In the aftermath of the Bristol protests against the Conservative government’s new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, the Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees pinned the blame for the violence on what he called “revolutionary tourists” or “protest tourists” who had come in from the outside itching for a fight. Regardless of the truth of his claims, it is interesting to note how common this claim has become in an era of global mobilities and ever-more global protests. It has more of a whiff of the claim of “outside agitation” used since the 19th century to contrast ‘respectable’ locals with ‘troublesome’ outsiders. It also shows a shifting landscape in the meaning of protest itself – especially as authoritarian governments and even democratic states clamp down on street-based forms of expression as well as freedom of speech online.
In 2019 the blogger and Experiences Ambassador for AirBnB, Sebastian Nieto Milevcic, explored the concept of “Protest Tourism” in the context of the Chilean ‘Estallido Social’ (Social Outbreak) which erupted in response to corruption, privatisation, and widespread inequality in the South American nation. Milevcic noticed that the protestors were accompanied by a number of “mere observers, blog enthusiasts, and selfie explorers,” including Americans and Europeans who stood out from the crowd. He asked them why they were there, and they gave several responses:
“I wanted to see something real.”
”I just want to tell my friends I was here.”
“I was just too curious to watch what was going to happen.”
Milevcic mused as to whether this was ‘Dark Tourism’, which draws millions to Chernobyl, Fukushima and Ground Zero in Manhattan, as well as genocide sites such as Rwanda and Cambodia’s Killing Fields. He concludes “maybe it’s just Travel itself that is innately voyeuristic?” Although Milevcic’s observers were just that, observers, the distinction can often be blurred in a digital age where the camera and microphone can be effective weapons – both for and against injustice. As for voyeurism, Nick Cohen in The Guardian castigated “Radical tourists” who “trawl the world for revolutions to praise” as “no better than sex tourists” in search of exotic thrills they cannot get at home.
“Pleasures sated, the tourists fly away from the poverty and the corruption. The lies they have lived and paid others to live on their behalf don’t bother them,” Cohen wrote. He was referring specifically to supporters of the regime in Venezuela, whose own economic mismanagement and political crisis has led to a mobility crisis of a different kind, with over four million estimated to have left the country since 1999.
Though it might be called ‘voyeurism’, the practice of ‘outside interference’ in domestic or local disputes has a long history loosely connected to espionage or power politics. Take for example the poet Lord Byron, who went voluntarily to fight in the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire; or the scores of British (and Irish) volunteers who fought against Franco’s Falangists during the Spanish Civil War, not least George Orwell and the trade unionist Hans Beimler. Or with non-violent protests, take the example of Viola Liuzzo and James Reeb, white Americans who travelled from their homes in California and Kansas, respectively, in order to attend the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery (dramatised in the 2014 film Selma). Both Liuzzo and Reeb lost their lives during the marches.
Mobile protestors can often be the tool of, or victims of, international events and political manoeuvres. Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior, a commercial trawler which travelled around the world protesting against whaling, seal-hunting and nuclear tests, was infamously sunk by French agents near New Zealand as it was setting out to protest nuclear testing in French Polynesia. Just before the Soviet Union invaded and occupied the Baltic States in 1939, demonstrators appeared in major cities on 18 July calling for incorporation into the Soviet Union, and under the threat of Soviet invasion, this call was swiftly followed by the national parliaments of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia applying for membership and being annexed. A similar tactic is suspected in the eastern part of the Ukraine which has seceded – so-called “protest tourists” from Russia are often seen at rallies in Donetsk.
Such actors, whether in military conflicts or political issues, often receive short shrift from the powers-that-be. Alan Shatter, Irish Minister for Justice in 2011 accused members of the anti-gas group ‘Sea to Shell’ of being “self indulgent protest tourists,” much like Mayor Marvin Rees has accused the Bristol rioters. With the ever-increasing concerns to contain COVID-19, and public demonstrations in the firing line of public health restrictions on travel and assembly, it is impossible to say what impact the pandemic will have on “protest mobilities,” as I coin it.
