Internet, Virtual Activism and the Blogosphere: The Refugee Art Project

For this shared discoveries week, I decided to look at an online community of migrants slightly different than the ones represented in the articles. While the migrants discussed in the readings are empowered to use their online presence for self determination and self representation, refugees in detention are largely silenced by their lack of direct access to media to tell their own stories and connect to their wider communities.

Australia has been widely criticized by organizations such as UNHCR and Amnesty International for conditions at its Manus Island and Nauru indefinite detention centres, where it currently detains asylum seekers and refugees, many of them children. For some background on Australia’s detention centres, check out this really great, short comic on one former guard’s experience working for Serco. In the Australian media, asylum seekers are frequently represented as dangerous, unwanted ‘boat people’, taking advantage of Australian compassion and benefits and threatening to end the ‘Australian way of life’ with forced multiculturalism. In this context, these migrants voices are all the more important to hear.

The refugees in Australian detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru share their stories online through The Refugee Art Project, an “apolitical” non profit that provides a showcase for refugee artwork. As The Refugee Art Project states on their website:

“Our intention is simply to enable asylum seekers to communicate to the public in their own voice, through art, which creates a bridge between them and the community. This is a political act only insofar as the voices of asylum seekers are shut out of public discussion whilst they are often misrepresented and maligned by our political leaders and the commercial media. By showing the art of asylum seekers and refugees, we hope to raise a greater public awareness about their suffering and to highlight the enormous talent that is locked away, behind razor wire.”

In this way The Refugee Art Project complicates Mainsah’s argument for the internet as being “a site of struggle rather than escape.” While the artists are literally imprisoned, through the internet, their artwork is allowed a chance to escape, inspiring support and struggle for their cause in a wider community beyond the razor wire.

In addition to their website, which showcases artwork done by asylum seekers in detention, the Refugee Art Project has an active online twitter, tumblr and facebook presence. On their website, detainees work is presented in galleries such as “memories of home”, “exile”, “surviving detention”, and “imagining Australia.” The Refugee Art Project also provides an offline voice for the detainees, distributing zines created by asylum seekers and putting on art shows of their work.

Recently, The Refugee Art Project joined in support with a number of artists in boycotting the Sidney Biennale, whose founding partner, Transfield, has been granted contracts to operate a detention centre on Manus Island. In response to the boycott, the chairman of the Biennale (who is also chairman of Transfield holdings) resigned his position with the festival. Detainee artists with The Refugee Art Project are currently collaborating to create a piece that “deals directly with the subject of their mandatory and indefinite detention” for the Biennale.


O, ‘Hope’


K, ‘Christmas Island Boat Tradgedy’



A few themes kept standing out for me in the readings this week. Both Soysal and Schiller point out the limitations of using the (often arbitrary) borders of the nation state as meaningful territories that enclose a culture or ethnicity “as one cohesive identity.” Instead, they argue, the framework of the nation state “collapse[s] all useful categorical and historical distinctions between place, nation (ethnicity) and culture” (Soysal), with each ethnic group “assumed to have a uniform mode of incorporation throughout the national space” (Schiller). Using an overly simplified category of ‘ethnicity’ this way “homogenizes the differentiated opportunities, processes, and forms of migrant incorporation within the national territory” (Schiller) by failing to take into account the greatly differentiated experiences of class (and gender) difference that Schiller touches on in his discussion on “double polarization” in the globalized neoliberal context. The readings seem to argue for a more nuanced understanding of migrant experience than the singular category of ‘ethnicity’ can provide, and locate the empowered and multiethnic youth culture of ‘the second generation’ as a potential site where this complexity is highly visible and being actively re imagined.


‘Berlin Wall’: Street artist blu in Kreuzberg

In watching the film and in Soysal’s discussion of the vivid ‘second generation’ youth culture of Kreuzberg, I kept thinking back to our previous discussions on C-it and the youth of the Paris suburbs who identify more with an area code as their community than any one ethnicity. In their shared German neighbourhood, the Greek and Turkish families in Kebab Connection appear to have more in common than what sets them apart. The film makers use food as a theme to highlight this, poking fun at the similarity of Greek and Turkish cuisine through the rogue Greek son’s ‘Islamic restaurant’ and the final scene where the feuding restaurant owners exchange yaprak sarma/dolma in a peace offering. Speaking to the “dislocations of wealth, hegemony, and spatial hierarchies” (Schiller), it would seem that one’s address in a city might reveal more about potential shared experiences with their neighbours (and the potential for the creation of a cohesive community) than a homogenous reading of their nationality or ethnicity would. In this context, the implications of community gentrification programs on migrant and ‘second generation’ identities seem all the more violent.

tarlabasi3 tarlabasi2 tarlabasi1






Photos from Rena Effendi: Last Dance of Tarlabaşı

On Tarlabaşı:


Multiculturalism, Assimilation, Integration, Acculturation… another model?

