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Living Together / Looking Apart (2022)

RePLITO Conference Report

Published onDec 15, 2022
Living Together / Looking Apart (2022)

 Living Together / Looking Apart

28-30 September 2022, Berlin

The three-day academic and artistic gathering focused on the representational strategies, practices and histories of living together in the so-called multicultural and multi-ethnic societies in the Global South and within Europe with a particular focus on multi-layered (in)visibilities and visuality.

The conference was organised by Juliana Streva, Salma Siddique, Fritzi-Marie Titzmann and Hannah Tzuberi on behalf of “Beyond Social Cohesion: Global Repertoires of Living Together” (RePLITO), a research project funded in the framework of the Grand Challenge Initiative Social Cohesion by the Berlin University Alliance (2021-2024). The program was realized in collaboration with Off-University and our academic cooperation partner Prof. Dr. Faisal Devji from St. Anthony’s College in Oxford, UK. With the cultural centre Oyoun we deliberately chose an event space outside the University to enable dialogue beyond academia and include activist and artistic voices in the exploration of how living and looking are intertwined.

In our introduction to the event we drew attention to what Fatimah Tobing Rony calls visual biopolitics whereby visual representation determines which lives are made to matter more than others, “who is visible and who is invisible, … and who is protected and who is not”[1]. Proceeding from this, we examined contexts of segregation, integration, friction and minoritization to offer new insights into religious divisions and secular ambiguities. We are particularly interested in approaches that are concerned with aesthetics, images and iconicity, to explore how looking becomes closely intertwined with living. While the controlling look or gaze has been central to the way in which the gendered, racialized and colonized body has been made visible, we also seek out what Paula Amad refers to as the visual ripostes [2], evident in powers relations embedded in imperial, postcolonial and global antagonisms.

Each day was devoted to a specific perspective, thus creating different strands of dialogues within the conference. Invited speakers from Turkey, India, and the United Kingdom, together with Berlin-based scholars, activists, and artists, made the conference a thoroughly inspiring and engaging event, not to mention an interested audience eager for discussion.

Day 1: Minorities in Perspective

Following introductory greetings by the two speakers of RePLITO, Schirin Amir-Moazami and Nadja-Christina Schneider, the first day started with a lecture by Hannah Tzuberi.

“Re-Humanizing the Figure of the Jew, or: An Excavation of German Travel-Guides to Israel from the 60ies to Today”

Lecture by Hannah Tzuberi (Freie Universität Berlin), followed with comments by Nahed Samour (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)

Nahed Samour and Hannah Tzuberi

Hanna Tzuberi looked in her talk into German tourist guides and travellogues of the state of Israel are being published since the 1960s. In these, she argued, close-up photographs of a myriad of faces convey the dignity of religious, ‘oriental’ Eastern Europeans or native Israelis, oftentimes accompanied by essays about the bodies, sentiments and other “intimate” features of the depicted. She situated these images within “humanist photography”, that according to Cartier-Bresson, “highlighted the dramatic humanity of common, man and his life, so short and so frail, and so threatened” [3]. The argument thus suggests that after antisemitic iconography had disfigured the Jewish face, it now became an object of admiration, an exemplar human face. In her presentation Tzuberi contemplated about the political function of these presentations and specifically, about the way that these are  transformed and reiterated in newer, more recent depictions of tolerant, multicultural Tel Aviv.  In conclusion, Tzuberi suggested that the image of Tel Aviv both brands the nation-state as liberal and modern, as well as redeems a gazing audience from its own history.

The first evening was then rounded off by the lecture of our cooperation partner Faisal Devji.

“Islam, Blasphemy, and the Loss of Theology”

Lecture by Faisal Devji (University of Oxford), followed with comments by Schirin Amir-Moazami (Freie Universität Berlin)

Faisal Devji and discussant Schirin Amir-Moazami

Faisal Devji’s lecture took us into the realm of theological debates or rather their absence. He argued that central to though rarely acknowledged by recent work on political theology, Islam has come to represent the chief example of theology’s irreducibility. By referring to the rediscovery of Carl Schmitt in the 1980s and his statement, about all political concepts being the secularization of theological ones, Devji proceeded to suggest, this can also be read as a description of the latter’s evanescence in their very expansion. Rather than representing its persistence, contemporary Islam is defined by the loss of the theological as it is reproduced in capitalist ways.

Through a closer examination of spectacles of outrage and violence over alleged insults to Muhammad from colonial India to the Rushdie affair, Devji comes to the conclusion that Islam serves as both a repository and displacement of the theological for other religions. Emerging out of colonial capitalism, such controversies over representations of Muhammad have also secularized blasphemy and promoted the rise of offences against identity in Euro-American societies. In his argument, religious representation is closely linked to (in)visibilities on different levels: the controversies surrounding visual representations of Muhammad, the visualisation of religious minority concerns, and the appropriation of religious arguments of violation and blasphemy as weapons in an ongoing struggle for cultural difference and dominance.

