Urban Dislocations and the Architecture of Diasporas (1900 – present)

Session Convenors

Ralph Ghoche, Barnard College, Columbia University
Ignacio G. Galán, Barnard College, Columbia University

Session Abstract

Cities tend to be chronicled by the achievements of the dominant cultures that were responsible for their rise. Often lost in these narratives, however, are the manifold contributions of non-native newcomers, immigrants, refugees, outsiders, and expatriates who played a formative role in shaping and re-purposing urban environments. Neighbourhoods like San Francisco’s Chinatown, or New York’s Loisaida, for example, were refashioned by century-long migrations from Asia and Latin America. They are as much spaces of global exchange and cohabitation as they are discontinuous enclaves; cities within cities. To study these urban enclaves is to challenge what traditional discourses on the city tend to privilege: the continuity between architectural objects and the local contexts within which they are situated.

This session brings to light the paradoxical nature and hybridity of cities, drawing attention to both the economic, cultural, and technological connections and exchanges, while also uncovering the ‘disjuncture’ of these urban conditions. It delineates the formal and informal processes by which displaced groups have occupied and reshaped existing structures or territories and those that describe the transglobal networks that have facilitated these transformations. Papers in this session pay special attention to the critical role that individuals, community groups, and activist collectives play in the appropriation, spatial transformation, and re-signification of existing structures and environments.

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Speakers and Abstracts

Chinatowns and Socio-Spatial Identities: Gentrification on a planetary scale

Abhinand Krishnashankar (Indian Institute of Technology-Madras)
Yogeeswari Chandrasekaran (Parsons School for Design)

Chinatowns across the world exude global city characteristics, marked by global material and capital flows producing specific local geographies. Despite glorifying narratives, Chinatowns need to be seen in the light of their spatial histories, and the processes of urban and social transformation of their traditional user-groups and residents.

This paper attempts to contribute to existing literature on planetary urbanisation and its responses by way of delineating the nature of Chinatowns as both the urban and the constitutive outside (Brenner, 2014) (Lees, Shin, & Lopez-Morales, 2016). It attempts to offer a brief spatial history of Kolkata’s Chinatown, India’s only region with ethnic Chinese, now Indo-Chinese residents, and contextualises the mushrooming of restaurants owned by local Bengali entrepreneurs in the wake of a Court judgment ordering the shutdown of tanneries in the region. The judgement is significant, particularly because it has led to the rapid development of restaurants, catering to middle- and upper-class residents of Kolkata, while altering the socio-spatial relations of its ‘authentic’ (Zukin, 2011) residents. While such claims and patterns may seem obvious, this paper locates itself in emerging literature that calls for the foregrounding of everyday spatial practices, negotiations and struggles in discussions about urbanisation. In addition, this paper captures similar processes of gentrification, leading to articulations of concern and uncertainty by immigrants in the case of New York’s Chinatown, thereby offering a comparative perspective, given the spatial, economic and cultural idiosyncrasies of the two Chinatowns, despite their location in transnational circuits.


Postscript from Domeland

Nandini Bagchee (Spitzer School of Architecture, City College, CUNY)

It was 1968 and Buckminster Fuller was flying around spaceship earth lecturing audiences to join a global grassroots movement to eliminate poverty and design a sustainable future. A talk to a Puerto Rican youth collective (CHARAS) in the New York City made a lasting impression on the young people in the audience. Fuller’s call for a new world order outside the established political system fired the imagination of a group whose own experiences of poverty and criminalisation made them mistrustful of city and state. The project of building lightweight geodesic domes in abandoned city lots grew out of these young men’s desire to directly, physically change the environment in which they lived. The incongruous cardboard dome on the desolate edge of a city was a defiant act of grassroots activism to educate, inform and empower the Puerto Rican community. In the 70s, CHARAS began producing these domes through their port-a-dome initiative. For the next 20 years, the domes built by CHARAS appeared on rooftops, gardens, and street fairs in New York City. The domes were adapted as canopies during protests, as aquaponic sheds, and as prefab housing in rural Puerto Rico. Fuller’s domes, typically associated with a disenfranchised suburban white middleclass in the United States, fortuitously found a different constituency in the aspirations of a young, welfare weary, Puerto Rican urban community. The port-a-dome initiative symbolised the self-sufficiency of CHARAS locally and was a sign of their autonomous participation in a larger global-environmental movement.