Research suggests that there was “no evidence” of a spike in infections after the Black Lives Matter Protests in the US last summer. But YouGov polling suggests that the UK public emphatically support almost every public control measure (such as water cannon, tear gas and plastic bullets) except live ammunition. In a world of new, uncertain threats and an ongoing crisis of legitimacy in democratic nations, it can be expected that clampdowns on mobility (as seen during the pandemic) and public demonstrations (as seen with the new Bill) will be pursued by governments unable to admit that the situation is far from under control.
Ahead of International Women’s Day, the Centre for Gender in Politics at Queen’s recently hosted a workshop with Reclaim the Agenda on how to make feminist activism part of your everyday. The conversation was kickstarted by some phenomenal women organising on various issues, followed by a discussion about how to get involved – even if that’s from your sofa for the time being!
In the Politics of Performance module, which is run in conjunction with workshops co-hosted with Beyond Skin, students learn about performative politics across four broadly interlinked areas: (i) protest and empowerment; (ii) socially engaged arts practices, foregrounding identity claims that impact upon policy agendas; (iii) sonic and political imaginaries of creativity; and (iv) the arts as a space of engagement for healing and reconciliation.
As part of the assessed work, students produced a creative piece and a critical reflections upon some of the seven workshops. The creative elements of the module highlight students’ voices by profiling their work individually and in conjunction with a music producer who created a collaborative student rap piece which you can listen to herealong with the other student compositions.
Kathakali is a Hindu temple acting tradition, originating in Kerala, South India. The repertoire of Kathakali are the stories from sacred texts such as the Mahabharata and Ramayana. I was first mesmerised by Kathakali when I saw a performance in 1995, lasting a few hours. I understood then from the pre-performance talk that the actors told stories through the movement of their bodies including complex face often frenetic eye movements. It takes years to hone Kathakali skills. When the HAPP Experience Team organised a one-hour Kathakali workshop in February 2021, I had to take part.
Students and lecturers joined our workshop tutors, Kalamnadalam Vijayakumar (Vijay) and Kalamandalam Barbara Vijayakumar (Barbara) via a zoom link to their studio – a performance room with no embellishments, simple grey fabric lined the walls. Vijay was not dressed like the performer in Image 1 or Vijay himself in Image 2 below. Barbara explained that “when an actor is in full costume they are no longer human but a representation of divinity. For that reason an actor cannot give a workshop or demonstration in costume. The spoken word is considered the language of humans and the Mudras [Kathakali sign language] are the language of the gods. The journey from dressing room to the stage is considered sacred as if the actor is travelling from heaven to earth during this time the actor must not be spoken to” (pers. comm.). Dressing in a full Kathakali costume and make-up takes hours of preparation. Kathakali make up varies greatly depending on the character being performed (Images 1 and 2). The application of Kathakali make up skills takes years to master and Image 2 showcases just one instance of Barbara’s mastery.
Vijay and Barbara introduced us to Kathakali, providing a brief history of the sacred art form before we had the opportunity to learn a short performance from the master, Vijay. He explained that each word in a story has its own Mudra, Kathakali sign-language. However, unlike the sign-language that we may be familiar with to a greater or lesser extent, Kathakali signing is elaborate. Arms, legs, cheeks and jowls, eyebrows and of course the eyes convey a story’s words. During the workshop, Barbara disappeared off screen and gave us useful explanations about the movements made by Vijay throughout the session. After a short demonstration by Vijay, for example, she asked if he had acted as male or female character. We were further introduced to feminine and masculine variations in Kathakali as the actors need to embody female and male movements with clarity. Traditionally, only males perform Kathakali, although some women have started to perform in India. Barbara is the first female Kathakali make-up [Chutti] artist.
