Monumentøclasm: Anticolonial Imagination Workshop

Monumentøclasm: Anticolonial Imagination Workshop

The aim of this workshop, held in October and November of 2021, was to connect the creative and critical practices, debates and forms of activism reshaping monumental landscapes in various places around the world to the Greek context. What would it take to recognize –and call out– the reciprocal relations and mythologies linking the Greek nation-state to Europe’s colonial legacies? A slaveowner honored as a Philhellene? The ethnic cleansing undertaken by a national hero?

At the same time, we sought to illuminate Greek traditions of defacement –both political and artistic– as modalities of political action and historical reckoning. We considered the many ways in which social invisibility and inaudibility is produced and maintained by the state-sanctioned monumental backdrop. We asked how developing an anticolonial imagination requires honing our attention on the sights, sounds and movements of lived Athenian public space and, more broadly, Balkan and Mediterranean routes.

How might we bring into relief the traces of ad hoc people’s memorials commemorating those killed by the state and “sovereign citizens” – the accretions, assemblages, occupations in physical and digital space crowdsourced by mourners that counter the constitutive exclusions and repressions of the official monumental order? How might we use this material to reimagine and design emancipated monuments –speculative, ephemeral, nomadic and transformative, rather than “set in stone”– recognizing unrecorded and unreckoned losses, potential histories, everyday heroism of solidarity and coexistence, inclusive futures?

In short, monumentøclasm is about exposing the unrepented crimes of nationalism and internalized colonization, hidden in plain sight beneath the mantle of European propriety, law and order. It is also about breaking the colonial legacies of our epistemologies that have created borders between scholarship and activism, documentation and speculation, past and present, realism and art.

Background

The summer of 2020 witnessed the defacement of public monuments honoring slaveowners, white supremacists, colonial explorers, and national heroes at various sites across the world. These spectacular acts of defacement have broken through the bedrock of Western denialism by calling into critical public (re)view the crimes of colonialism, genocide, slavery, capitalism, patriarchy, racism, and imperialism that variably underwrite the historical legacies and contemporary relevance of the monumental figures targeted. As a decolonial modality of historical redress, defacement exposes the extent to which, in a slight rephrasing of Walter Benjamin’s well-known aphorism, “there is no monument of culture which is not at the same time a monument of barbarism.”

Even though, as many have noted, these practices of decolonial iconoclasm have precursors –and now many successors– in various historical and geographical settings, what might have been unique were the rhizomatic linkages of affiliation and critique forged across dispersed contexts of defacement. The defaced monuments have consequently become networked nodes where demands for social, racial and historical justice are being relayed, making it clear that white supremacy is a global power system that must be analyzed –and collectively contested– in relation to the transnational processes that Western colonial extractivism set in motion and continues to exploit.

Format

This workshop was run in a hybrid/ bilingual format (in person & online; Greek and English) during the fall of 2021 (October-December) by the members of the MËMORY — MONUMEИTS Working Group.

From early October to early November 2021, participants took part in webinars, did readings and engaged in short walking/listening exercises related to the topic of decolonizing memory and monuments in a Greek context. The whole group met for an intensive one-day workshop in Athens and online write a ‘manifesto’ that was presented at the dëcoloиıze hellάş symposium and to discuss ideas for an action to be designed by the group and staged n a public space in Athens.

📷 "Statue of Spanish conquistador Andrés López de Galarza, toppled in Ibagué, Colombia. May 2021. Twitter @MaxGranger

Workshop program

Week 1 (October 16 & 17): 

SATURDAY 16/10

Penelope Papailias & Chris Zisis Radicalizing remembrance: Introduction, concepts, practices [18.30-20.30, online, Greek time, GMT+3]

SUNDAY 17/10

George Mantzios & Gene Ray Defacement as a modality of decolonization [18.30-20.30, online, Greek time, GMT+3]

Week 2 (October 23 & 24)

SATURDAY 23/10

Syrian and Greek Youth Forum and akoo-o collective, convened by Tom Western Sounding an anticolonial Athens, [Athens and online, 12.00-15.00]

SUNDAY 24/10

Alexis Fidetzis & Cynthia Malakasis, Heroes and Bones, in collaboration with Atopos CVC [Athens, 12.00-15.00]

More details here

Week 3 (October 30 & 31)

SATURDAY 30/10

Jenny Marketou, Olga Touloumi, Jilly Traganou Spaces of Engagement: Commons, Bodies, Monuments, in collaboration with Serious Games/Dimotiki Pinakothiki Xanion [online, 4:30-6:30pm Greek time]

SUNDAY 31/10

Members of MËMORY — MONUMEИTS Working Group Writing the manifesto & designing the action  [Athens, Symposium 15-19μμ]

Week 4 (Symposium: November 4-7)

