Unfolding through an exhibition, online residency, public program and Summer Academy, Postcolonial Ecologies discusses and reflects on essential ecological questions, addressing how colonial practices and extractive economies have affected/contaminated the natural environments of indigenous peoples and native ecosystems. Departing from the epistemic violence enacted through dominant technologies of measurement and calculation that subdue life forms to market logic, the exhibition project unearths indigenous knowledge systems rooted in conceptions of nature and land as sources of life and subsistence. Thinking with Fanon, participants are invited to engage in critical readings of decolonization and to speculate on life futures that acknowledge land as ‘the most essential value’, its humus at once a carrier of collective memory/trauma and a site of anticolonial resurgence and regeneration. Against a modern grammar of predation and extraction, the multifaceted program invokes other worlds in the making, exploring radical forms of social organisation that centre mutual aid and more-than-human collaboration.

With: Firas Shehadeh and Reem Marji.

Read the full statement here.

This project was realized at Darat al Funun- The Khalid Shoman Foundation in 2021.

The Darat al Funun 2021 Summer Academy

The academy offers participants the space to develop their art practice within a critical setting that encourages experimentation, knowledge-sharing, and communal learning. Taking place as part of the Postcolonial Ecologies exhibition project, the program is curated around a set of fundamental questions concerning ecological crisis, systems of value, and life futures, in light of which the participants explore new conceptual and aesthetic strategies that entangle both artistic and ecological practices.

What are the limitations of mainstream discourses on the environmental crisis? Is humanity as a whole responsible? Who are the people that are being affected the most? How do we read environmental degradation from a perspective that entangles class, race, and gender dynamics?

How have the legacies of colonialism affected our relationship with our landscapes and ecosystems? How can we expand our understanding of colonial violence to account for the assaults carried out upon indigenous lands and environments? What kind of image or semantics make visible more contemporary forms of colonialism such as development practices, the neoliberal seizure of communal land, and the contamination of our nature commons? How can we contest the commodification of land and nature toward a planetary perspective that recognises land as a source of life and subsistence?

Can technological solutions help, or does the answer lie in rolling back to more “primitive” ways of living? And most importantly, who will bear the cost of any proposed solutions?

Can we imagine other possible worlds that channel and mediate new forms of social organisation? What does a praxis of decolonisation that acknowledges the agency and complicity of local structures and the crisis of the state form look like? How can we contribute to an imaginary that goes beyond structures of race, ethnicity, and nation-state? Moreover, can we envision a politics that transcends the figure of the human to include non-human (or more-than-human) beings as witnesses and agents of change?

Using the space of The Lab as a site of conjunction for the investigation of art and ecology, participants engage with and begin to answer these questions as they negotiate both contextual and personal gravity points. While there is be a basic guiding structure, the program is designed to allow participants to shape the trajectory of their individual and collective experiences.

The curriculum includes workshops, screenings, discussions, studio visits, and excursions.

Invited faculty members include Sahar Qawasmi and Nida Sinnokrot (Sakiya Collective), Jumana Emil Abboud, Kareem Estefan, Firas Shehadeh, Islam Khatib (WikiGender Collective), Reef Fakhouri, Dina Bataineh, and Nujud Ashour (Taghmees Collective).

Part I: The View from No-Man’s Land

The mainstream discourse on ecological and environmental crises builds on a separation of the problem from its historical and economic roots. Like most crises, they are presented as sudden, unintentional and surprising events. The current pandemic is a representative example. However, environmental devastation is at the core of the modern and colonial project, which has been historically based on extraction, the reengineering of native ecosystems and the exploitation of labour-power in the name of prosperity, growth and progress. Decolonisation as decontamination.

In this part of the program, we explore the post-colonial effects on ecology, the discourse around the ‘Anthropocene’, digitality, ecological struggle, computation, aesthetics and value. Examining the interactions between native ecosystems and colonial contamination and the ways in which this affects life, we look at post-conceptual art practices/contemporary art through the prism of ecological thinking.

Part II: Witnessing and Worldbuilding in the Wake

What does it mean to witness other possible worlds from within (ecological, political, economic) disaster? How might the concept of “opacity,” proposed by Martinican poet and theorist Édouard Glissant, or the links between memory and futurity in Afrofuturism and indigenous futurisms, reorient our understanding of popular witness figures like Naji al-Ali’s Handala? This seminar explores theories of witnessing that look beyond the discourses of social trauma and international law, drawing instead from artistic and social practices of “fabulation,” “speculation,” and “worldbuilding.” Attuning ourselves to the distinct temporary conditions of disaster experienced by different communities, we seek modes of “witnessing as worldbuilding” that challenge the “capitalist realism” identified by the British cultural critic Mark Fisher, in which “it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.”

Part III: Rewilding Pedagogy

Rewilding Pedagogy takes the act of ‘rewilding’ as its point of departure, rewilding the soil from the ravages of monoculture agriculture, and rewilding local knowledge cultures from colonization and encroaching neoliberalism. Rewilding pedagogy is an approach for envisioning new networks, systems, and processes that can mediate new spatial and social configurations essential for new political, socio-economic, environmental, and material realities. This kind of cultivation takes hard work and is a fundamentally creative and collaborative process. As part of the Summer Academy at Darat al Funun, we plug into Sakiya’s ongoing work in imagining and creating a global eco network of garden structures made in keeping with local indigenous crafts and science. We invoke a connection between art and ephemeral infrastructures in the form of social sculptures offering a decolonized more than human communication.

Worldbuilding in the Wake

As climate change accelerates, a sixth mass extinction event looms over the horizon. Apocalyptic scenes proliferate across our screens, almost blocking out fugitive glimpses of other possible worlds. But for those most vulnerable to the slow violence of extractive capitalism and settler colonialism, the end of the world is nothing new. To paraphrase the late scholar Patrick Wolfe, apocalypse is a structure, not an event; the catastrophe is ongoing. Or, as June Tyson sings in Sun Ra’s Space Is the Place, “It’s after the end of the world—don’t you know that yet?” The worldbuilding of Afrofuturism, Arabfuturism, indigenous futurism, and other subaltern futurisms is animated by collective memories of the many worlds that did not survive the “new world” of colonial modernity. Futurisms divested from capitalist futurity, these speculative activities reorient the imagination to the poetics and politics of worldbuilding in the wake of catastrophe, so that visions of the yet-to-come are always also returns to the practices, epistemologies, and dreams of those whose worlds were expropriated or destroyed. They suggest an ecological consciousness that understands the present annihilation of biodiverse ecosystems as continuous with histories of colonization, enslavement, and genocide. Positioning the speculative practice of worldbuilding as a poetic act of repairing present and future ecologies in the wake of imperial violence, this series by Kareem Estefan features artists, writers, and scholars who think beyond “green futures'' to imagine a world transformed by decolonization and de-growth, a world that cultivates structures of care and kinship beyond the figure of the human.