During the one-hour workshop, we were taught to perform the phrase I am sad because the wind destroyed my flowers. Hand, arm, leg and face gestures ranged from the delicate opening of the flower to the flailing arms representing gusts of wind. The accompanying rapid eye movements where, as Vijay demonstrated, seemingly impossible for us beginners. His eyeball dexterity demonstrated his many years of training and performing. On explanation, some of the movements, such as ‘flower’ were self-explanatory. Conversely, the simple word ‘because’ involved intricate hand movements which at first was difficult to perform. Nevertheless, I think we arrived at an amateur compromise.
During the Q&A session after the workshop, Vijay and Barbara commented on the various ways in which they have adapted workshops, performances and costume displays to different contexts and settings across the UK. From 2010 onwards, they have also worked with Maruška Svašek, Reader in Anthropology at Queen’s University Belfast, on several of their Heritage Lottery funded projects (see Svašek 2016, especially page 9-13).
After seeing Kathakali performed in India, I thought that one-hour would be insufficient to learn anything more than one or two performative elements. However, Vijay is an expert performer and teacher. He carefully and slowly demonstrated each movement. We followed, repeated and repeated again. As we moved from one movement to another, I worried that I would forget them. However, Vijaya’s teaching expertise ensured that the movements were understood – the physical movements and their meaning. While I did not perform to Vijay’s standard, I thought I was not too bad.
The Kathakali workshop was a welcome distraction from the usual words on my computer screen and the digital pile of papers to read. It was an hour of creative movement that differed to my allocated daily exercise around the now too familiar local spaces. The workshop flexed my mind as I reminisced about seeing Kathakali performed in India – a creative distraction to my academic and lockdown routine. Hopefully, soon, we will meet and engage with Kalamandalam Vijayakumar and Kalamandalam Barbara Vijayakumar in person. On their website Vijay enacts all the words used in the Kathakali acting tradition, and the video was filmed, edited and scripted by Barbara who also produced the voice over. The product of their combined forces is an impressive achievement.
Sophia Valente, a Peer Mentor and final year student in International Politics and Conflict Studies, reflects on recent documentary discussions that were held as part of HAPP’s Winter Programme.
As part of the HAPP Winter Programme, I had the privilege to take part in the documentary discussions that ran from the 13th to the 15th of January. Peer Mentors (including myself) had the opportunity to chair the discussions and participate where possible. I first participated in Monday’s discussion of the documentary ‘13th’, which focused on the mass incarceration and systemic discrimination of African Americans in the United States. The discussion involved contributions from a range of HAPP disciplines, giving insight to perspectives beyond my own political focus.
The most valuable part of the ‘13th’ discussion, for me, was focused on what the documentary had taught us. Even though we came from such a range of ages, subject areas, and education levels, it seemed that all of us had learned a lot from the film. There was some agreement that what many of us had not been aware of was the extent to which policymaking in the US is influenced by private companies. The effect this has on mass incarceration is striking, and it was surprising to all of us how much we didn’t know about these systems in place. The documentary, though focused on the 13th amendment of the US Constitution, brought to light the link between Reagan’s War on Drugs and the mass incarceration of African Americans as well as the disproportionately large prison population in the United States. Wednesday’s discussion and documentary were eye-opening and thought-provoking, and very enjoyable overall.
The following day we discussed the documentary ‘The White Helmets’, which focuses on the lives and experiences of volunteers in Syria who risk their lives to save others who have become trapped under rubble or injured in any other way due to bombings occurring in the Syrian Civil War. Thanks to the contributions from anthropology PhD researcher Chrysi Kyratsou, this discussion had a largely anthropological focus, which was refreshing to an International Politics and Conflict Studies student such as myself. The contributions made by other participants were also insightful and represented the other HAPP disciplines to provide a well-rounded discussion.
The documentary itself takes viewers through some of the experiences of actual white helmets. The emphasis is on the impact conflict and war has on civilians, the lives lost, and the enduring hope for eventual peace. The film is inspirational. The white helmets don’t care who they’re rescuing. Their age, occupation, political leaning, and involvement in the conflict, is all irrelevant to saving lives. While we can learn a lot about the Syrian Civil War from this documentary, we can also learn a lot about human nature, hope, and solidarity. These topics proved to be significant to Thursday’s discussion.
