The Migrant Image
By T.J. Demos
Duke University Press Books, 2013
Given the current state of the U.S and world economies many have begun to question whether the egalitarian promises of Globalism and the New World Order, ushered onto the world stage in the wake of the Cold War, are actually panning out as promised. The expansion of free trade and free markets around the world made possible by revolutionary new technologies fell flat. What was once promoted as a rising tide that would lift all ships is beginning to look more like another corporate banking scheme designed to funnel the wealth and resources into the hands of a privileged few. In other words, far from leveling playing fields and delivering democracy and social justice to the masses, Globalism appears to be taking on the nuances of “empire.”
In “The Migrant Image: The Art and Politics of Documentary During Global Crisis” author T. J. Demos examines the various social and political aspects of this “crisis in Globalism” through the lens of contemporary art. Demos asks his readers poignant questions: What are some of the relationships between politics and aesthetics under the New World Order? How can the freedom of artistic promise shed light on the new reality of socio-economic disparity, not just between so-called developed and undeveloped nations but within our own society? In tackling these types of questions Demos examines the work of a number of renowned and controversial filmmakers, photographers and installation artists. In the surrealism and conflict of these films and images we begin to understand the concept of “bare life” – which is, as the author references, life stripped of any political identity and exposed to the state’s unmediated application of power. Under Globalism, or so the story goes, the corporate intelligentsia would feel newly empowered to put resources to work more efficiently for the benefit of all. Yet, in the works of the excellent artists featured in this book, we catch a glimpse of what happens when such grand visions dissolve into global hegemony and corporate profits, and Globalism’s most valuable resources turn out to be of the human variety – expendable and exhaustible. We see the despair on the faces of slum dwellers in Ravi Agarwal’s India and the horror of cardboard dwellings amongst Johannesburg’s endless trash heaps courtesy of David Goldblatt. We see the blue shores and pristine seaside apartment blocks of Joana Hajithomas and Khalil Joreige’s Beirut ravaged by what appears to be melt spots, much like a frame of cellophane film melting in an old film projector. These visuals are an anthem for what once was and what has come to be under the New World Order with the irony of technology as a metaphor. The images and commentary in “The Migrant Image” captivate and inspire.
This review appeared in Al Jadid, Vol. 18, no. 66
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