Sunday 7/11

Participants, Presentation of Manifesto [Athens & online], 15.30-16.20

MËMORY — MONUMEИTS Working Group

  • DH collective member Penelope Papailias coordinated the working group and organized the fall workshop.
  • Alexis Fidetzis was born in Athens where he currently resides and works. He studied painting at the Athens School of Fine Arts (ASFA) and the Munich Kunstakademie while he got his MFA at the Pratt Institute in New York City where he focused on research-based artistic practices. He recently completed his second master’s degree on modern Greek history at the School of Philosophy in the University of Athens. He is a doctoral candidate at ASFA.
    Fidetzis uses historical research as a means of artistic creation in an effort to diagnose current social, cultural and political issues. He is interested in the institutional management of collective social trauma alongside the ways in which power structures shape our common past. For his work he has been awarded by institutions in Greece and abroad, including the Onassis and Niarchos Foundations, while his work has been presented in group and solo exhibitions in Greece, France, Germany, Switzerland and the USA.
  • Fotini Gouseti is a visual artist and PhD Candidate in Anthropology at the University of Thessaly. Her artistic practice and academic research explores the role of art in society. The past years she has worked on the merging of art and anthropology as potential tool for social change. Her research-based artistic results often take the shape of counter- and para-monuments as a form of interventionism. She is mainly interested in researching the notion of the Other, and has focused on colonial manners of cultural and socio-political influence in local/peripheral fields, divided memory, gender, social class, collective trauma and the local in relation to the world.
  • Cynthia Malakasis is a cultural anthropologist interested in nationalism, ethnicity, race, and post-colonial dynamics, with an emphasis on intra-European hierarchies, reproductive care, and Greece. Her doctoral project, at Florida International University, examined whether and how the post-1989 mass immigration to Greece challenged the country’s nationalist norms of collective belonging. From 2016 to 2020, I conducted ERC-funded, post-doctoral research on the maternity care of migrants and refugees in Athens. Her upcoming research at Panteion University, funded by the Hellenic Foundation for Research and Innovation, will examine the institutional structures and affective relations of care formed with respect to gender-based violence during the Covid-19 pandemic in Greece.
  • George Mantzios is a PhD candidate in social-cultural anthropology in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Toronto, Canada. He is also an associate program coordinator for the Pelion Summer Laboratory for Cultural Theory and Experimental Humanities (https:// www.pelionsummerlab.net/)
  • Jenny Marketou is a visual artist based in New York where she teaches at the New School for Social Research. Her research and  community embedded art projects such as Undoing Monuments,(2008) How Assemblies Matter (2014)  and upcoming Serious Games (2021)  which inhabits the historic  Mosque Yiali Tzami (1649) in Chania ,Crete. The above projects question art’s autonomy by combining performative actions, discussions,video interviews , forms of organizing and pedagogy as well as decolonial strategies. and aesthetics .Her publications include OrganIzing from Below, (2016), The School of Everything (2017) Perform Interdependency, (2017) More Art for the Public Eye (2019). Marketou’s work has been featured in numerous  internationally renowned biennials ,museum and galleries such as the Biennial de Mediterranean 19, San Marino;Parliament of Bodies, Documenta 14; Manifesta, European Biennial; Biennial of Seville; Biennial of Sao Paolo, Brazil,; ZKM Center for Media Arts, Karlsruhe; Museum Tinguely, Basel; Kumu Art Museum, Estonia; Museum Reina Sofia, Madrid; Queens Museum, New York; Krannert Art Museum, Illinois; Apex Art, New York; The National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST), Athens among others.
  • Gene Ray is Associate Professor in the CCC Research-based Master Program at HEAD-Genève/Geneva School of Art and Design. He writes about critical theory and the aesthetics of post-1945 and contemporary memory politics. Author of Terror and the Sublime in Art and Critical Theory (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005, 2011), he led the collective research projects The Anthropocene Atlas of Geneva (2016-18; https://head.hesge.ch/taag/en/ ) and All Monuments Must Fall (2021; https://issue-journal.ch/focus-summaries/issue-8-all-monuments-must-fall/ ). He is currently organizing the new project Mutations of the Sublime, Endings of the Holocene. His writings can be accessed online at: https://head.academia.edu/generay.
  • Olga Touloumi teaches architectural history at Bard College and spends her time thinking and writing about space politics, governing through architecture, the project of internationalism, and media. Her book “The Global Interior” (under contract) examines the United Nations and the design of its platforms for liberal internationalism. Her work has received funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Alexander S. Onassis Foundation, and the Center for Canadian Architecture, among others. She is a feminist by calling, happiest when thinking, writing, teaching, and learning in conversation with others. She is co-founder of the intersectional group Feminist Art and Architecture Collective.
  • Jilly Traganou is a Professor of Architecture and Urbanism at Parsons School of Design, The New School in New York. Her publications include Design and Political Dissent: Spaces, Visuals, Materialities   (Routledge, 2020), Designing the Olympics: Representation, Participation, Contestation (Routledge, 2016); Travel, Space, Architecture, co-edited with Miodrag Mitrasinović (Ashgate, 2009); and The Tokaido Road: Traveling and Representation in Edo and Meiji Japan (Routledge Curzon, 2004). She is co-editor-in-chief of the Design and Culture journal. Her current work focuses on the role of space, maintenance, and materiality in prefigurative politics.
  • Tom Western is a Lecturer in Social and Cultural Geography at UCL. He works in Athens, where he studies sound, movements, relation, and imagination. Tom is currently writing about an ‘anticolonial Athens’ – placing the city into contested geographies and mobile histories (see his video piece, ‘Παγκόσμια Ηχώ | The World is Echo’, and a radio roundtable with members of Decolonize Hellas, ‘Circular Movements: Imagining an Anticolonial Athens’). Tom is also a member of the Syrian and Greek Youth Forum, with whom he runs the Active Citizens Sound Archive – a space for amplifying citizenship movements, for community mobilising, and collective knowledge production.
  • Chris Zisis holds a B.A. degree in Philosophy and History of Science (National Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece) and a Master's Degree in the field of Heritage/Museum Studies  (European University Viadrina Frankfurt/Oder). He is currently a PhD Candidate at the Institute of Cultural Anthropology, Hamburg University, and since Spring Semester 2017 he has been working as a Lecturer at the department of Social Work, University of Applied Sciences, Kiel, as well at the aforementioned Department in Hamburg. Along with his standard research foci, which intersect fields such as Museum/Heritage Studies, Migration research, Anthropology, critical and anti-racist education, he is equally interested in examining artistic practices and interventions, new social movements, eventually how critical knowledge is produced not only in museum spaces/memory sites, but also in public space, and by/with “bottom-up”, unofficial archives and actors.