Highlights of the conversation were related to the way we understand partiality, subjectivity, and solidarity in the context of the conflict in Syria as well as conflicts as a whole. We also discussed questions of how we understand conflict, humanitarian intervention, and peacebuilding, with inevitable links to Northern Ireland and the peacebuilding process here. I think it’s safe to say that we all learned something from these discussions and were able to better understand our own perspectives as well.
With limited face-to-face learning, it can be difficult to interact with HAPP students from disciplines other than our own. These discussions have certainly proven the value of multidisciplinary approaches to learning. It can also be difficult to have the opportunity to interact with students outside of teaching hours. Not only were these discussions a valuable learning experience, but it was lovely to bring people together in a virtual setting beyond the online tutorials we attend as part of our studies. A year ago, I think we all would have doubted the possibility of meeting new people in such a virtual environment, but the documentary discussions have proven what I would have considered impossible. There is this kind of possibility in the environment of virtual lectures and tutorials, which can otherwise feel bleak from time to time.
Finally, I would like to urge whoever reads this to take part in the virtual activities that HAPP is organising in the near future. There will be wellbeing sessions to help with stress and sleep, a quiz, and movie nights. Peer mentors like myself will be attending events such as these, so to any first years, in addition to reaching us by email you can also reach out by attending these virtual events. I personally look forward to the upcoming events and getting to know those who attend.
By Madison T. Clark, MA in Conflict Transformation and Social Justice
This article is part of our series ‘Reflections on the US Election’
I was born and raised in a state where being ‘nice’ is upheld as the golden standard. All too often, however, this ‘nice’ approach boils down to public smiles coupled with behind-the-scenes racism, misogyny, homophobia, and xenophobia. Microaggressions rule the day in my home state. Attempts to have important, difficult conversations tend to result in silence from oppressors and/or wild gesticulations at their personal church attendance records and what that surely signifies about their character. All of this was true when I was born, and all of this continues to be true today.
None of the structural issues in the United States begin or end with Donald Trump’s single term in office. Did he behave in ways that explicitly and implicitly empowered racists, white nationalists, misogynists, Islamophobes, and other such groups? Yes. Did he appoint morally reprehensible and/or wholly unqualified people, resulting in increased violence against millions of already-marginalized communities? Yes. Concurrently, the truth of the matter is that the United States has never worked through any reconciliation process. Agreeing to a shared history is an early step in nearly all conflict resolution and transformation efforts. Across the board, Americans can’t even agree on basic historical facts about the oppression and violence that our entire country is built upon and continues to perpetuate.
For better or worse, I’m a product of the U.S. public education system. Rather than learn about the Indigenous genocides that led to the presence of our original colonizers, we learned cutesy rhymes revolving around the names of Columbus’ ships. Rather than learn the true devastations of slavery or the ways in which it and white supremacy continue to impact our everyday lives, we learned how terrible the South was, how wonderful the North was, and how the conditions of slavery weren’t particularly ideal. In the American public education system, we learn the ‘nice’ version of our country’s history, rather than the truth of it.
To this day, such ‘niceness’ is predominantly perpetuated and upheld by white people across the country; these are the same people who elect to apply their colonizer mindsets to all people. This, paired with white fragility, is what created the ‘angry and loud Black woman’ trope, which continues to be used in order to invalidate and ignore what Black women have to say; it is why ‘speak English’ is an incredibly common refrain from U.S. nationalists, even as they simultaneously pride themselves on tired ‘melting pot’ imagery; it is why ‘sexy Indian costumes’ are popular each Halloween, yet the subject of missing and murdered Indigenous women is rarely brought up in public discourse.
