Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Disruption of the symbolic economy of the white body

One of the deepest reasons why still more Sub-Saharan Africans meet their end on the Straits of Gibraltar (see Black Look's recent post) is due to the power of symbols, rather than any material or existential reality. The West has ownership of the production of signs, meaning and representation, thanks to an all-powerful corporate media machine. Many non-westerners are drawn to the glow of this symbolic economy like moths to a flame. It seems to me that an important but neglected project is to find effective ways of disupting this semiotic regime. One such strategem is to produce images of the white body which contradict this representational norm.

The image posted here is an example: oyinbo driving okada. It reminds me of a dream a young Belgian wannabbee-film-director had of making a short movie about black aid workers (in white coats obviously) going to visit a white refugee camp full of stringy white bodies and white babies with extended bellies and flies all over their face. I daydream of Augusto Boal-esque Invisible Theatre interventions in Lagos - say a white beggar sifting in bins, or a white madman, walking naked with matted hair on Marina. Images of this sort would begin to take apart the image of the superiority of the white body that flow out into the realm of signs like a semiotic Amazon.

Perhaps there is some minor tradition of counter white-symbolic-supremacy out there, but I have yet to find it. It strikes me as rich terrain for radical Nigerian artists keen to challenge any avenue where neo-colonialism rears its head.


Seun 1:11 pm  

This sounds like something that an enterprising entrepreneur can sponsor, assuming that there are a lot of people that look at it the way you do.

Anonymous,  2:01 pm  

Don't need no sponsor.

It needs engaged individuals who are willing to be laughed at or excoriated, individuals who will take the risk of making people think.

Brilliant piece, Baba J. (as always). I love the way your mind works.


Seun 2:16 pm  

Trust me, if you want Nigerians to do more than just talk about what they want to do, you have to bring out money. I'll do this if no-one has done it in 5 years time.

Anonymous,  3:54 pm  

you know what - I'm going to do this myself. Watch this space. mr fufuyemi.

Anonymous,  4:00 pm  

I was taking a group of west African politicians and civil servants on a city tour of Jonzi (Jo'burg)and one of them screamed and asked us to stop the car. We did to find out what his problem was. Speechless, he was just pointing at a white male figure going through the dustbin. They wanted to take pictures and I said no. They could not believe that there are poor white people in SA. Post-independence South Africa, many of us black south Africans are still also shocked by the image of white destitution. I find myself wanting to give white beggers money because I think they shouldn't be begging. they shouldn't be poor. It will take a long while before we disloge from our pyschic images of whiteness as powerful, healthy and wealthy. While destitution of all kind is problematic, I think, showing that there are white bodies who experience poverty may actually dislodge our desire for whiteness and all things white and move towards building a sense of human connection that is beyond race.


Anonymous,  4:10 pm  

Duduyemi, you're right - don't need no sponsors. The situationist did not start out asking for sponsors. They just did it.

I think the culture of need money to do everything in Nigeria is part of the problem. Why can't a group of artists get together with technicians and put together something without waiting for sponsors.

We are too use to handouts - whether through donor interventions or corporate sponsorships. This handout mentality can actually hinder progress.

Brilliant idea jeremy.


sokari 9:14 am  

We know the west owns the means of production and the wealth of the world is in its cities. That is exactly why people risk their daily lives - for material benefit so they can earn some money and send it home. People work and work and work and yes after a couple of years from their point of view it was all worth it. The figures on remittances speak for themselves.

I am always fascinated why it is that people at home have so much contempt for those that choose to make the perilous journey across the Sahara and Atlantic Ocean in search of labour!

Not sure what the oyinbo driving the okada is about but thats just self-indulgence - cool if he chooses to do it but he can earn more money in his homeland and his family are definitely not depending on him sending any money for food! White people have always gone to Africa for a variety of reasons which I am sure you of all people must be aware of.

As for the idea - I think many of us living in the West have had the idea of being anthropologists and studying the poverty on the streets of London and Madrid. Maybe I could do a video of all the northern Europeans who come down to Granada and Andalucia to beg on the streets on the guise of playing some crap sax or prancing around pretending to be a juggler – I love street entertainment but it still requires some degree of talent other wise it begging plain and simple.

tout noir 11:40 am  

I used to live with two white middleclass roommates and I was astonished at how much better off I was. I was so used to having "the white man" better off, that my roommates often accused me of economic insensitivity (like suggesting that we hire a cleaning service to come in once a week, or smoking the most expensive brand of cigarettes, or refusing to learn how to drive because I plan to live in a Western big city all my life or hire drivers if I decide otherwise). Often contrary to evidence, I would argue that they were better off and ask them to stop pretending. Yes, it was illogical but my mind just couldn't wipe off the iconography of the white body quickly enough.

Even today, despite the fact that I earn more than 98% of Americans, I still feel like every white person is better off than I am.

Yes, it would be interesting to deconstruct some symbols.

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