Biohazard Architecture: The Haitian diaspora at Bellevue Hospital, New York during the HIV/AIDS crisis

Ivan L Munuera (Princeton University)

Since its first diagnosis in 1981 in the United States, and having escalated into public consciousness by the ‘4H’ moniker – Homosexuals, Heroin addicts, Hemophiliacs, and Haitians, those considered the most at-risk groups – HIV/AIDS emerged as a new urban mode that overflowed and reinvented the limits of buildings, cities, frontiers, and communities. HIV/AIDS carriers embodied the regulations on borders and international mobility agreements through their treatments and through the epidemic itself. Both ideas affected, in particular, Haitians. Access for Haitians to the American healthcare system was predominantly difficult since they could not obtain legal immigration status in the early 1980s. Bellevue Hospital in New York City was one of the few medical facilities that attended this transnational community during the HIV/AIDS crisis. This paper analyses the architectural configuration of Bellevue Hospital as it closely relates to the definition of HIV/AIDS carriers’ identity, in particular the Haitian diaspora in New York.

Bellevue improvised spatial solutions to confine HIV/AIDS patients. These policies stated that HIV/AIDS patients could not be admitted to shared rooms, and that they had to be held in the ER when the limited number of isolation rooms filled up. The containment policy was approved in part because applications for residencies from top medical schools had lagged. The result was the building of different entrances for med applicants and for patients, with the latter architecture organised through other regimes of circulation – all of which created an urbanism based on epidemiology, and infection as a state-making practice.


The Jewish Settlement of Hebron: An architectural history of dislocations

Noam Shoked (Princeton University)

In academic accounts we often hear about the ways in which immigrant groups, through ephemeral everyday practices and design interventions, are able to co-author the city. These accounts show how these practices facilitate the fight of immigrant groups over their right to the city, which, in turn, endows them with a sense of active citizenship. Common to almost all these accounts is the understanding that these practices make space more inclusive. But what happens when newcomers develop a sense of hostility towards the hosting population and their design interventions transform the city in unexpected ways?

This paper explores this question by focusing on the Jewish settlement of Hebron. Shortly after Israel conquered Hebron from Jordan in the Six-Day War from 1967, a number of civilian groups in Israel began advocating for settlement plans in Hebron. With time, their activism paid off, and the government commissioned a number of housing compounds for Jewish Israelis in the heart of Hebron. Shortly after they moved-in, however, fights between the settlers and the Palestinians erupted. To limit the interaction between the two, these compounds were fenced off with physical barriers and military checkpoints. In this paper I will concentrate on two settler compounds and ask how architecture intervenes in the conflict between the two groups. In so doing, I wish to explore the relationship between architecture and politics, and ask if the much-lauded triumph of the user is always a good thing.


The Paradox of Urban Dislocations in Luanda, Angola

Paulo Moreira (London Metropolitan University)

Luanda, Angola’s capital, has a long history of evictions and displacements of entire neighbourhoods. In 1864, an outbreak of smallpox caused a great number of deaths in the city. The Portuguese colonial authorities used this fatality as an excuse to clear the areas in which the illness would most easily spread. The evictions had ethnic undertones – they affected mostly the musseques, or informal neighbourhoods, where most native Angolans lived.

