At Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW), Berlin /Germany.
A Journey of Ideas Across – In Dialogue with Edward Said.
From October 30 to November 1, thinkers, activists, and researchers from Mediterranean countries and Europe debated and critically reflected on ways in which public and common spaces are constituted, occupied, maintained, and shaped. Troubling issues and constructive ideas emerging from the workshop were then shared with the public.
The workshop “Al Masha or the Space of the Common” examined an urgent topic through the spirit of Edward W. Said. Reflecting on public and common space in relation to and beyond the events and places of the Arab revolts, the workshop considered how these revolts have fundamentally challenged the repressive and conservative face of public space in various Arab countries and consequently enabled re-articulations of common space. The ambiguous nature of public space today can also be observed in recent protest movements within Western states. And finally, the categories of public and private need to be reconsidered in contexts such as refugee camps, given that neither legal recognition nor the right to private property exists in these spaces.
Set against this background, the workshop aimed to explore how public and common spaces are shaped and constituted. Curators Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti proposed a critical understanding of the contemporary notion of the public by re-imagining that of the common. Demand for active participation is an essential aspect of the common and is also present in the Arabic term masha, which refers to shared land whose possession is recognized through practice: masha can only exist when and where people cultivated land together. It thus appears crucial for this category to be activated through common use.
How can we engage with the “space of the common” or “al masha” today?
International participants, mainly from the Arab region, and German participants were identified through an open call in collaboration with the Goethe-Institute.
Curated by Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti
Sandi Hilal is an architect based in Bethlehem. She is a consultant with the UNRWA camp improvement program and co-founder of both DAAR (an art and architecture collective and residency program combining discourse, spatial intervention, education, and legal challenges) and the Campus in Camps experimental educational program. She is co-author of several research projects, including “Stateless Nation” and “Border Devices”.
Alessandro Petti is an architect and researcher in urbanism based in Bethlehem. He is director of the Campus in Camps experimental educational program and co-founder of DAAR.
Concept Note- Berlin
Qussay Abu Aker, participant of Campus in Camps Project, Bethlehem.
Hanna AlTaher, M.A. student in Political Science at FU Berlin and spoken word artist, Amman/Berlin.
Ayat al Turshan, participant of Campus in Camps Project, Bethlehem.
Yazid Anani, artist and assistant professor of Architecture, Urban Planning and Landscape, Birzeit University (Palestine).
Hisham Ashkar, architect, urban planner and PhD candidate in Urban Planning at HafenCity Universität Hamburg, currently based in Berlin.
Mansour Aziz, artist and researcher, Beirut.
Gautam Bhan, sociologist and urban planner, Indian Institute for Human Settlements, New Delhi.
Musquiqui Chihying, visual artist from Taipei/Taiwan, M.A. student at Universität der Künste Berlin.
Kegham Djeghalian, visual artist, lecturer, art director, and fashion editor, Egypt/Palestine, based in Paris.
Ilana Feldman, Professor of Anthropology and International Affairs, George Washington University, Washington DC.
Elena Isayev, senior lecturer in Ancient History, University of Exeter.
Nidaa Hamouz, participant of Campus in Camps Project, Bethlehem.
Iyad Issa, architect, artist, researcher, Riwaq Centre for Architectural Conservation, Ramallah.
Yelta Köm, architect, independent writer, M.A. Student at Staedelschule Architecture Class, Frankfurt/ Germany, NGO “Herkes İçin Mimarlık”, Istanbul.
Vasif Kortun, Research and Programs director of SALT, Istanbul and Ankara.
Thameur Mekki, journalist and music manager, Tunis.
Omar Nagati , architect, urban planner, designer, and co-founder of CLUSTER, Cairo.
Sahar Qawasmi, architect, Riwaq Centre for Architectural Conservation, Ramallah.
Dina Ramadan, assistant professor of Arabic and Director of Middle Eastern Studies at Bard College, NY, currently fellow at the Forum for Transregional Studies EUME, Berlin.
Rasha Salti, visual arts curator, film programmer and writer, Beirut.
Felicity Scott, professor of architecture at Columbia University, currently fellow at the American Academy, Berlin.
Urok Shirhan, artist, M.A. studies of Global Arts at Goldsmiths University, London.
Pelin Tan, sociologist, assistant professor and vice-dean of the Faculty of Architecture, Artuklu University, Mardin (Turkey)
Hanan Toukan, sociologist, currently postdoctoral fellow at the Forum for Transregional Studies EUME and Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin.
Toleen Touq, cultural producer and manager, curator, Amman.
Bettina Vismann, architect and artist, professor in the “Space Strategies” Master at the Berlin Weißensee School of Art, Berlin.
