TABLE OF CONTENTS

PRINT September 2020

Dispatch

Where we’re at: Beijing, Singapore, Tokyo, Shanghai, New Delhi

Allan Sekula and Noël Burch, The Forgotten Space, 2012, digital video, color, sound, 112 minutes.

VICTOR WANG
BEIJING

BLACK MAOISM was a real thing. Recently I’ve been thinking about what that means in China today.

Radical histories of Blackness in China are rarely part of mainstream discussions on Afro-Asian solidarity on either side of the Pacific, yet those very legacies explain why Shirley Graham Du Bois is buried in Beijing’s Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery, China’s illustrious burial ground for its national heroes.

I’ve recently found access to these histories through the Department of Xenogenesis, a series of pedagogical dialogues organized on Zoom by the Otolith Group. Kodwo Eshun characterized the collective’s approach to their recent film INFINITY minus Infinity, 2019, as “transtemporal,” a term that best describes the way I’ve been staggering in and out of speculative worlds here in Beijing like an intoxicated Sino-futurist. 

I’ve been time-traveling to better understand what I call Black China. Listening to the ghosts of Black intellectuals who shaped the political conversations in the People’s Republic around Black liberation: activists and scholars like Vicki Garvin, who taught at the Shanghai Foreign Language Institute from 1964 to 1970 and established the university’s first course in African American history. Imagining the forgotten exchanges between W. E. B. Du Bois and Mao Tse-tung. What experiences did Du Bois have with Asian peoples, long before his arrival in China, that informed his assertion in The Souls of Black Folk (1903) that “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line—the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea.” Is this the point in Du Bois’s writings when Asians begin to occupy a space of racial “colouring” alongside Black people? How did Du Bois’s writings on plurality and internationalism inform the Chinese Communist Party’s foreign policy to establish new ties with other so-called “coloured [sic] nations”? And how do these threads offer contact points through which we may reconsider postcolonialism and Afro-Asian solidarity within China and beyond?

Victor Wang is Artistic Director and Chief Curator of the M WOODS museums in Beijing.

“I’ve been time-traveling to better understand what I call Black China.”
Victor Wang

UTE META BAUER
SINGAPORE

THIS PANDEMIC should not have taken us by surprise. Environmentalists, Indigenous peoples, ecofeminists, activists, artists, critical thinkers, and scientists have long warned about the irreversible destruction of the one planet we have, one we share with all life-forms. They have shown us the grave and far-reaching consequences of human interference in the environment, from habitat destruction to zoonotic disease, from climate crisis to exploitation and scarcity, migration and war. Generative projects addressing these matters range from Allan Sekula and Noël Burch’s film The Forgotten Space (2010) to Amar Kanwar’s ongoing multimedia installation The Sovereign Forest, 2011–, to the video essay and book Forest Law (2018) by Ursula Biemann and Paulo Tavares.

We know economic globalization came with a hefty price tag, and yet are in shock and awe when hurricanes and flash floods hit our shores. Wildfires finally reach the living rooms of the affluent members of societies. Rising sea levels are impacting global megacities, many located at shorelines. It is time to engage, protect, and support practices that expose extractive capitalism. One example is the Inter-Pacific Ring Tribunal (interprt), an interdisciplinary environmental justice project investigating ecocide as an international crime.

During the various lockdown periods around the globe, art workers have joined forces in conversation and knowledge production—their efforts encompassing everything from a special issue of Afterall devoted to extractivism to the monthly Zoom meeting initiated by curator Prem Krishnamurthy, in which participants from around the world discuss ways of acting in this new reality. In a moment that requires us to work together to fight not only the pandemic caused by the Covid-19 virus but systemic violence against all forms of life, we have to resist thinking and acting as if there is a “back to normal” or a “new normal.” We have to confront and inhabit the continued state of exception that we humans have brought on the world.

Ute Meta Bauer is the Founding Director of the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore and a Professor at the Nanyang Technical University School of Art, Design and Media.

Tama River, Tokyo, 2020. Photo: Du Keke.

DU KEKE
TOKYO

DURING THE PANDEMIC, I spent a lot of time walking along the Tama River, which is close to my apartment. The sight and sound of the flowing water calms me, while the solitude makes me think about our compulsion to be “linked into” a network, whether online or off. What is behind this insuperable urge? Can we trust networked knowledge and experience?

Du Keke is the editor of artforum.com.cn.

 

ALVIN LI
SHANGHAI

I’VE BEEN KEPT GOING this year by a reading group that some friends—mostly artists, writers, and curators—and I started back in April. (We named the group Chromium Groupsome after J. G. Ballard’s 1973 classic, Crash, the first book we read together.) What started as a casual weekly hangout among four friends has by now grown into a tight network of ten, spread across Shanghai; Hong Kong; Singapore; Jakarta, Indonesia; and Berlin. The group is not structured around any particular objective or theme; over the past few months, we have found ourselves oscillating between high theory and cult fiction, collectively choosing each book to make room for our divergent interests. Knowing we are not alone, given the rise of countless similar groups on the internet (many dedicated to Black Lives Matter), I feel assured that despite restricted mobility and the disappearance of public space, we will always keep sharing, learning, and making worlds together. 

Alvin Li is a writer and curator based in Shanghai.

Cover of the 1985 edition of J.G. Ballard’s 1973 Crash (Vintage Books, 1985).

MEERA MENEZES
NEW DELHI

AN UNUSUAL ANNOUNCEMENT popped up in my Instagram feed this summer: Artist Asim Waqif had posted a pair of triangular signs that read obey and YIELD, respectively. What piqued my interest, however, was the caption below: “This work is part of #artchainindia. I will share work made by me priced at INR 10,000/- or under. Everytime [sic] I reach INR 50,000/- I will use INR 10,000 to buy the work of another artist under the #artchainindia hashtag and support a fellow artist.” In a country with scarce infrastructure for cultural production, artists’ support of their peers, especially in the midst of a pandemic, is an inspiring show of solidarity. Investigating further, I found that Art Chain India is the brainchild of two young Delhi-based artists, Ayesha Singh and Purvai Rai and was created to foster a culture of collaboration and mutual aid among artists. Visual artists are encouraged to upload an image of the work they would like to sell on their Facebook or Instagram profile, tag Art Chain India, and pledge to purchase a fellow artist’s work. For many artists without gallery representation, the platform has been a boon for visibility and sales, offering a range of online resources on how to draw up a certificate of authenticity, pack and ship artworks, or even create a simple invoice. For art workers in a country still in the grip of Covid-19, a post from July 11 delivered a sliver of much-needed good news: “Today, on day 70, artists have sold more than 370 works and collectively made over 25 Lakh INR in sales.”

Meera Menezes is an independent art curator and writer based New Delhi.