The systematic rejection of those deemed economically weak had begun. From that point on, the musseques have been constantly volatile, moving progressively further away from the city centre. During the 20th century, despite these ‘clearing’ actions, the musseques were expanding and the city was already acquiring many of the features it would retain in decades to come. In contemporary Luanda, the will to eradicate the informal neighbourhoods is stronger than ever. As the expansion of the city continues, the formation of peripheral informal neighbourhoods and resettlement camps corresponds with the removal of the population from a particular area.

This paper pays special attention to Luanda’s long history of evictions of entire neighbourhoods. Urban dislocations are often interlinked with violent actions, inextricably connected to the booming real-estate market, both formal and informal. But not all of the displaced people have been victimised by insensitive urban policies; indeed, some have profited from such attempts at segregation. This paper will reflect on how the complexity of these mechanisms of survival, profit and power is yet another layer in Luanda’s hybrid, nuanced postcolonial urban order.


‘Vertical Neighbourhoods in the Sky’: Picturing segregation and urban renewal in Chicago

Emma Stein Lewis (University of New Mexico)

In building massive housing structures along miles of South State Street and other locations during the second half of the 20th century, Mayor Richard J Daley was able to simultaneously control African American votes, maintain the city’s historical racial boundaries of segregation, and make a profit for his supporters. The buildings were to be permanently neglected with no attempts at effective maintenance and eventually torn down so the newly valuable land could be sold to developers, displacing the residents. By looking at photographs of Chicago public housing projects using a theoretical understanding of urban space as produced by social relations, this paper presents a different history than the official one put forth by the city and the press, one that is more community focused. The ideological view, often promoted by press images, posits that the buildings were empty spaces filled with criminal bodies who were responsible for the violence that took place within the neutral bricks and mortar of these spaces. Another view, one informed by history and theories of space that contradict the notion of space as autonomous, acknowledges that both the building and demolition of Chicago high-rise projects are two episodes in a long history of restricting the mobility and access of African Americans in order to maintain segregation. These diverging histories are examined in the work of contemporary photographer David Schalliol, as he documents the process of destroying housing projects, often by showing the cyclical aspects of ‘clearing slums’ and land returning to nature.

Uneasy Queer Art Histories

Session Convenor

Greg Salter, University of Birmingham

Session Abstract

In the UK in 2017, the fiftieth anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales was marked with celebratory media coverage, academic publications, and high-profile exhibitions (including Tate’s ‘Queer British Art’, ‘Coming Out’ at Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool and Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, and the National Trust’s ‘Prejudice and Pride’ programme). The presence of queer art histories and queer histories in major museums was framed as reflecting social progress and the increasing cultural acceptance of LGBTQ identities.

While these gains are notable and worth celebrating, wider work in queer theory has begun to seek to address elements of queer histories that have been ignored or forgotten in more recent years. In response, this session focuses on uneasy queer art histories; queer art histories which may be disturbing, disruptive, difficult, disavowed, or rooted in failure. It seeks uneasy queer art histories in response to queer theorist Kadji Amin’s call for queer scholars to ‘inhabit unease’ rather than seeking to avoid it. In addressing what might be uneasy, this session aims to expand and disrupt queer art histories beyond narratives of progress and beyond purely UK or US contexts, and to reflect on how we do queer art histories and queer histories more widely.

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Speakers and Abstracts

Age Difference Debates and Classical Artefacts: The reception of ancient ‘uneasy’ queer art in the late 19th and early 20th centuries
Jen Grove (University of Exeter)

