, still life work or just simply the fascinating and enticing safety of datagrams and charts. Even a quick look at recent exhibitions focusing on the ‘war on terror’ or wars in general, have invited works that use digital representations of war, or focus on the technologies of war. An extreme case of this deflection are recent projects on drone warfare that not only avoid the actual brown/black bodies that are the targets of deadly drone attacks, but are not even produced anywhere near the geographies and social ecologies where drone attacks continue to happen! Yet, these works have found tremendous popularity, though i remain confused what kinds of conversations or debates they provoke given that the voices of the families of those who have been killed, are not only entirely missing, but people who can raised the difficult questions about the lies and propaganda that are used to justify the killings, are also entirely missing.”
There are many initiatives, including ones like Open Society’s Moving Walls works where an exhibition titled “Watching you/Watching Me”, entirely erased the ‘me’ that was most urgently in need of acknowledgement. All the projects exhibited then, and so many of the more popular ones being ‘celebrated’ now, suffer from this erasure, one that goes unexplained by the artists, the curators and others. That this conveniently mirrors the very ‘vision’ that was imposed on us by the carefully orchestrated and censored ‘shock & awe’ visuals of the Gulf War, is an irony lost on most. As I previously said:
This tendency to deflect from actual bodies, actual lives, actual suffering and actual consequences towards technological abstractions is in fact a precise reflection of the goals and intents of the US military and its ‘managed’ visual representation of its invasions and occupations. The near complete coverage of wars through embed programs and their carefully censored visual imagery that removed the dead, the maimed, the tortured etc, and the video game/television screen imagery of bombs and attacks was meant to ensure we never thought about moral complicity in war crimes and suffering. This censorship has been so near complete, and effective, that it carries forward today into so many projects that claim to address the key issues of our wars, and yet never get close to the actual targets and victims of them. Ironically, our ‘radical’ photo-activists are carrying on the work of the military and intelligence services by remaining far and away from the actual lives targeted and most affected by their practices and policies. We still never see the killed, the maimed, the tortured, the surveillance victims etc. The silence is deafening.
This isn’t a new problem and I have publicly spoken out about this–a recording of one such event can be heard here:
It is with relief to see Nisha Kapoor’s film “Eyes of Aliyah”, which bring us to real people, to real lives destroyed, to real suffering and to real injustices.Not just institutions, or landscapes, or digital avatars and representations, or abstract rendering in safe geographical spaces or theoretical pondering or vacuous moral posturing. (thanks to Arun Kundnani for sharing the video)
If you are speaking out against an injustice, and not merely acting as a dispassionate or collaborative commentator, then it requires that you stand behind those who are suffering and facing the injustice. The fact remains that drones, surveillance, entrapment, renditions and other policies are primarily aimed at Muslims, and those too of the non-White variety. If you can’t face this truth, you aren’t really even working on the issue you claim to be speaking about. For it is the human justice, the human suffering, the indiscriminate practice of violence and criminality against people, that makes the issue interesting in the first place. After all, we are not talking about the local postal service and nice landscapes to reveal its practices. We are talking about war, about murder, about torture, about repression and about centres of power now far outside the purview of our democratic institutions.
We need photojournalists to turn their eyes, their minds, their hearts and their souls to the people who are being killed, imprisoned, humiliated and abused. By avoiding these lives, we are playing into the hands of the oppressive state, and its anti-democratic practices. We are not only mirroring the dictates of the embed programs (do not show any dead, or suffering), and we are facilitating the state’s continued acts of killings and disappearance. And last and not least, we are collaborating in the dehumanising and disappearing of real lives.