It is no good to insult those who ask but is good to be able to ask these questions. In that way, we will be able to create a lively and vibrant humanity rather than be engrossed in marginality. Let us work on understanding concepts that are imposed on us rather than rushing to execute those who have asked about these impositions, writes Elizabeth Woldegiorgis.
How are we going to change things if we are not willing to learn the basic meaning of marginality? Knowing marginality does not come just because one absorbs concepts without investing the appropriate time to learn and understand these concepts. I am very much disturbed by the type of conversation that was recently inflicted on me. I am not disturbed because it was directed towards me since I can confidently defend my academic and intellectual standing. Of course, I am susceptible to the most unwarranted attacks because I am a woman in a country that does not recognize women’s contribution to the genesis and evolution of the country. With all the mediocrities in the art world, I have rarely seen insulting innuendos directed to male artists or academics in the art world. But I have always been a problem because I tell a truth that is routinely justified with critical knowledge. And for a woman to tell it all in full confidence and maturity complicates existing assumptions and comfortable familiarities. I will continue to tell it all as I maintain to learn, investigate, interrogate and understand the ever changing issues of marginality. My femininity is part and parcel of that marginality that many of us time and again fail to understand in its comprehensive form.
A practicable epistemology that understands the experiences of oppression that emerge in present day power relationships and that illustrate the various epistemic facets of oppression’s locations is necessary and that is what I will continue to project even if I continue to be insulted in my attempt to understand knowledge and the spaces of knowledge production critically. If I am called to be tried in a court that privileges a knowledge production from a position of privilege, and the same individuals that asked for this type of trial are today mentioning concepts of postcoloniality, I do not take them seriously since the concept of postcoloniality questions and deconstructs marginality from all fronts – both locally in the periphery as well as the center that I was called to be tried on. I hope these individuals understand the true concepts of marginality because investigating marginality does not begin with destroying the very same people who are interrogating it but it is to examine the genesis and evolution of marginality which begins at the center of knowledge production. And that requires the understanding of knowledge production and dissemination that all of us urgently need to understand to tackle issues such as populism in the center, the political ideology of the far right in the center, issues of migration in the center and many more to understand the evolving and unique knowledge enterprises that are rapidly advancing to confine us in spaces of marginality. Calling to understand these concepts should not be a crime but a call for a collaborative enterprise to understand petrifying global movements and to critically locate ourselves within that rapid tide.
My womanhood is calling for such query. But let us take my femininity aside since it generates a lot of anger from those who do not understand marginality in its full context and talk about the Ethiopian humanity by comprehending the position of knowledge vis a vis global trends that I just mentioned such as populism and the rise of the far right in the center. Unless we understand marginality from current global contexts, we will never be able to validate multiple world views and multiple truths that can produce possibilities for new models of aesthetic education and cultural critique. We should continuously negotiate the very concept of knowledge and truth since the structure of privilege did not emerge from us. A point to be taken is therefore to understand marginality in marginal epistemic locations. It does not do any good to attack me or anyone else but will be good to complicate the present of knowledge production and dissemination that does not account concepts of marginality.
In a recent writing on cities by Stefan Gruber, who is a professor at the Viennese Art Academy where I am currently invited to teach and am currently there and who was engaged in a collaborative project with the Alle School of Fine Art and Design, he says of architecture: “as we recognize the right to the city, the disciplines of architecture, urban design and planning face a dilemma. On the one hand, architecture renders material on our social practices, relation and values. On the other hand, the disposition of space is rendered for political economic ends and also defines us. But while this interdependence infers a continuous process of negotiation and calibration, architecture is also violently conclusive. It petrifies. It cements. Architecture’s inertia means it will always be out of sync with the living social contract it embodies.”
He wrote this after the collaborative project with the school and after experiencing the architecture of Addis Ababa. This is a very powerful statement for those of us who are really experiencing of what he calls the cementing and petrifying nature of our cities. Our bodies are being regulated in this type of setting. In this regard, our experimentation of space is denied from the free experiences of space and rather our body is now to be experienced and lived from the point of view of the architecture. Architecture is increasingly used to dismantle the body and its identity. The virtual city and the virtual body make the real world and the physical body has disappeared. Therefore, one wonders how to keep the identity of place and body in such a situation? And that is the kind of new study that the project of commoning proposes. And one should also ask how did this architecture emanate? How did we appropriate? Is it not from the vantage point of marginality? These are the types of questions we should ask in knowledge production, in this case the production and dissemination of the knowledge of architecture.
It is no good to insult those who ask but is good to be able to ask these questions. In that way, we will be able to create a lively and vibrant humanity rather than be engrossed in marginality. Let us work on understanding concepts that are imposed on us rather than rushing to execute those who have asked about these impositions. And let us not run to be tried on the platforms that have been imposed but truly engage those who have tried to critically engage those platforms. Today I am invited to teach at the Viennese Art Academy because they know I am tackling these issues and to be vilified by your own who you are trying to create the platform of negotiation for is embarrassing. Being invited by the center itself to teach and deliberate on such matters indicates the gravity that populism and the rise of the far right had brought. Even the liberal left of the center is petrified of this situation. Why can’t we be? Why can’t we understand the gravity? Let us create forums and seminars to understand our context in the larger picture of marginality. Let us talk before rushing to vilify. The recent insults directed towards me are disturbing, it is not because it is directed towards me because I am a woman, but I am petrified because of our confusion and misunderstanding of marginality.
It is time we ask these questions in their truest context and this is a call to think and engage together.
Ed.’s Note: Elizabeth Woldegiorgis (PhD) studied History of Art and Visual Studies at Cornell University and Museum Studies at New York University. She is the director Modern Art Museum Gebrekristos Desta Centre. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. She can be reached at [email protected].