The discussion on “Refugee Heritage” continues in Kassel (Live stream available)

The Parliament of Bodies: A Century of Camps: Refugee Knowledge and Forms of Sovereignty Beyond the Nation-State
August 12 (6:30–10 pm) and August 13 (12–3 pm)
Fridericianum, Friedrichsplatz 18, Kassel

Live stream available

With: Isshaq Al-Barbary, Niklas Goldbach, Sandi Hilal, Elias Khoury, Khalil Abu Laham, Alessandro Petti, Lorenzo Pezzani, Rasha Salti, Jad Tabet, Eyal Weizman

Curated by Rasha Salti and Paul B. Preciado

This gathering of the Parliament of Bodies will explore the genealogies, epistemologies, heritage, and knowledge produced within one of the most poignant and morbid legacies of the twentieth century, namely “refugee camps.” The century’s first refugees were survivors of the genocide of the Armenian populations living in the territory that would soon become the Republic of Turkey between 1915 and 1923. The Armenian genocide marked the emergence of international humanitarian relief to survivors, the establishment of camps, triage stations in neighboring countries, and the international media documenting the horrors of their experience in reports and photographs. The refugee camp invented a political regime without political rights and a visual regime of total exposure and dispossession.

Throughout the past century, scholarship, theory, and policy have focused on citizenship and the nation state, while all other forms of community formation, economic and urban organization, as well as the fabric of social relations outside the paradigms of the state and citizenship are perceived as theoretically exceptional, pertaining to anthropology, ethnography, and humanitarian contingency. Established based on the principles of temporariness and impermanence, camps have prevailed for longer than half a century, and generations of their dwellers were born into the world carrying their identity as refugees, even if they had not themselves experienced the forced displacement that their parents or grandparents experienced. Over time, refugee camps become districts in cities, and refugees the denizens, indentured laborers, the “guest others” of a national economy. A hundred years after the Armenian genocide, the number of people who are identified as refugees has increased exponentially. Humanitarian organizations entrusted with their survival and destiny are so profoundly institutionalized that they have become normalized and commonplace, yet the perception of what camps represent remains “outside” the realms of useful knowledge, of ways of acting and being in the world.

This forum, within the Parliament of Bodies, proposes to reverse the paradigms and explore refugee camps and being a refugee in the world as central, rather than epiphenomenal, exceptional, or temporary notions. From Beirut to Calais, from Lesbos to Zaatari, we invite architects, urban planners, theorists, filmmakers, artists, writers, and activists to reflect on the knowledge accumulated and transmitted from life in the camps, the myriad histories of acting, building, resisting, and negotiating power and authority; producing community, space, and temporality. The legacy of a century of refugee camps constitutes fertile terrain to interrogate the normative paradigms of nation state and citizenship and reevaluate different cosmogonies for the organization of society, relations of authority and power, as well as production of economy, space and time.


Refugee Heritage conversations: Sari Hanafi, “Anti-Humanitarianism”

Humanitarian organizations deprive refugees of their political existence by treating them as bodies to be fed and sheltered. Humanitarian law refers to “protected people,” but current humanitarian practices either focus on “victims” or, to appear more positive, they refer to them as “survivors.” By classifying people as victims or even as survivors, the basis of humanitarian action is shifted from rights to welfare. In disaster areas—spaces of exception—values of generosity and pragmatism obscure the rights and responsibilities of refugees that would endow them with their own agency.

Read the full response here

Refugee Heritage conversations: Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi, “The Coming of Heritage: Shimelba in Time” Architecture

I would like to think the Refugee Heritage proposal in relation to the Shimelba refugee camp: a constructed environment that calls into question the relationship between history and heritage from the temporal vantages of mobility and immobility and concomitant lifeworlds of going and staying. Located on the border of Eritrea some two hundred kilometers from the ruins of the city of Aksum, the seat of an ancient kingdom and a World Heritage site in the Tigray region of Ethiopia— a country that has successfully inscribed nine properties to the UNESCO World Heritage List—this camp meets none of the ten selection criteria for World Heritage. Or, thought differently, it fulfills them all.

