The King is Dead, Long Live the King (also lets not forget the Queen). As Paul Street puts it, “It’s hard to get overly excited about Joe Biden on the Left.” as his ascendency to the Presidency of the highest power on the world stage, is premised on an “extremely low bar : he’s not a malignant fascist sociopath.” Street goes on to explain what he describes as Biden’s “corporate, imperial, white-supremacist, and patriarchal record.”
Biden’s second in command, Kamala Harris is, like me, Tamil. She is also African American. Indeed, she represents the present inclusive phase of the ever cycling identitarianism of American exceptionalism. However as Fawzia Afzal-Khan suggests, the identity politics of her election as the first female vice-president of the United States of America has, thus far, been only skin-deep. It is not, she insists, something we should “tout as a badge of honor or pride.” She furthers asserts that what we need instead, is an affiliative identity politics, rather than one that is merely skin-deep. While I sincerely wish America and Americans well in this dawning presidential cycle, I am not very optimistic.
So what is Fascism? In The Anatomy of Fascism, Robert Paxton defines fascism as “a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.”
While there is no doubt that Donald Trump and by implication the Republican Party have been flirting with White Supremacy, and thereby bringing the USA within the ambit of Paxton’s definition, as a Malaysian Tamil who has lived in the UK, I can not but think of the analogous forces that have given us Brexit, Ketuanan Melayu and Hindutva.
Further, as an immigrant to Canada and as a resident of British Columbia, I struggle to disentangle my new, welcoming and multicultural home from its White Supremacist provenance, and I wonder about the future.
A terrific discovery for the Koboi Project – a photograph from the 3rd October, 1902 inauguration of the monument to Afonso de Albuquerque, the second governor of Portuguese India, in the D. Fernando Square, Belem. (renamed for Afonso de Albuquerque following the republican revolution of 1910) This square is located in front of 18th-century Belém Royal Palace. The delight of this image of the preparations for the arrival of King D. Carlos and the Royal Family for the ceremony is that it is shot from the same point of view as the images of the Kaza Nunteng Porta series highlighting the ‘The fall of Malacca’ relief. The other 3 three reliefs represent the ‘The Delivery of the keys of Goa,’ ‘The Reception of the Ambassador of the King of Narcinga’ and ‘The defeat of the army of the king of Hormuz.’
Or perhaps ‘Post Photo-conceptual Performance’ … a tag I have been developing to locate my practice at the junction of photography and performance. While the tag needs much refinement, I think the praxis itself seems now, after 5 years of the Koboi Project, to be reasonably developed. I had the privilege of delivering a Masterclass in Performance Art as Faculty at the International Ismaili Diamond Jubilee Arts Festival in Lisbon, which ran from the 5-9 July 2018.
In this class, I shared my preparations for two impromptu photo-performances that took place at the Alfonso De Albuquerque Monument and the Discoveries Monument in Belem on 7th and 8th July 2018, respectively. I took the workshop participants, who were amateur and professional artists from the global Ismaili diaspora through my preparations for the two street interventions. They participated in my search for a meaningful action. We began the class within the designated presentation space and finished outside absorbing the architecture Portugal Pavilion and the masterclass itself into the spectacle and symbol of the event. In the light of his exercise and the images it produced, I have clarified for myself the stations of my process and have articulated them in a set of 12 words and images.
The monument to the Discoveries was initially a temporary edifice built for the Portuguese World exhibition of 1940. It was reified as a permanent monument to Portuguese marine adventure and power by the far-right imperialist Second Republicgovernment that ruled Portugal from 1933 to 1974. It was completed in 1960. I will erect my Kabali banner in the vicinity of the monument and in my performance, make reference to a rather different representation of mastery over the world by way a song from MGR’s Ulagam Suthum Valiban (World Perambulating Young Man), a blockbuster of Tamil cinema from 1973. On a personal note this intervention brings together fragments of knowledge and memory from my childhood in Malaysia – history lessons, local tourism, globetrotting relatives … indeed, I was taught about the great European voyages of discovery and conquest. The film song I use, Ulagam Ulagam, and its visual elements are also resonant for me – Subang International airport in Kuala Lumpur, Tiger Balm Gardens in Singapore and Expo 70 in JApan … one of my uncles went and brought us some souvenirs. The idea of globalization was just taking shape in the time of the film’s release tourism and it seems to me MGR was looking back up the marine telescope of Discovery via his images of global tourism.