A Century of Camps: Refugee Knowledges and Forms of Sovereignty Beyond the Nation-State

 |  Arab European Creative Platform  |  2017  |  Germany

The Parliament of Bodies
Documenta 14
August 12, 13
Friedricianum, Kassel

Co-curated by Rasha Salti and Paul B. Preciado

This gathering of The Parliament of Bodies will explore the genealogies, epistemologies, heritage and knowledges produced within one of the most poignant and morbid legacies of the twentieth century, namely “refugee camps”. The century’s first refugees were the survivors of the genocide of the Armenian populations living in the territory that would soon become the republic of Turkey between 1915 and 1923. The Armenian genocide marked the emergence of international humanitarian providing relief to survivors, the establishment of camps, and triage stations in neighboring countries and the international media documenting the horrors of their experience in reports and photographs. The refugee camp invented a political regime without political rights and a visual regime of total exposure and dispossession.

Throughout the past century, scholarship, theory and policy have been focus on citizenship and the nation-state, while all other forms of community formation, economic and urban organization, the fabric of social relations outside the paradigms of the state and citizenship are perceived as theoretically exceptional, pertaining to anthropology, ethnography, and humanitarian contingency. Established on the principles of temporariness and impermanence, camps have they prevailed for longer than half a century, generations of their dwellers were born into the world carrying their identity as refugees, even if they had not themselves experienced the forced displacement that their parents or grand-parents experienced. Over time, refugee camps become districts in cities, and refugees the denizens, indentured labor, the “guest-others” of a national economy. A hundred years after the Armenian genocide, the number of people who are identified as refugees has increased exponentially. Humanitarian organizations entrusted with their survival and destiny is so profoundly institutionalized that it has become normalized and commonplace, and yet the perception of what camps represent remains ‘outside’ the realms of useful knowledge, ways of doing and being in the world.

This forum, within the Parliament of Bodies, proposes to reverse the paradigms and explore refugee camps and being in the world as a refugee as central, rather than epiphenomenal, exceptional, or temporary notions. From Beirut to Calais, from Lesvos to Zaatari, we invite architects, urban planners, theorists, filmmakers, artists, writers and activists to reflect on the knowledges accumulated and transmitted from living in the camps, the myriad histories of doing, building, resisting and negotiating power and authority, producing community, space and temporality. The legacy of a century of refugee camps constitutes a fertile terrain to interrogate the normative paradigms of nation-state and citizenship and re-evaluate different cosmogonies for the organization of society, relations of authority and power, production of economy, space and time.

The program

August 11

6:00 pm – 10:00 pm. Friedricianum Atrium
The discussions will be centered on the questions: Who writes the history of a camp? Recognising a “culture of exile” as the perspective from which social, spatial and political structures can be imagined and experienced beyond the idea of the nation-state, a group of associations and collectives will present the proposal to declare a refugee camp in the West Bank as a UNESCO World Heritage site. (With presentations by Elias Khoury, Isshaq Albarbary, Mohammed Allahham, Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti).

August 12

12:00 pm to 3:00 pm. Friedricianum Atrium
The discussions will be centred on the questions of genealogies, typologies and logics of refugee camps. The outcome of a conflict or situations of crises, camps are also an incarnation of globalization: What are the geographies within this impermanent space? What are the mechanisms of producing or reproducing social relations and political authority? (With presentations by Lorenzo Pezzani)

Isshaq Al-Barbary is a writer and researcher. His work combines discourse, spatial intervention, education, collective learning and public meetings. He practices critical pedagogy and is the coordinator of Campus in Camps, an experimental educational program in Dheisheh refugee camp, Bethlehem (Palestine). More recent research interests and projects revolve around representations of refugee camps and refugees in Palestine’s West Bank camps.

Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti have been awarded the Keith Haring Fellowship in Art and Activism 2016-2017 at Bard College. They are the founders of the experimental educational program Campus in Camps and co-directors of the architectural studio and art residency program DAAR (Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency).

Elias Khoury was born in Beirut. He studied Sociology and History at Lebanese University in Beirut and the University of Paris. He began his career as a literary critic with his book, Searching for a Horizon: The Arabic Novel after the Defeat of 1967. He was a prominent figure of the Beirut vanguard in modern Arabic literature. Elias Khoury has published more than twelve novels and four books of literary criticism. He is also known as a playwright.

Lorenzo Pezzani is an architect and researcher. He is currently Lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London, where he leads the MA studio in Forensic Architecture. His work deals with the spatial politics and visual cultures of migration, with a particular focus on the geography of the ocean. He has been working on Forensic Oceanography, a collaborative project that critically investigate the militarized border regime in the Mediterranean Sea.

Jad Tabet is an architect and planner working between Beirut and Paris. His practice extends over several dimensions of design and research, spanning across the fields of historic urban landscapes, public space design, the rehabilitation and revitalization of traditional urban fabrics, the development of strategies for sustainable community growth as well as social housing and public facilities. He is Lebanon’s representative at the UNESCO’s World Heritage Site committee.