Photo by Marc Riboud, 1967, protest against the war in Vietnam.
Photo by Marc Riboud, 1967, protest against the war in Vietnam.
These images are from the sit-in protest (dharna) organized by two Pakistani political parties over disputes with the government during the latter half of 2014. Particularly the PTI, led by Imran Khan contested the legitimacy of the elections held a year ago and was thus pressurizing the government to step down. These are the first enduring televised protests in Pakistan and I believe that the images stand testament to the altered nature of dissent and populism as influenced by simulacra.
Particularly, these images begin to be encoded more as symbolic than representational. Gone is the singular hero pitched in an iconographic against a Goliath. Instead what we see here is a confusion between reality, representation and language. Instead of capturing action, television created action. Coverage was provided round the clock in increasing registers of panic and euphoria. In fact when the protestors stormed the state television building one day, their actions were re-enacting those of the soldiers every time that martial law was declared in Pakistan. They seemed to be looking for the talismanic power of the government which continued to evade them.
‘Perhaps they thought Youtube was hiding inside’, quipped Twitter referring to the site’s ban in Pakistan at the time.
Infact, both marches were even named after albums of the most popular rock band of the generation, Junoon: Azadi (freedom) and Inquilab (revolution)
However, by trying to emulate protests and revolutions that the participants had indirectly consumed, they did arrive at a form of crude populism. Seeing as the forces behind this populism were unthinking nationalism, support for the military establishment and other right wing regressive beliefs, it was a chilling reminder that the anatomy of genuine protest is more complex than its outward appearance.
**This post contains graphic images**
Burhan Wani was the Chief Commander of Hizbul Mujahideen which is an armed Kashmiri separatist group. In 2016, he was killed in an encounter with the Indian Army. The Indian Government subsequently released images of his corpse which went viral amongst the Kashmiri youth. The gruesome image shows him lying motionless on what appears to be a hospital bed. His clothes are stained with blood, probably from the bullet wounds that he sustained during the gun-battle.
Wani was only 22 years old when he was killed by the Indian security forces. The story of his transformation from a cricket-loving teenage boy to an armed folk hero is a quintessential Kashmiri tale; an armed insurgency clashing against an iron-fisted regime, giving birth to a vicious cycle of violence. His struggle was relatable and he became the face of the countless Kashmiris enduring a police state. Contrary to government’s intentions of intimidating them, Burhan Wani became a rallying cry for the people of Kashmir. The civil unrest that followed left 90 dead, 15,000 civilians, and 4,000 security personnel injured.
Feature Image Credit: Danish Ismail-Reuters
Nordic Countries are known to be the some of the best countries to live if you are a woman. When ranked by human rights, gender quality, income equality and safety, Iceland, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Norway are always at the top of the list. As a Nordic woman, I’m proud of the region, but I know that the steps we have taken towards equality haven’t been without struggle. There have been multiple generations that have protested publicly and in the home, and women have worked hard to raise boys to respect women and treat them with dignity.
1975 was declared International Women’s Year by The United Nations. In Iceland that year, multiple women’s rights organizations planned events; one was a general strike. The strike was later called a Day Off so that women taking part wouldn’t be fired from their jobs for taking part.
On October 24, 1975, ninety percent of Icelandic women in cities and rural areas, didn’t show up to work to show the importance of women’s work in the nations economy, and to draw attention to wage inequality and unfair hiring practices. But Icelandic women didn’t just avoid their jobs, they also left housework and childcare for men and gathered in Reykjavik for a rally which lasted until midnight.
According to Wikipedia “The women achieved their goal of showing Iceland their value by essentially shutting down the country for a day. There was no telephone service and newspapers were not printed since the typesetters were all women. Theatres shut down for the day as actresses refused to work. The majority of teachers were women so schools either closed or ‘operated at limited capacity.’ Flights got cancelled since the flight attendants did not come into work and bank executives had to work as tellers to keep the banks open on this day. Fish factories were closed since the factory workers were primarily women.”
A year later Iceland’s parliament passed gender equality laws and five years later, Iceland became the first nation to democratically elect a female president: Vigdis Finnbogadottir. When describing the Day Off in 1975 to the BBC, Finnbogadottir said “Things went back to normal the next day, but with the knowledge that women are as well as men the pillars of society. So many companies and institutions came to a halt and it showed the force and necessity of women – it completely changed the way of thinking.”