Read the full response here

Refugee Heritage conversations: Ismae’l Sheikh Hassan, “Illusions and Wizardry”

It would not be surprising if most official and state actors would be very uncomfortable with nominating Palestinian refugee camps as world heritage site. Official Palestinian discourse insists on the definition of camps as temporary spaces that house refugees awaiting their return to Palestine. At the same time, Israelis call for their dismantling, an embarrassing reminder of the state’s role in the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Meanwhile, Arab nation-states have always been uncomfortable with the presence of extraterritorial spaces within their territory that host a politically mobilized and non-citizen population. While the policies of each of these official and state actors are different and often inconsistent with each other, they have all been similarly obsessed with how to control the camp. This is precisely why this nomination is so important. For it is not about making governments comfortable, nor is it about actually receiving the designation. It is about bringing the discussion back to where it should be, where it all started: Palestinian refugees and its camps. As Jean Paul Sartre claimed, “the time for illusionists and wizardry is over: either you fight or rot in the camps.”

Read the full response here

Refugee Heritage conversations: Pelin Tan, “Camps as Trans-Local Commons”

The camp is a vulnerable space. It is constituted by its thresholds and the exchanges that take place across it. It is a space of small economic initiatives and heterogenous commoning practices that subvert established concepts of heritage, urban, neighborhood and citizenship. It is thus something that should be not only physically protected but also institutionally valued. The documentation and archiving of temporary heritage, that which might not be recognized by a modernist approach to preservation, is therefore essential.

Read full response here

Refugee Heritage conversations: Ilana Feldman, “The Dheisheh Style”

Across the landscape of Palestinian displacement and throughout the seventy years of exile, refugee camps have been regular targets of state and militia violence. Israeli forces attacked the Bureij camp in Gaza in 1953, the Jenin camp in the West Bank in 2002, and destroyed the Nabatiyeh camp in Lebanon in 1974. They demolished large parts of camps in the Gaza Strip in the early 1970s. Jordanian forces engaged Palestinian guerillas in fighting in Wihdat and Jerash camps in 1970–71, causing significant damage. Syrian supported forces destroyed Tal al Zaatar camp in Beirut in 1976. Israeli supported Phalangists massacred thousands of refugees in the Sabra and Shatila camps in Beirut in 1982. The Lebanese army destroyed most of the Nahr el Bared camp in 2007. Nahr el Bared is being reconstructed, but many destroyed camps never were. The case made in the Refugee Heritage dossier that refugee camps are sites worthy of acknowledgment and preservation is strong. These histories of destruction confirm how many obstacles there are to their protection.

Read the full response here

Refugee Heritage conversations: Khaldun Bshara, “Camps as Heritage”

Completing the nomination form of Dheisheh as a World Heritage Site was never truly the goal of Refugee Heritage. Rather, it has always been more about the failure of fulfilling this process. Failure, in this sense, is guaranteed, not only due to the pre-existing formats and institutional processes, but also because of political considerations both more widely and locally regarding the conception of camps as heritage. The failure exposed by Refugee Heritage is thus not of the form, but rather of the politics that brought camps into being for such a long time, and thus into the discourses of heritage, in the first place.

Read the full response here


Workshop @ MIT “The Architecture of Refugees: The Question of Ethics” + Summit @ University of Chicago “What is an Artistic Practice of Human Rights?”

WORKSHOP – The Architecture of Refugees: The Question of Ethics at the MIT
April 27th, 2017
The Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, School of Architecture + Planning 77 Massachusetts Avenue – Cambridge, MA 02139 (room 4-231)

Significant transformations in the world’s political landscape are signaling the emergence of a new world order that undermines the certitudes established at the end of World War II. At the core of such discussions, the concept of human rights is significantly challenged, calling for a discussion at the core of ethics for the revisions of the principles and mechanisms of intervention. In reaction to these new transformations some have called for a World Parliament representing the people and not governments to replace the UN General Assembly. The workshop addresses the agency of architecture and design in a context where the disrespect of human rights is aggravated by the incapacity of global institutions to react efficiently. What are the ethical questions regarding the architecture of refugees? What timescales, short or long terms, represent a priority for architecture and through which agenda – refugee relief, historical preservation, camp upgrades and daily life, or rebuilding and re- settlement? What is the role of design in front of the degradation and destruction of cultural artifacts? How can design be channeled towards peace building objectives and possible resettlement projects? What are the material, technological, systemic responses to address emergency needs in the context of refugee camps?