The ‘niceness’ that a childhood in Missouri tried to teach me is the same ‘niceness’ that so much of our country revolves around. So it’s no wonder the pollsters have struggled to produce any sort of accurate numbers in the last two elections. It was not necessarily ‘nice’ to admit to a stranger that you’d be voting for Trump, but it was simultaneously seen as ‘the American thing to do.’ The irony of this dichotomy is not lost on me.
When the results from Pennsylvania came through, officially pushing Joe Biden and Kamala Harris past that 270 mark (don’t get me started on the racist and classist disaster that is the Electoral College), I let out a sigh that I didn’t know I’d been holding for the past four years. While I absolutely wish Biden and Harris were the progressives that far-right media has painted them to be, I know that is not the case. But I believe in our organizers, in our local politicians, in our everyday community builders, in our conflict mediators, in every person who prides themselves not on being seen as ‘nice’ but on building a more just and equitable future for all people. I believe that we can and must hold Biden, Harris, and their entire administration accountable, demand meaningful systemic change, and shift our nation closer to one that actually provides liberty and justice for all for the first time in its history.
On 7 June 2020, angry protesters, inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, pulled down the Edward Colston monument in Bristol. Objections to the depiction of someone who had been involved in the Atlantic slave trade had been made as early as 1920, but had become increasingly strong from the 1990s onward. At the time of its toppling, plans to add a plaque with information about Colston’s controversial background were being discussed by the Bristol City Council. While to some, the toppling of the statue was a victory after many years of protest, others, including Home Secretary Priti Patel, denounced it as an act of vandalism. London-based artist Marc Quinn, by contrast, saw the iconoclastic act as an opportunity to side with the protesters. On 15 July 2020, without Bristol City Council’s permission, he placed a depiction of the Black Lives Matter activist Jen Reid on the plinth. Within a few hours, the Council carefully removed it.
The events in Bristol show that attacks on public statues and artistic interventions can send out strong political messages, calling for societal change and the re-evaluation of past events. As Øivind Fuglerud, Kjersti Larsen and Marina Prusac-Lindhagen argue in the forthcoming book, Negotiating Memory from the Romans to the Twenty-First Century: Damnatio Memoriae, this is a widespread phenomenon. The editors use the term ‘Damnatio Memoriae’ not only to refer to its original meaning, (a modern Latin term for a practice in Ancient Rome whereby those in power posthumously erased widely known individuals from official history), but also to draw attention to the ways in which the production, destruction and in some cases re-production of material artefacts has been used to evaluate past events. In the case of Bristol, both statues will be put on display in a museum setting. Together with Black Lives Matter placards and personal accounts by people who participated in the protest, the exhibition will engage audiences in current debates about slavery, colonialism and racism.
Colston’s memorial will be kept in the state it was in when retrieved from the harbour: damaged and covered with graffiti. According to John Finch, Head of Culture at the City Council, museums need to ‘respond and engage with social issues and current concerns’, so the exhibition will recontextualise the work, presenting a narrative of racial inequality from a present-day, critical perspective.
It seems highly unlikely that Colston’s statue will ever be re-installed on its pedestal in Bristol’s city centre. But how sure are we about that?
As digital photographs and film footage of the falling statue started circulating on the Internet, I was reminded of a photograph, taken in 1918, of another toppled monument. In this case, it was a sandstone Baroque victory column, created by the seventeenth century Bohemian sculptor Jan Jiří Bendl, and pulled down by Czech nationalist radicals, not long after the establishment of independent Czecholosvakia. The sixteen meter tall column carried a statue of the Virgin Mary, and had been erected in 1650 in Prague to commemorate the 1648 victory of the Habsburg army over invading Swedish troops.
The destruction of the Marian Column was a highly symbolic act that marked the start of a new political era. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, Czech revivalists had already begun to perceive the column as a symbol of political, cultural and religious oppression. The region had been under Habsburg rule for many centuries. A large monument for the church reformer and martyr Jan Hus, unveiled in 1915 on Old Town Square, reflected the new understanding of the past. Hus, who was burnt at the stake for anti-Catholic heresy in 1415, was anachronistically regarded as Czech national martyr.