The Day Off tradition continues in Iceland. In 2005, women strikers left their jobs at 2:08pm – trimming a regular workday to correspond with the average annual income gap between men and women. By 2010, women left their jobs at 2:25pm and in 2016, 2:38pm. Even in Iceland, the country many experts consider the world’s leader in gender equity, the gender pay gap persists.
Thailand has been a country in regular political turmoil. since 1932, there have been 11 successful military coups and 7 unsuccessful ones (1). The country is a constitutional monarchy, but there are strict laws prohibiting speaking negatively about the royal family. In 2001 Prime Minister Thaksin Shiniwatra’s TRT party won the elections on what many argue as populist policies aimed at gaining the vote of the rural poor. They win again in 2005, and in 2006 the Shinawatra family sells off a large stake of its telecommunications company to Singapore(2), and there are murmurs of dissatisfaction against him concerning corruptions and conflict of interest, particularly from the middle and upper class who mostly reside in the capital Bangkok. These are known as the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD). By March 2006 there are large scale protests in the streets numbering 10’s of thousands, and in September a bloodless military coup removes Thaksin from power.
The TRT party then reforms as the PPP (without Thaksin), and again win elections in December 2007. By May 2008 the PAD are again holding large scale protests round the clock for months, and in November stage sit-ins at both major Bangkok airports, stranding travellers. The parliament deems the 2007 election win of the PPP as invalid, and the opposition (supported by the PAD) is installed as prime minister. This sparks protests by Thaksin supporters, who came to be known as the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD). By 2009 there are violent clashes between the PAD and the UDD, and 2 are killed.
By March 2010 the UDD are occupying the streets in the main shopping area of Bangkok, much like the PAD occupied the airports previously. This ends in May 2010 when troops storm the camp and 91 are killed. In 2011 there is another election and the Pheu Thai party wins. Thaksin’s sister becomes prime minister. Between June and November the anti-Thaksin groups continue to protest (3). In 2014 there is another coup, and the military controls the government. In October 2016, the king of Thailand Rama IX, who was well regarded and often seen as a calming force in the country’s politics, passes away and the throne is passed onto his son, who is much less respected in the country. Which brings us roughly to today.
To my knowledge there were no single iconic images associated with these protests, but those for and against the Shinawatra family could be easily identified: the latter were often wore yellow to represent their loyalty to the king, while the former wear red, chosen simply to contrast the colour of the yellow shirts. The conflict in many ways has come down to polar opposites in this way: urban vs rural, populist vs traditionalist, and in the end simplified to the red shirts vs the yellow shirts.
Massive gatherings of people wearing each of these colours have become quite symbolic to the people in Thailand, to the point where (for example) yellow shirts are reluctant to wear their favourite football jerseys (Manchester united, Liverpool, Arsenal) for fear of being identified as the “wrong” team.
In many ways this conflict has been similar to the recent Trump election. After all, Thaksin was initially elected on a platform of improving the economic situation of the north and northeast rural areas of Thailand, while shunning the urban voters. Despite being removed from power multiple times, his allies continued to win elections, and we will have to see whether the US will also come to show this pattern.
Mexico 68 refers to a series of student protests starting around the time of the 1968 Summer Olympics hosted in Mexico City. Mexico had recently experienced a period of economic growth that it wanted to showcase with the Olympic games; however, the growth was not evenly spread throughout the country and students decided to organize and stage a series of protests against the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), demanding the removal of certain officials and the tactical police force. During one of the protests, 10 days before the start of the olympics, the government opted to use military force and killed 300 to 400 students in what came to be known as the Tlatelolco massacre.
This image above is from military tanks stationed at Zocalo square in Mexico city in 1968, the same year as the massacre. This image has been iconized through the Mexico 68 protests as well the larger global protests of 1968. I think this image in particular has become an icon of these protests because it displays the striking difference in forces between the protestors and the military/government.
This image is important because there continues to be corruption and abuse of power in the Mexican government. For instance, in September of 2014, 43 male students went missing on their way to commemorate the Tlatelolco massacre after they were intercepted by police. It’s believed that police handed the students over to members of a cartel that then murdered them.
The iconic image I want to talk about is the “Man vs. Tank” in the pro-democracy protest took place in Tiananmen in 1989. In April of 1989, after the death of former Communist Party leader Hu Yaobang, who supported a more open political system, students gathered and marched in Tiananmen Square for anti-corruption protest and calling for a more democratic government. As the protest escalated and drew millions of people, the government ordered military interventions, and the troops fired on civilians and students. The iconic image shows an unidentified man confronting a troops of tank.