Although this week’s articles look at immigration issues in a European context, I found myself constantly making connections to the related issues faced by the settler societies I am most familiar with. Growing up in the Canadian school system, I remember the issue of multiculturalism in Canada being taught in grade school using the metaphor of the ‘cultural mosaic’ (similar to what Favell calls the British model), to describe a society that uses respect for and acknowledgement of individual difference to create a single, integrated and harmonious image of ‘Canadianness’. This model was taught as a contrasting vision to that of the ‘American melting pot’ (similar to what Favell describes as the French model), in which individual cultural differences are subsumed and blended together to create one homogenous ‘colour blind’ American identity. Not really surprisingly I guess, ‘our’ Canadian model was held up as the superior, more progressive vision of true multiculturalism.

As I came to think more on these issues on my own over the years, it became obvious that not only was this an overly rosy picture of Canadian hospitality and respect for difference, but that one group’s experience was left out of the picture altogether: the country’s original Indigenous inhabitants. As Simon notes, “what is required of ‘immigrants’, and more generally of all those who were required to ‘integrate,’ is defined by the majority group as the characteristics of an ideal citizen.” In the case of settler colonial societies like Canada, this has meant that the dominant (European immigrant) group have required First Nations peoples to integrate, often through violent coercive means, to become their picture of the ideal Westernized citizen. In current debates around ‘illegal immigration’, integration, assimilation and multiculturalism in North America, this historical context is usually left out entirely.

 packing up

When talking with other North Americans about these issues surrounding race and difference, I see many connections to Simon’s observations that a “conception of ‘colourblindness’ actually prevents the perception of unfair treatment.” In practice, despite any rhetoric about the difference between ‘cultural mosaics’ or ‘melting pots’, in my experience both Canadians and Americans are uncomfortable talking about race and structural inequalities, and operate mostly in accordance with Simon’s observation in that their main “strategy against racism [is] to delegitimize the idea of race itself.” This is combined with a commitment to an individualistic ideology that frames racism solely “as individual acts of meanness, not invisible systems conferring dominance” (Peggy McIntosh). Simon’s observation that an anti-racism stance that understands discrimination as “mainly related to individual behaviour prevents any strategy to cope with structural discriminations” is echoed Peggy McIntosh. As she elaborates:

 “My schooling gave me no training in seeing myself as an oppressor, as an unfairly advantaged person, or as a participant in a damaged culture. I was taught to see myself as an individual whose moral state depended on her individual moral will. My schooling followed the pattern my colleague Elizabeth Minnich has pointed out: whites are taught to think of their lives as morally neutral, normative, and average, and also ideal, so that when we work to benefit others, this is seen as work that will allow “them” to be more like “us.” (White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack).

In this context, a population without some grounding both in it’s own colonial history and a critical understanding of structural oppression becomes all the more easily manipulated by those who would use immigration “as a focus for wider grievances”, and frame it “as a cause of other problems, rather than being viewed as a symptom.”

yeah, this is long…

tldr; just watch this video (with cats!):

Music, Immigration and Transnationalism: Shadia Mansour and Excentrik

For our shared discoveries this week, I decided to research Arab rap and hip hop, since it is an area I really know nothing about. The two songs I have chosen I like both for their message and their sound. The first is in Arabic by Palestinan-British artist Shadia Mansour (featuring American rapper M1), the second in English by Palestinian-American artist Excentrik.

I chose Mansour’s first single, the Keffiyeh is Arab because I think it raises a lot of good questions about cultural appropriation. Written when she discovered that an American company had created a blue and white version of the Keffiyeh with stars of David on it, the lyrics are a call for maintaining the Keffiyeh’s cultural roots, taking pride in that Arab identity and condemning those who have already taken so much (They imitatin’ us in what we wear, wear/ this land is not enough for them/ What else do you want?).

Both in the lyrics of the song and in her interview in Rolling Stone Magazine, Mansour talks about her conflicted identity as an artist in the diaspora (I was raised between fear and evil/ between two areas/ Between the grudging and the poor/ I seen life from both sides) who shares pain and cultural identity with those living in the occupied territories, but with access to privileges they don’t have. M1’s rap connects the situation of the oppressed in Palestine to the situation of the oppressed in the United States (M1 in solidarity from the ghetto to Gaza), where issues of cultural appropriation are also important in the context of the African American community.

In the video M1 wears a Keffiyeh and raps: the Keffiyeh ain’t no scarf/ it’s part of the movement…tie that thing around your head and rhyme/ wave it in the air and let me know what side you on. Who has the right to wear the Keffiyeh? Only Arabs? Non-arab allies like M1 who understand it’s cultural significance? Is it the changing of the Keffiyeh from an Arab to Israeli symbol that Mansour finds most disrespectful, or the transformation of an important cultural symbol into something hollow and ‘trendy’? In what contexts do the use of cultural symbols by other groups become appropriation? Can taking aspects of a marginalized culture out of their context for use by a dominant culture ever be ethical?