The imperial Roman silver skyphos, known as the Warren Cup, is (questions about its authenticity aside) arguably the most explicit visual depiction we have of men having sex with men from the classical world. Its purchase by the British Museum in 1999 has been viewed as symbolic of a new 21st-century open-mindedness to sexual themes and especially LGBTQ+ histories within the museum sector. It currently features in the BM’s ‘Desire, love, identity’ trail, newly revamped for the 2017 decriminalisation anniversary. However, the BM has not avoided addressing aspects of the cup’s imagery that remain ‘highly controversial’ (Richard Parkinson, A Little Gay History, 2013: 51) by today’s standards, despite the now legal status of homosexuality in the UK. The cup embodies the acceptability of age-differentiated relationships between men in antiquity, and especially relationships between adult men and teenage boys. This paper will focus on the cup’s first modern owner, American collector of antiquities Edward Perry Warren, who amassed a substantial collection of pederastic objects from the ancient world. I explore how such material, together with other ancient art, played a key role as affirmative images in Warren’s determination throughout his life to celebrate erotic attraction to young men and boys. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, informed in part by new sexological research, Warren’s fellow homophiles and classicists were discussing male–male desire in reference to contemporary fears about the corruption of youth, and examining the ethics of looking back to ‘uneasy’ aspects of queer Greece and Rome.


The ‘Coolie Homo/erotic’: (Re)Tracing queerness in the archive of indentureship
Amar Wahab (York University, Toronto)

The erotic lifeworld of Indian indentureship remains buried. This visual investigation probes the ‘coolie homoerotic’ as a creative reflection on the place of the homoerotic and queerness within the trans-oceanic lifeworld of coolie indentureship. It uses the methodology of visual assemblage to creatively and critically engage with a rare (and recently found) archival record of alleged sodomy on a coolie ship, the Mersey, bound for British Guiana from Calcutta in 1898. The research explores the archival document, as a residue of homoerotic possibility, to re-trace and deliberately reconfigure the historically present narrative of indentureship through a seven-image collection entitled Postcards from the Perineum. In critically responding to Victorian imagery of moral-labour discipline, the postcards were produced using techniques such as photography, sketching, painting, crafting and body printing. The aim is to visually and imaginatively open up a space for contemplating an aesthetic-eroto-political field of knowledge production in relation to the violence and indignities of indentureship. In doing so, the research also suggests that indentureship is a site of contrapuntal queerness, through which we might critically provoke normative understandings of this term.


Queer Ruskin
Thomas Hughes (The Courtauld Institute of Art)

This paper will consider the unstable status of ‘colour’ in John Ruskin’s art theory to ask whether we can think of Ruskin’s studied, strained, peculiar and self-defeating ambivalence as in some way an uneasy or unresolved ‘queerness’. In the mid- to late-1850s Ruskin comes close to securing really radical positions on ‘colour’ but steps back from them. By ‘radical’ I mean Ruskin puts significant pressure on dominant ways of thinking about ‘colour’ in the 19th century, about its functions and place in relation to ‘drawing’. Ruskin elevates the conventionally subordinate category above ‘drawing’ only contradictorily to reiterate the pre-eminence of the normally masculine-gendered term. This movement from radical destabilisation to conservative re-entrenchment maps onto Ruskin’s arguments about male and female roles around 1860. Ruskin’s unwillingness to inhabit the radical is bound up with his unbearable sense of loss amidst ugly ‘modernity’, his almost-elegiac politics. Strikingly, however, Ruskin does not securely gender ‘colour’; in Modern Painters volume 5, ‘colour’ is analogous to ‘human sexual love’ but this sexual love is not expressed as straightforwardly ‘heterosexual’. A whole constellation of younger ‘queer’ artists and writers, such as C R Ashbee, Walter Pater and Marcel Proust, develop out of Ruskin new and distinct, though undeniably ‘Ruskinian’, ways of thinking. Focusing on how Pater transforms Ruskin on ‘colour’ to describe J M Whistler, I will suggest that art history needs to attend to a difficult, loss-obsessed and ultimately highly generative kind of ‘queerness’ in Ruskin that is lurking underneath more familiar ‘queer’ art histories.