 Day 2: (Re)Imagining Dominance

The second day explored forms of visually and bureaucratically mediated dominance in Turkey’s dealing with Syrian refugees as well as in Indian media spaces.

Contemporary Nationalisms

Panel coordinated by Saskia Schäfer (HU Berlin) with Selin Siviş (Universität Wien), Ezgi Irgil (Swedish Institute of International Affairs) and Zeynep Balcioglu (HU Berlin)

This panel focused on questions of citizenship, migration, and nationalism. Focusing on the case of Turkey, the panelists shared their findings on nationalist boundary-drawing among various different groups in different Turkish cities. What, for instance, motivates state employees to support migrants beyond the vague requirements, how do they handle negative sentiments in a tightening socio-economic environment, and how do those rejecting the newcomers evoke old narratives of the nation? One insight was that even members of minoritized identities in Turkey, such as Kurds or Alevis, were skeptical towards Syrian immigration. This prompts many state employees to make the services they offer to refugees invisible, thereby protecting themselves and the refugees but simultaneously rendering them less visible and questioning their place in society. 

After the panelists gave detailed accounts of the various Turkish cases, the audience largely found the case of Turkey very reminiscent of other cases and the discussion concluded that the question of redistribution is at the heart of the nation-state as a political system.  

Aesthetics of Majoritarian Nationalism

Roundtable with Salma Siddique (HU Berlin), Nadja-Christina Schneider (HU Berlin) and Faisal Devji (University of Oxford)

Using India as an example, this roundtable addressed the question of the visual aesthetics of majoritarian nationalism in a media system in which, on the one hand, a multilocal and multilingual film industry and, on the other, cross-media film-related communication continue to be of central importance. For precisely this reason, films with a national audience reach in particular also continue to offer themselves as targets for groups seeking to establish visibility for their political concerns through their public protest and calls for censorship or boycott.

Salma Siddique on “Historical Consciousness as an Immolating Queen”

As the two presentations by Salma Siddique and Nadja-Christina Schneider pointed out on the basis of their ongoing research projects, it is not so much the central question of gender and family relations in the normative Hindu family that can be seen as new here, or the dominant notion of the (Hindu) woman’s body supposedly needing protection and control. Rather, a shift and interesting amalgamation of nationalist topoi with new ways of seeing and representing female bodily self-determination and ‘empowerment’ can be detected, which, however, needs to be critically questioned from a feminist perspective.

Nadja-Christina Schneider talks about the newly propagated concept of Nari Shakti (“woman power”)

In his subsequent commentary, Faisal Devji linked some of the issues raised in the two presentations to renegotiations of gender relations and social power relations in different spheres of Indian society.

 Day 3: Iconographies of Resistance

The last day was dedicated to stories and strategies of resistance and new avenues of representations.

Kurdish Women’s Resistance

Panel coordinated by Julia Strutz (HU Berlin/Off-University) with Delal Aydın, İrem Akı  and an introduction by Nazan Üstündağ

Panel with Delal Aydin, Nazan Üstündağ and Irem Aki

Following and extensive and insightful introduction by Nazan Üstündağ into the Kurdish struggle and the and the special role that women have in it, the two panelists discussed the pivotal and often iconic role women and gender play in the Kurdish movement. Delal Aydın focused on the 1990s and made reference to selected iconic female leaders and fighters to show their paramount influence in the construction of Kurdish women as political actors. Analyzing sociological and political change in Turkey in the 2000s, İrem Akı  underlined the importance of an intersectional approach to the peacebuilding process and focused on how Kurdish Queer Associations can contribute to peacebuilding in Turkey.

Delal Aydın introduces iconic women figures of the Kurdish Movement in the 1990s

Visibility and invisibility seem to be closely intertwined in this context. On the one hand, women have increased their visibility as political actors and, as Delal Aydın has shown, have become iconic representatives of the struggle and have promoted a feminisation of the movement. On the other hand, invisibility has a double meaning: it signifies the silencing and invisibilisation of the Kurdish movement by the Turkish state, but it also serves to protect critical actors, for example in the Queer Kurdish movement and in the Kurdish struggle as a whole.

Storytelling, Re-Writing Histories

Roundtable with Nagehan Uskan (RePLITO Visiting Fellow at HU/Off-University/Cinema in Exile), Barbara Marcel (Bauhaus-Universität Weimar/Berlin Artistic Research Grant Program Fellow), Juliana Streva (Freie Universität Berlin) and Zahra Gardi (independent artist)

Nagehan Uskan talking about collective filmmaking in Lesvos Island

The panel was designed in the experimental format of a roundtable without mediation, in which each one of the invited speakers introduced their own activist, artistic and/or academic practices, especially regarding the practices of storytelling, writing and listening. Afterwards, the conversation was opened to the audience, in an attempt of creating a conversation and discussing the main questions of:

What is the role played by the researcher or the filmmaker in listening, writing or representing marginalized stories? What stories are told, where they are told, how they are told and by whom? How to disrupt the colonial legacy in producing research about people, based on extractivist and objectifying gaze, and to create collaborative relationships of sharing?

