The condition of the Rohingya people should be placed within the general crisis of the movement of people in the world, reiterated literary theorist Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak during a closing keynote presentation at the Dhaka Art Summit (DAS) on Saturday.
Asked to address the precarious situation of the Rohingya in relation to indigeneity in the world today, Spivak gave the audience a cognitive timeline of how she encountered the Rohingya people – to emphasize on bringing their condition to the forefront of the world’s problems along with Palestine, Syria, Iraq, the disappearance of academic freedom and secularism in her own country as well as with the tremendous ethnic conflict in many African nations.
She emphasized that the real work of placing the Rohingya within “developing the will to social justice” lies in a space that cannot now be “imagined,” however, as much as imagination is a separator, she said, it also brings people together.
Spivak, citing a conversation with academic and activist Maung Zarni, said there was absolutely no excuse for ignoring the phenomenon of “genocidal denial” of democratic rights of the Rohingya. She reiterated that there has to be “greater engagement in order to help the cause of social justice” in this regard and simply circulating the barrage of information online would not suffice.
She cited her keynote presentation in Berlin titled “Solidarity beyond boundaries,” where she insisted that if one person changed from top-down work, there would be a hundred.
Spivak, while outlining her relation with Dhaka, said she first encountered the Rohingya people in the 1980s when she was in Bangladesh as a member of “Unnayan Bikolper Nitinirdharoni Gobheshona” (UBINIG). In Teknaf, she witnessed many of these people swimming across the Naf river from Myanmar.
Earlier, the professor and literary theorist congratulated the DAS’s Rajeeb Samdani for bringing the local to the global – connecting the artwork of so-called “developing” countries to the global arena, “creating an equality that is altogether unique.” However she suggested that this kind of effort should be “supplemented” by another kind of work, otherwise we could not go forward in engaging with the “impossible possibility of a socially just world.”
Spivak is known for 40 years of work that has been focused on “the tiniest possible units – sub-individuals” in the interest of social justice which she calls an “impossibility.”
She set the mood for her presentation by reinstating her conviction that “no self-declared summit” could ever touch the topic of “subaltern – small social groups on the fringes of history” – the collectivity of which constitutes the largest electorate sector in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
She urged all to be “inside our language rather than displaying upward class-mobility by false modesty about inadequate proficiency,” adding, that we also must understand how we have lexicalized the old imperial languages.
This presentation was a part of Office for Contemporary Art Norway (OCA)’s project “Sovereign Words: Critical Writing Ensembles” – a platform of panel discussions, lecture performances, group debates and readings committed to the “strengthening of critical writing within and across communities of the world.” It was launched in 2016 at DAS and its preface was presented in Baroda in 2015.