The toppling of the Marian column was not approved by all citizens. As Cynthia Paces notes in Prague Panoramas: National Memory and Sacred Space in the Twentieth Century, various organisations, including the Charles-Ferdinand University and the art assotiation Mánes, accused the radical nationalists of pseudopatriotic sentiments, and objected to the destruction of what they saw as a high-quality baroque work of art that had embellished the city centre for 332 years. Prague City Council decided, however, to side with the protesters and sent the remains of the broken statue to the Lapidarium of the National Museum, presenting them as relics of a bygone political era.
One might think that that was the end of the story. In May 1990, however, a group of heritage supporters and representatives of the Catholic Church established The Society of the Recovery of the Marian Column and started to call for the return of the monument. In November 1993, the Society placed a plaque on Old Town Square that read ‘Here stood and will stand again The Marian Column of Old Town Square’ (Figure 1). The words ‘will stand again’ were soon cemented over by protesters (Figure 2).
This did not, however, discourage members of the Society. In 1996, they commissioned the sculptor and restorer Petr Váňa to create a full-size replica of the monument. Váňa travelled to India to source sandstone and completed the copy of the Virgin Mary statue in 2003. It was temporarily placed in the Church of Our Lady before Týn. As the work progressed, and the Society tried to convince the City Council that the monument should be erected, numerous proponents and opponents made passionate public statements. In an interview with radio Prague in 2013, the architect Zdeněk Lukeš explained that the Marian Column should return because it had been a ‘very important monument from a historical point of view … a wonderful example of Baroque art’. Others argued that the column would draw the attention to a relatively unknown moment in Bohemian history, namely the Swedish invasion, or that it was important not to boil down Catholicism to oppression. According to art historian Ludvík Hlaváček, the planned resurrection was an uninspiring, revisionist gesture that would not add any aesthetic or historical value to the already crowded square.
I am glad that we managed to bring the column to Prague by boat so that people could see it with their own eyes. I also invited all the deputies to whom I explained the story of the statue and what it would look like. Before that, everyone was talking about something no one had seen, and it was assumed that it didn’t even exist.
Perhaps the original sculptor, Jan Jiří Bendl, would have agreed that the work itself had persuasive power. From an anthropological perspective, however, objects and works of art gain meaning and impact in specific social and political contexts, as they are interpreted in specific ways.
Work on the re-erection of the victory column started on 15th February, and was completed during the quiet days of the Coronavirus Pandemic lockdown. Because of the quarantine, I was not able to travel to Prague photograph the process, so asked a friend, the artist Tadeáš Kotrbá, to send me a photograph of the reinstalled monument (Figure 3). It seems to, once again, have been built for eternity.
Art historian Hlaváček was still underimpressed. When I asked him for his opinion, he wrote that:
It was nonsense to place the column on the square, but they voted for it for populist reasons. I was there yesterday to see it. The square looks now overcrowded, both materially and ideologically. People still talk about Catholicism and Protestantism, as if it has some relevance today. So far, four angels are missing that were part of the original work, which probably shows the difference between Baroque and contemporary sculptural language.
Returning to the question whether the statue of Edward Colston will ever reappear on its pedestal, the history of the Marian Column suggests that the answers can only be: we don’t know. The column was destroyed more than three centuries after its construction. A replica appeared 112 years after its disappearance. In that time period, unforeseeable political transformations occurred: The Second World War, the Cold War, the Velvet Revolution, the rise of populism, and so on.
Who knows what will happen in 112 years time in Bristol, and for that matter: in the world at large? 2132 is a long time away.
This is the largest gathering of anthropologists in Europe and we look forward to welcoming everyone to Belfast for what we hope will be a great experience! This is also a great opportunity for colleagues and students to engage with anthropologists located in different countries, and specialising in a wide variety of topics.