The Locker Room Project, HIV/AIDS, and the Making of a Global Queer Public Culture in Cape Town
Jackson Davidow (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

The crumbling of apartheid coincided with not only the invigoration of lesbian and gay organising and visibility, but also the growing prevalence of HIV/AIDS in South Africa. This paper asserts that the development of a global queer public culture in Cape Town was premised on more than just constitutional freedom. It was also based on the AIDS pandemic – a phenomenon that was regarded as a chief global queer concern by the late 1980s. This paper examines the evolution of the Locker Room Project in December 1994, the first iteration of the Mother City Queer Projects. Originated by two white gay men, artist Andrew Putter and architect André Vorster, as an extravagantly kitsch Gesamtkunstwerk-like one-night party, the Locker Room Project can be credited for popularising the term and notion ‘queer’ in Cape Town, at least within the art world. Perhaps the largest work of public art in South African history at the time, it was also, crucially, conceived of as a memorial to Vorster’s lover Craig Darlow, who died from AIDS complications earlier that year. This paper contends that the pioneering large-scale event both linked local participants and actuated a global queer public culture, in part, through singling out HIV/AIDS. However, it was predominantly – and problematically – white. By grappling with the uneasy alignment of Euro-American queerness with South African whiteness, especially in light of the intensifying AIDS pandemic, this paper reveals how cultural production is a window into the complex post-apartheid entanglements of racial and sexual identities.


Queer Theory’s Violence
Theo Gordon (University of Sussex)

Queer theory’s attempts to theorise violence through psychoanalysis have hinged on Freudian/Lacanian models of subjectivity. This work, much of which has emerged from the United States through the work of writers such as Leo Bersani, Tim Dean and Lee Edelman, has been keen to observe the death drive in the ‘negativity’ of sex as a site of nonsovereignty and hence resistance to the violence of the social order. However, this work fails to explore how, as a discursive field that refuses the ‘heteronormative’, violence may demark and disrupt queer theory’s own parameters and insights.

This paper proposes to explore Jacqueline Rose’s 2017 suggestion that ‘the ugliest part’ of psychoanalysis, its exploration of hatred, destruction and psychic pain, has been left out in queer theory’s use of it. Critiquing Lee Edelman and Lauren Berlant’s discussions of Larry Johnson’s Untitled (Ass) (2007) and of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick in Sex, or the Unbearable (2013) by returning to Melanie Klein, this paper argues that for queer theory to address violence meaningfully, it must account for its own process of negation and refusal in its use of psychoanalysis, and thereby inhabit the psychic unease that it continually sidesteps. In relation to Edelman and Berlant’s work, this process will involve an art historical appreciation of Johnson’s images, and recognition of psychoanalytic feminism’s sustained interrogation of destructiveness.


The Problem of Race in Contemporary Queer Art from Poland
Aleksandra Gajowy (Newcastle University)

In Playing in the Dark, Toni Morrison asks: ‘When does racial ‘unconsciousness’ or awareness of race enrich interpretative language, and when does it impoverish it?’ Introducing the queer context in this debate, Hiram Pérez poses another question in A Taste for Brown Bodies: ‘Is it even imaginable to think the erotic – and the homoerotic – without contemplating its intercourse with race?’ The answer Morrison and Pérez seek – as both non-white and working in the North American context – is further complicated by the Polish context of the almost exclusively white nation, as well as a certain cultural blindspot regarding the narratives of race in the country with no colonial past. A non-white body in a country such as Poland, can be seen as both ‘an object of desire and as the repository of disowned projections cast temporally and spatially backward.’(Pérez, 2015) In Karol Radziszewski’s video work Ceremony (2017), the artist performs an Afro-Brazilian Umbanda ritual in a reparative reading of the AIDS-related traumas. Embodying Indian Shamaness, a character from a Polish queer archive dating back to the 1970s, Radziszewski appears to place the locus of desire outside himself, and the Polishness and whiteness he represents. This paper thus asks what happens when the cultural blindspot present in the country with no colonial past forgoes the complex and violent undertones of the racialised discourses? Is it possible, after Pérez, to begin to think of the (homo)erotic without ‘contemplating its intercourse with race?’