Zahra Gardi introducing her photographic work

In a nutshell, the roundtable fostered a vivid and sensitive conversation on the implications and responsibilities of academic research and artistic practices concerning the storytelling narrated by social activists and people in vulnerable and precarious situation.

Juliana Streva talking about the concept of Quilombo

The Image of the Protesting Woman

Book presentation by Prarthna Singh & discussion with Fritzi Titzmann (HU Berlin) and Mallika Leuzinger (German Historical Institute London)

Fritzi Titzmann introduces Prarthna Singh

Indian photographer Prarthna Singh presented and discussed her recently self-published photo book Har Shaam Shaheen Bagh (2022), dedicated to the female protesters of Shaheen Bagh in New Delhi, India.

Singh began with an eight-minute soundscape of the protest site and then went straight into how Shaheen Bagh was exceptional in many ways. In the 101-day protests in the New Delhi neighborhood of Shaheen Bagh in the winter of 2019/20 against the new discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act, Muslim women were the leaders of the protests and constituted the majority of protesters, challenging the prevailing rules of public visibility. Prarthna Singh is one of the many artists who showed solidarity at the site. She used her artistic skills and reach to “bear witness” and archive this particular moment in history for future generations.

Prarthna Singh with a portrait from her photo book in the background

Prarthna Singh talked about the inspiration she received from her own participation in the Shaheen Bagh protests, as well as the creation of the photo series and the challenges of self-publishing. She recalled in the discussion how this growing intimacy with the women she photographed soon took on a tactile form of exchange. For every portrait she made, she created an identical Polaroid or “jadoo ka kaagaz” as they were playfully renamed, to give the women and children she photographed. Some of the portraits have been layered with images of shawls and burqas worn by fellow protestors, to evoke the camaraderie and kinship that formed the essence of Shaheen Bagh. Also included in the book are drawings made at the on-site crèche by the children who were waiting patiently while their mothers participated in the revolution.

Prarthna Singh’s account directly related to Fatimah Tobing Rony’s observation on how visual representation determines which lives are made to matter more. Against the background that the street scenery in India usually is not only patriarchcal but also Hindu dominated, Muslim women used their bodies to break through this logic of visibility. Therefore, it is particularly noteworthy that Muslim women were appropriating the “hostile” public space and reconfiguring it as an inclusive and democratic place of participation. An increasing visibility of women in protest movements is not unique, however the visibility of Muslim women in this particular scenario represents bravery and an attempt to counter global stereotypes of oppressed Muslim women whose men are terrorists.[4] Above all, documenting the events of Shaheen Bagh counters structural processes of invisibilizing women and not circulating their contributions and voices in political movements and in history in general.

Dinner break with Middle Eastern finger food prepared by Bulbul Catering

Poetry and Artivist Cinema Night

After a dinner break with excellent finger food by Oyoun’s in-house Bulbul Café, the last evening continued with poetical readings by Adelaide Ivánova and Angélica Freitas and an artivist cinema night.

“This reading is a solo flight across the Atlantic, departing from a series of poems entitled "Tormenting Songs". Poems about women, the environment and much more. From Brazil with love.” (“Tormenting Thongs” by Angélia Freitas)

After the poetry session, we screened two short films by Kino Mosaik Film Collective from Lesvos Island. The films documented the lived reality in the refugee camp and dealt with the terrifying issue of refugees’ “pushbacks” off the island’s coast. The “pushback” video is the result of a workshop on “Visual Storytelling as Resistance” held by Nagehan Uskan in Lesvos last year as part of the RePLITO project. Members of the collective who were able to leave the camps and live now in Berlin joined in the discussion afterwards and shared their experiences of collective filmmaking from the marginalised position of migrant women living in the camp.

Nagehan Uskan introducing the Kino Mosaik Film Collective’s documentary films

The second documentary titled “Mulheres em Movimento” [Women in Movement] (2020) by Juliana Streva rounded off the evening and brought the event to a close.

"Women in Movement" composes a living archive, moved by the pressing need of articulating struggles, voices, and political grammars. The film proposes a politics of speaking and a poetics of listening, in which a relational dialogue between thinking and feeling, private and public, theory and practice, knowledge and experience, domestic and political is continually bridged. Shot in the cities of Rio de Janeiro, Salvador and Manaus, between May and June 2018 - a few months after the femicide of Marielle Franco and in the context leading up to the main Brazilian elections in October, that would elect an authoritarian far-right candidate as president of the country.

During the the three days many conversations were opened up and we hope that we fostered discussions that will continue. Altogether, 20 invited speakers and an audience of more than hundred engaged participants made this event a remarkable experience by connecting questions of visibility, representation and living together in heterogenous societies.

For further information including the presentations’ abstracts, please visit the event’s website:

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