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SUMMIT – What is an Artistic Practice of Human Rights?
April 29th, 2017
Logan Center for the Arts, University of Chicago, 915 E. 60th St., Chicago, IL

“What is an Artistic Practice of Human Rights?” is a multi-day summit hosted by the University of Chicago and composed of a group of distinguished international artists who will propose, examine, and challenge the ways in which creative cultural resistance can broaden our collective understanding of human rights.

Day one features an immersive day of artist presentations to include performances, screenings, conversations, and lectures. Each artist has been provided with a 45-minute slot during which they will either deliver a presentation about their particular practice and the ways in which it illuminates human rights issues, or present a work of art created specifically for the summit.

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Advanced course in Decolonizing Architecture

The deadline for applications is May 3 13:00. To apply for the course use the online application form.

The course is intended for those with studies or experiences in architecture, art, urban research, postcolonial theory or activism who are interested in the ideological, social and political dimensions of Architecture. The course welcomes applicants with diverse cultural backgrounds committed to develop an artistic and architectural practice that is both theoretically and practically engaged in the struggle for justice and equality. The course is build on the work developed at DAAR and Campus in Camps.


Course Content

After the Second World War decolonization emerged as a powerful cultural and political process to liberate many countries from direct European colonial control and reshape power relations. It was a great moment of hope but also of great disillusion.

The course uses the term decolonization as a starting point to understand the globalized present and the associated contemporary conditions of exile, displacement and migration, revolts and struggles against oppression and domination with the aim to produce a convincing conceptual vocabulary and practice engaged in today’s struggles for justice and equality.

Architecture in the process of colonization and decolonization plays a crucial role in organizing spatial relations, expressing ideologies, and even when it is abandoned in ruin is mobilized as evidence for political and cultural claims. The analysis of the ways in which colonial architecture has been re-utilized is a new arena for understanding broader political and cultural issues around national identity and exile, sense of belonging or alienation, and social control or urban subversion. In this course architectural space is seen simultaneously as the product of the interaction of social and political transformations and as a privileged site for the analysis of these dynamics.

Drawing on the wealth of literature, recently discovered archive materials, and empirical research undertaken on the subject in the fields of geography, urban studies, politics, sociology and anthropology, the course’s methodological foundation remains anchored in the uniqueness of architectural analysis and spatial intervention.

The course is structured in two interrelated and parallel moments: 1) a period of research aimed at investigating the ways in which European colonial architecture has been re-used or destroyed in the process of decolonization and 2) activating collaboration with groups, associations, governmental and non governmental institutions for specific interventions in contemporary cities. Reference for the kind projects that the course aims to develop can be seen here


Course structure

The teaching philosophy of the course is based on the pedagogy developed by Campus in Camps, an experimental educational program established in Palestinian refugee camps www.campusincamps. In this approach, students are considered coauthors of meanings and bearers of knowledge. Therefore, the structure of the course is adapted to the urgencies and aspirations of the participants. At the same time the student-participants are asked to work under the direction of the course instructor who leads the group towards a collective project presented at the end of the year in an exhibition format and a publication. During the first semester lectures, research and site visits will help to build the case study for the Atlas of Decolonization and reading groups will help to structure a “collective dictionary”, a series of student-participant curated papers on key terms considered to be fundamental for the theoretical foundation of the architectural projects. The spring semester will emphasize the production and development of the project in the studio and its possible future realization. The course will revolve around three/four days every other week of intensive program of seminars, lectures, studios, mentorships, reading sessions, site visits, walks and convivial meals, spaced out by a week where participants independently develop work, research, write, read, draw, interview, and conduct site visits. The course is divided into two parts during one academic year: Decolonizing Architecture I, 30 credits (Autumn Semester); Decolonizing Architecture II, 30 credits (Spring Semester).

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