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How do we productively map the historical and contemporary relationships that exist between North Africa, the Middle East and the Global South?

Kurchi Dasgupta
6 November 2014

Instead of focusing on the location of the 'MENA' in the context of the Global South, I will speak from the perspective of how such a location is of relevance to South Asia (which will be excusable, I hope, since 'MENA' is often compounded with 'SA' to form MENASA in the global political idiom). Despite often dissimilar histories, how the Middle East and North Africa negotiate the global economy in the context of art production no doubt holds up a mirror and offers a premonitory inkling to how South Asian nations will be negotiating the same in the near future.


It is indeed unfortunate that the reality of art making today should be, or can be, summarized through the mechanism of global capital. But this has its upside, too. As the North-South divide poises to reconfigure itself over the next few decades  a reconfiguration that will be further facilitated through South-South relations  countries of North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia can hope to bypass some of the Euro-American centric essentialist diktats in the field of cultural production, reception and consumption.


Yet it is already obvious that the emerging paradigm will necessarily be replicating the same power relations within itself, with its own regional cores and peripheries. Yes, the periphery does exist as far as cultural production is concerned, though shrinking at a fast rate. I find this sad because practising at the periphery often allows for leeway in modes of artistic practice and intellectual negotiation that inclusion in central power structures habitually prohibits. Involuntary exclusion from global capital's grasp does have its moments of freedom in nascent art economies. Such peripheral positions rhythmically nurture more intense scrutiny of the human condition. It produces dissent from core values while at the same time examining short cuts to inclusion. Inclusion, or invasion, is inevitable of course  be it by Northern centres or by neighbouring, regional economic cores.


But by mapping historical relations within the South and thus between regional cores, the South as a whole stands a stronger chance of reconfiguring itself into an entity with a stronger chance of laying down its own rules within the global format. This of course opens up a pandora's box immediately, heightening the possibilities of essentialist politics  but it puts us on more solid ground when it comes to battling the same. Ghettoization is unavoidable  every region has its own  but if we consciously encourage alternate practices, vocalize silenced histories and facilitate the micro over the macro, there is still a chance that the Global South will fail as a concept.


But it is vital that it fails as a homogenous subject constructed yet again by a distant core. Vital that it fails because of the strength of the many voices forming and challenging it from within at the same time. For it to fail, we need to uncover not only existing but ignored exchange routes while destabilizing the ones already entrenched in the global art economy. We will then have succeeded in dismantling the predictable 'new' in favour of an unknown paradigm. 

Kurchi Dasgupta

is South Asian artist and writer based in Kathmandu.

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