All images and news associate with this event are banned from Chinese media. One of the reasons that Google, Facebook and other search engines and social media are blocked by the “Great Firewall of China” is because of the wide circulation of this image and related content.
A quick comparison of the Chinese search engine Baidu with Google shows that they are not neutral tools but have been manipulated. If one types “Tiananmen Square” in Chinese in the search bar of Baidu, all the images show the iconic architecture with Mao’s portrait and the propaganda slogan in juxtaposition with national flags, flower beds or swarms of tourists. Although the image renders the place as a popular tourist site to mute its political implication, anyone who has been to the Square knows the strict security checks and unspoken rules when one passes by. The street lights are installed with surveillance cameras. Police patrols every corner of the Square. Even actions like pulling down windows of cars will call attention of the police. The search of the same word in Google brings up a completely different set of the images. The presence of the tanks appear in half of the images, and other suggested key words all mention the word “man” and “tank”. The subject and composition of the photographs show the essence of protest, the confrontation of the body with the weapon.
Image Result from Baidu Search “天安门”
Image Result from Tiananmen Square
The interesting fact is that this image is a still from a video that shows the man’s effort and struggle to stop the tank. Why does the cropped image instead of the footage become iconic? The iconic image, with certain ambiguity, has a narrative framework that allows different interpretations to transform it into a symbol.
The three articles are not like what I read every day. The three worked together and provided me a good introduction to the world of archiving.
The article by Jacques Derrida discussed, from his and Freud’s perspective, the drive of archiving. Why do people do this. Derrida talked about it from a psychological perspective, and stressed on “death drive “, which I cannot quite understand. It is true that everything is going towards death and so, but the point of living and doing stuff is not all “death drive”. Well, maybe archiving can live beyond death. Just like the Greek statues, and the Terracotta Army, they lived beyond life form because of their death.
Foucault discussed the distinction of archiving: a construction of a system with inter-relations, historical a priori. It makes more sense to describe an archive as a collection of things that has the inner skeleton, inner relation, and serves some purposes. It may not be obvious and direct. People may have different understanding from different perspective, different background, culture and so on. But that’s the point of it.
Allan Sekula discussed this from a more practical point of view. Reading, using and form a new understanding, a more specific purpose.
Foucault describes the archive as being constructed. Archive is not defined by a set of fixed things but a set of relations. In his analysis of the act of constructing and archiving, history is transformed from a set of static fact to a set of statements that are constantly modified. Derrida illustrates the notion of archive fever in Freud’s obsessive documentation of exceptions which are actually universal to the human psyche. He examines the motive of archiving, and attributes it to “an aggression and a destruction drive”. I did not fully understand this statement but I associate it with Foucault’s study of the abnormality, of what is not being said or included in the history. As Allan Sekula notes, “archives are not neutral: they embody the power inherent in accumulation, collection, and hoarding…and the philosophical basis lies in an aggressive empiricism”. If we think about the origin of museum in Western culture, it is is an act of collecting that associate with power. Things included in the collections are exotic objects, curiosities and images of indigenous people. The archive objectifies them for ownership, and to some extent facilitates the legitimization of colonization. We can also think about the archives in traditional museums, and how institutes have the power to formulate our collective cultural memory and how it can be constructed and manipulated.
In response to Allan Sekula’s analysis of the archive of Leslie Shedden’s photography, I want to introduce the case of Vivian Maier to think about several issues.
By constructing exhibitions from an archive which author has very little control, is it possible to preserve an “authorial voice”? Or simply treating them as “found objects”, and meanings can only be constructed in the intersected fields of “the subjectivity of the collector, connoisseur, and viewer over that of any specific author”?
Another interesting case is artist Gerhard Richter’s archive, Atlas, which is a collection of pictures, both historical and personal that the artist has accumulated from 1962-2013. The archive includes images of landscapes, people, newspaper and magazine clips, objects, urban and interior.
Giuliana Bruno characterizes the work as “an archive that works against its own principles”, if we think of archive as a device of constructing narratives of collective cultural memory. He states that Richter’s archive “is not designed to give categoric form to the knowledge it presents; rather, it conveys a material work of mourning”. I really like this interpretation because the uselessness of this archive reveals the normality that how archives have been perceived as an instrument.