Shadia Mansour. The Kuffiyeh is Arab

“Good morning, cousins; y’all welcome, come in.
What would you like us to serve you? Arab blood or tears from our eyes?”
I think that’s how they expected us to receive them.
That’s why they got embarrassed when they realized their mistake.

That’s why we rocked the kuffiyeh, the white and black.
Now these dogs are startin’ to wear it as a trend.
No matter how they design it, no matter how they change its color,
The kuffiyeh is Arab, and it will stay Arab.

The gear we rock, they want it; our culture, they want it;
Our dignity, they want it; everything that’s ours, they want it;
Half your country, half your home; why, why? No, I tell ’em.
Stealin’ something that ain’t theirs, I can’t allow it.
They imitatin’ us in what we wear, wear; this land is not enough for them. What else do you want?
They’re greedy for Jerusalem. Learn how to say “human beings”.
Before y’all ever rocked a kuffiyeh, we here to remind ’em who we are.
And whether they like it or not, this is our clothing style.

That’s why we rock the kuffiyeh, cuz it’s patriotic.
The kuffiyeh, the kuffiyeh is Arab.
That’s why we rock the kuffiyeh, our essential identity.
The kuffiyeh, the kuffiyeh is Arab.
Come on, throw up the kuffiyeh (throw that kuffiyeh up for me).
The kuffiyeh, the kuffiyeh is Arab.
Throw it up! Come on, Greater Syria!.
The kuffiyeh is Arab, and it will stay Arab.

[Verse 2:]
There’s none yet like the Arab people.
Show me which other nation in the world was more influential.
The picture is clear: we are the cradle of civilization.
Our history and cultural heritage testify to our existence.
That’s why I rocked the Palestinian gear,
From Haifa, Jenin, Jabal al Nar to Ramallah.
Let me see the kuffiyeh, the white and red.
Let me throw it up in the sky; I’m
Arab, and my tongue creates earthquakes.
I shake the words of war.
Listen, I’m Shadia Mansour, and the gear I’m rockin’ is my identity.
Since the day I was born, raisin’ people’s awareness been my responsibility.
But I was raised between fear and evil; between two areas,
Between the grudging and the poor, I seen life from both sides.
God bless the kuffiyeh; however you rock me, wherever you see me,
I stay true to my origins: Palestinian.

While Mansour tackles a culturally specific issue in her work, I chose Palestinian-American artist Excentrik’s song Now Here Nowhere because he takes a very different approach to related subject matter. Excentrik draws upon his personal experiences as a Palestinian-American living in the United States to inform his lyrics, but without knowing his background, I thought the song was ambiguous enough to speak to many experiences of marginalization along gender (offer you tea, you always decline/ offer you me and you cross the line), class (you see us crying you walk away/ you’re the one flying we paved your way) or racial (I’m on the bus and you grab your child/ I see your fear and you see my smile) lines. The music video of Now Here Nowhere provides a more specific class based reading of the song, as wealthy bankers posting foreclosure notices, smoking cigars, doing cocaine and sleeping with multiple women are kidnapped by a group of masked (Palestinian?) youth, tied up and hung from a crane.

Excentrik. Now Here Nowhere.

you see us crying you walk away
you’re the one flying we paved your way
offer you tea, you always decline
offer you me and you cross the line

Its your scene, gasoline, fire for your soul
you play me I play you, drop some gold
its a test of your best but you fell down
you don’t know where to go, or what I say

Im on the bus and you grab your child
I see your fear and you see my smile
I am your donkey, but you’re my ride
we are so happy that we collide

Im the breeze makes you sneeze
snots running out your nose
you’re the guest Ill open up the door
to your knees, excuse me please, but its time to go

you are my problem and I’m your sigh
take all your breaths as you watch me die
I know your guilt comes from all your shame
using my people… I guess we’re the same thing!

Your eyes meet my eyes but you turn away
the problem is you know your biz, you ain’t got time to stay
faceless, traceless you try to hold me down
look my way try to stay but I ain’t around

Racial Segregation in American Cities

Racial Segregation in American Cities

“Last year, a pair of researchers from Duke University published a report with a bold title: “The End of the Segregated Century.” U.S. cities, the authors concluded, were less segregated in 2012 than they had been at any point since 1910. But less segregated does not necessarily mean integrated–something this incredible map makes clear in vivd color.

The map, created by Dustin Cable at University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, is stunningly comprehensive. Drawing on data from the 2010 U.S. Census, it shows one dot per person, color-coded by race. That’s 308,745,538 dots in all–around 7 GB of visual data. It isn’t the first map to show the country’s ethnic distribution, nor is it the first to show every single citizen, but it is the first to do both, making it the most comprehensive map of race in America ever created.

White people are shown with blue dots; African-Americans with green; Asians with red; and Latinos with orange, with all other race categories from the Census represented by brown.”

(click photo for full article and lots more pics)