Manifesto

Why now

We are a group of friends, strangers, teachers, students, civil servants, unemployed, expats, exiles, migrants, human rights lawyers, artists and bastards of the diaspora living through an ongoing pandemic.

We acknowledge our various positions and privileges, in the place where we find ourselves. We recognize the myriad violences of colonization: the theft of land, the destruction of culture, the genocide of Black and Indigenous Peoples. We acknowledge that we are all by-products of colonialism. 

We have come together in Athens to think and talk about the defacement of public monuments honoring white supremacists, slave owners, colonial invaders and supposed national heroes today. 

In this moment of displacements and pushbacks, raising border walls, police murder, exploited labor, femicides, racism, religious discrimination, homophobia, precarity, the plunder of the commons, the destruction of public infrastructures, we feel a sense of urgency.

Why here

There is a lot about monuments in Greece that unsettles and provokes us.

Greece has been made a monument of/for the West. It has been entangled in heteronormative, patriarchal, dominant fantasies and used to justify slavery and genocides. 

Hellas is a pillar of whiteness, used as material proof, differentiating the “civilized west” from the “uncivilized other”. Hellas is a myth made real, realized through social exclusion and political negation. Greece has been a digging site for artefacts of the West’s selective history. Today it is a site of graves of those violently excluded from European spaces and citizenships. 

We want to draw attention to the lives that were not allowed to be lived.

We want to unsettle and provoke monumentalities. 

What might be done

The 200th celebration of the Greek revolution has directed attention to monumentality. We want to turn monuments against the nation to connect local and diasporic histories and geographies. We want to bring forth pluralities.

We choose to reclaim the public space that monuments occupy, creating new synergies through our streets, our cities, our narrations, our senses of belonging. 

We want to use monuments as a method. We see them as a thread among peoples, connecting struggles. 

We want to reveal the stories and bodies under the hooves of the heroes that dominate public space. We want to open up what defacement could be.


This statement was collectively written and presented on Sunday, November 7 at the dëcoloиıze hellάş symposium by the following workshop participants:

Marc Bellinghausen - Fotini Gouseti - Eri Harmantzi - Sharon Jacobs - Aikaterini Kallivrousi - Iro Kapsokosta - Nicos Koutsourakis - Sofia Lioulia - Geli Mademeli - Clémence Malleret - Georgia Boukouvalas Michael - Aimilia Moraiti - Penelope Papailias - Anna Piatou - Iris Pissaride - Marianna Papamikroulea - Diana Prenga - Chris Reizis - Siavash Shahabi - Νick Smith - Marina Toumpouri - Dimitrios Tsakiris - Danielle Zorba - Georgios Yiannopoulos - Chris Zisis