Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship: Alex Fattal

Wenner-Gren is excited to share the following trailer and blog post from Alex Fattal who in 2016 received a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship to aid filmmaking on Limbo. Prior to receiving a Fejos Fellowship Dr. Fattal received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2009 to aid research on, “Guerrilla Marketing: Information Warfare and the Demobilization of FARC Rebels,” and an Engaged Anthropology Grant in 2014 that allowed him to return to the field to share his research with the community.

LIMBO – trailer ENG. from Casatarántula on Vimeo.

Limbo

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship

Producing Limbo has been quite a journey, literally. It has entailed transforming the payload of a truck into a giant camara obscura. That meant not only convincing the truck’s owner to allow me to open a five-centimeter hole in the side of his truck, but figuring out how to craft a lens for that hole (it involved Universidad de los Andes’s physics department and a local eyeglass shop). Once the truck camera (camion cámara) was built it became the place in which I interviewed eight former guerrilla fighters. In that darkened chamber they told me about their lives: why they joined the guerrillas, what life was like inside the FARC, and why, despite the risk of being executed, they chose to leave the insurgency? The camión cámara became a confessional, dreamlike space, and many of the stories revolved around dreams. The project emerges from my ethnographic research, which was recently published in the book Guerrilla Marketing: Counterinsurgency and Capitalism in Colombia (University of Chicago Press, 2018).

My Fejos Fellowship allowed me to rethink and revamp this project. Rather than trying to weave a single narrative out of the eight stories, I decided to focus on one former guerrilla. This required not only taking the truck out to film crucial landscape shots, but also an extensive reframing of the narrative and all new editorial challenges. I’ve worked very hard with great partners in Colombia to figure out how the funky form and compelling content of the film could best come together. It’s been a challenge but I am happy with the result.

The film now focuses on the life of Javier Alexander, his troubled childhood, his education and military experience in the FARC, and his decision to desert after the devil makes repeated appearances in his dreams. Alex (the protagonist) can only vanquish his devilish dream by going back to his roots, a Shaman from the indigenous community that he comes from. His narrative is not linear, but bounces from present to past, from dream world to real world. Its topsy turvy jumble is apropos for the life in limbo that most former combats live, between a militant past and a civilian present, between the countryside and the city, between their experiences as victims and perpetrators — a world in limbo.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Preeti Sampat

Display in Kerim.

While a doctoral student at City University of New York Graduate Center, New York Preeti Sampat received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2011 to aid research on “Right to Land and the Rule of Law: Special Economic Zones in India,” supervised by Dr. David Harvey.  In 2017 Dr. Sampat was able to build upon her fieldwork when she received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Living Histories of Land Museum.”

The Living Histories of Land in Goa Mobile Museum initially anticipated large printed mounts curated with visuals of campaign materials from historical environmental struggles in the state such as press releases; posters; news clippings; photographs, excerpts from speeches; and symbolic installations using sound, visual materials and natural materials. After much effort locating materials from older struggles from the 1970’s to 1990’s however, it was clear that largely news media archives and a few pamphlets were available for the older struggles, although more recent struggles had preserved posters and banners. This posed a challenge since a display of mostly black and white press clippings and pamphlets on mounts seemed visually unappealing and would defeat the purpose of attracting bystanders and local residents to the museum venues as it traveled. There was also an imbalance of materials available from older struggles compared to more recent struggles.

Explaining the campaign materials to students at Ponda.

After much brainstorming with colleagues to create a visually attractive display, I took the decision to create an installation with an online museum hosted in a dedicated website, that would curate multi-lingual press coverage (in English, Marathi and Konkani) of the struggles, available video archives, and other materials related to the environmental struggles that we could locate. This also put a nice spin on the definition of a ‘mobile museum,’ as the museum could now be ‘visited’ on mobile phones, with a long lasting archive available much after the Museum display period. With the help of curatorial and design assistance, the Museum to put up installations on hired tablets and laptops, curated available videos of struggles into a running loop displayed on a projector screen, and created a short dramatic skit to attract footfall to the venues. Posters and pamphlets from older struggles (where available) and more recent struggles were also put on display around the installation.

Film screening in Panjim

The earliest archived struggle dated from the 1970’s agitations against Zuari Agrochemicals that also catalyzed the Fish-workers movement in Goa and across India. This was followed in the 1980’s by the massive and long-standing agitation against the Konkan Railway; the struggles over controversial tourism projects in coastal areas; and the 1990’s agitations against polluting Du Pont (Nylon 6,6) and Metastrips industries. More recent struggles included those from the mid-2000’s, against the Regional Plan 2011 and 2021; Special Economic Zones; and on-going agitations against mining; the Mopa Airport; the Coal Corridor and Mormugao Port Expansion; and the Declaration of Rivers as National Waterways. While there are many more environmental struggles in Goa, the ones archived and displayed in the museum represented some of the better-known ones in the state.

Performing the theatrical skit at Margao.

Each of these struggles coalesced in opposition to capitalist development projects initiated by the state, and their implications for local environments, livelihoods and culture. The modes of protest included collective protests on project sites, villages and cities influenced by the project, and the capital city Panjim; as well as legal action by concerned residents. The Museum’s online archive organized the historical archives of these struggles along five key sub-themes emerging from the nature of development projects: infrastructure; industry; tourism; mining and real estate. As the Museum was curated and the archive emerged, the periodization of the struggles also shed light on the shifting dynamics of capitalist accumulation in the state. Despite continuing overlaps, some of the earliest controversies erupted around projects related to infrastructure and industry; followed by tourism; with mining and real estate projects more recently.

Poster

The Museum traveled to five locations across Goa, Margao, Ponda and Panjim cities, and Kerim and Verna villages from June 21 – 25, 2018. The Museum had initially anticipated displays in three venues, but this was later extended to two more, as the costs of transportation and labor were reduced with the lighter, mobile installation equipment. Margao and Ponda cities in South and North Goa districts respectively (Goa has only two districts) were added to the venues. Margao is the center of many agitations from South Goa; while Ponda is close to the villages in North Goa where a number of environmental agitations have taken place; and both are bustling market towns with a number of people from nearby villages visiting for work, leisure or other activities. Since all the venues were public spaces arranged with due government permissions, the theatrical skit was used to introduce the Museum to bystanders and visitors at the Museum venue. This was followed by an invitation to view the original pamphlets and posters from the struggles; and the archival materials on laptops, tablets and mobile phones arranged at the venue. The film screening of short films from various struggles was held in the evening to allow for clearer viewing at dusk and after sunset.

The interactive installation in Verna.

The audience in each of the venues ranged from curious bystanders; local residents passing through; students; local activists; and journalists. For many, this was a novel archival display, a people’s history of the state. Local residents from different villages also extended invitations for hosting the Museum in their localities in the future. The Living Histories of Land in Goa Mobile Museum hopes to continue adding to the online archive with support from volunteers and to travel to other locations in the future. With the positive feedback and interest the Museum generated, discussions to this effect have been held with interested activists.

NYAS Lecture 1/28: Urban (In)Equality and Materiality: A Global, Deep Time Perspective

It’s the beginning of a new year and the New York Academy of Sciences is back with another great installment of its lecture series starting on January 28th at 5:45 PM at its new location, Roosevelt House, 47-49 E 65th St, New York, NY 10065. Dean Saitta, Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Urban Studies program at the University of Denver will be presenting, “Urban (In)Equality and Materiality: A Global, Deep Time Perspective.” Rita Wright, Professor of Anthropology at New York University, will act as discussant.

Please note: the lecture begins at 6:30 PM, and while the event is free to attend pre-registration is required for entry into the building. Early registration is strongly recommended, since seating is limited. For the buffet supper, registration is also required. If you will be registering for an event for the first time, the New York Academy of Sciences will ask you first to set up a user account with them. Registration is free and does not require divulging personal or financial information.

Scholarly research suggests that the more inclusive and equitable a city, the more prosperous and sustainable it is overall.  Today, race and class-based segregations continue to plague cities worldwide. To remedy these inequalities, we need to look for new sources of ideas about urban planning and policy.  This talk considers the 6000-year history of city building as one such source. Ancient cities in Asia, Africa, and the Americas are wellsprings of learning about equitable urbanism. They illustrate collective governance in the distribution of life-sustaining resources.  They demonstrate effective resource sharing across ethnic and ecological boundaries. They show how public space can accommodate the masses, delight the senses, and cultivate a shared identity and destiny.  Together, ancient cities tell some different stories about social being and belonging in urban contexts, and implicate alternative principles and pathways for building the equitable city.

About the Speakers:

Dean Saitta is Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Urban Studies program at the University of Denver. He teaches courses in urban anthropology, archaeology, and evolutionary anthropology. His research interests are in ancient city planning and design, comparative architectural and urban form, and North American archaeology. Professor Saitta is a co-author of “Denver: An Archaeological History.” Currently, he is  researching and writing about issues facing the contemporary city from an archaeological, historical, and intercultural perspective. Specifically, he focuses on how people of different cultural backgrounds interact with, and are shaped by, the urban built environment.  He writes a blog called “Intercultural Urbanism” and is a featured blogger at the public interest urban planning website Planetizen.

Rita Wright is Professor of Anthropology at New York University.  Her research interests include comparative studies of urbanism, state formation, gender, and cycles of change in ancient civilizations.  She has conducted field research in South Asia (Afghanistan and Pakistan) and the Near East (Iran). Her research at Harappa included studies of ceramics and craft production and a regional survey of Harappan Settlement Patterns on the Beas River.  Dr. Wright is founder and editor of Case Studies in Early Societies (Cambridge University Press), editor of Gender and Archaeology, co-editor with Cathy L. Costin of Craft and Social Identity, and author of Ancient Indus: Urbanism, Economy, and Society (2010, Cambridge University Press in UK/US and India.

A dinner and wine reception will precede the talk. Buffet dinner begins at 5:45 PM. ($20 contribution for dinner guests/free for students).

Lectures begin at 6:30 PM and are free and open to the public, but registration is required.