Quusay Abu Aker
“It was both interesting and mind-opening to listen to different perspectives on the concepts discussed in the workshop, including common, collective memory, revolution, representation, imagination, dream, eviction, appropriation, land, legality, protest and institution.
I recall the example of Bahrein, which one of the participants introduced, explaining how the government turned to the sea as a source of income once there was no more oil left in the ground. Lands were offered to private companies who expanded the shores. Thus, the people who once lived there found themselves very distant from the sea, having to pay an access fee, despite the fact that they had previously earned their living through occupations connected to these areas.
Moving forward, the concept of collective memory and how it is created and maintained, as well as its future effects, were discussed through the example of the Ancient Roman Empire and a debate concerning whether ‘citizenship’ or ‘ownership’ was created first.
We also participated in the workshop ‘A Journey of Ideas Across: In Dialogue with Edward Said’, occurring contemporaneously with our event and enriching our conceptual content.
The land and legality issue was presented by Gautam Bham, from India, who spoke of slums and how they have developed on illegal land. Though, the municipalities say that they legally cannot provide services, they do. An example was provided of a slum with 150,000 inhabitants which lasted for thirty years and was finally destroyed by the government. He also expressed that those who come from rural areas want to become city people, through behavior and appearance, while those who already live in the city do not care about this. The statement that struck me most was: “we are not city people, we are village people. Cities came later”..
After this, Mansour Aziz, from Lebanon, spoke of how places are expropriated by the state to become public, but are, in reality, limited to certain categories of the public. Consequently, those who are not perceived as being part of these categories are not legally allowed to remain. Nonetheless, they still manage to cut the fence and sneak in.
A Turkish group then spoke in relation to Taksim Square.
In terms of the concepts of protest, revolution and institution, the interventions were as follows:
Thameur Mekki, from Tunisia, spoke of mobilizing masses through social networks. Since it was impossible to physically gather under the Ben Ali regime, he explained how social networks contributed not only to getting people involved, but also to creating a virtual space where ideas could be expressed and street protests organized. This is how the community was able to mobilize and revolt against the government, bypassing the prohibition of gathering in public spaces.
The presentation of Musquiqui Chihying, from Taiwan, was more of an attack against China than a presentation of Taiwan as we know it. He spoke of the conflict between Hong Kong-Taiwan and China. He compared the three national models with respect to their constitution and Internet censorship. Chihying also informed us that China employs over two million Internet police officers, making it very difficult to get media material out of China without the approval of the government.
Another aspect of this presentation dealt with the spaces that the Chinese government confiscates from its citizens for developmental purposes. He explained how the government usually simply informs the owner of the space about its decision without giving him or her any chance to refuse, unless he or she is an important figure. And, even in such cases, the government’s decision is almost always pushed through.
Toleen Touq spoke about a protest occurring in Jordan at a roundabout in front of the Ministry of Internal affairs which, she believed was a very bad place to demonstrate. She explained how, at first, the police tried to protect the protesters from government supporters who were also demonstrating, but, after two days, the government decided to end the protest. Special forces were deployed to make this happen. Later on, the municipality constructed in this area, making it difficult for people to gather here again. This also applies to a similar space which hosts a monument: here too, the government decided to fence it in so that no one could access it.
And finally, our Campus in Camps presentation closed the workshop. Open to an audience beyond the workshop participants, the setting was wonderful. We organized the chairs just as we did for our community the first time they visited us at the al-Feniq centre, making communication much easier.
Our presentation involved Alessandro, Sandi, Ilana, Waseef, Nida, Ayat, and myself.
Some interesting questions were raised, such as why we do not mention democracy and how we can internationalize our concepts and our way of learning.
As mentioned, we also participated in the workshop “Journey of Ideas Across: In Dialogue with Edward Said”, held at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, with Miriam Said and the Ahl El-kahf group from Tunisia.
The event consisted of readings from Said’s texts with each reader’s perception of these, as well as screenings of documentaries and films, not to mention the participation of Mohammad Al-attar and Fawaz Tarabolsi.
One more thing, the Ahl Al-kahf group graffitied a wall near the Jewish Museum stating: “Israel is fiction, Palestine is reality”. Museum officials protested against this action and told the group they had to remove it as some diplomatic groups would be visiting the site over the next few days.
The question that most touched me concerns whether the common should be a physical space. And, as Sandi proposed, what will it look like and are we ready for it or are we just reaching a breaking point ?
I perceive the common as a space not only for gathering to overthrow a regime or an authority, but for considering how we can make changes, how we can do things differently. It is a space from which no one is excluded just because he or she is a minority, contrary to democracy which is about majority (I refer to practiced democracy, not ideal democracy).
I also noticed that in most of the presentations and in our refugee camps, state intervention = common is erased with the term of public property.
Overall, the Berlin experience was too great to be summed up in a short text, such as this one, which cannot cover all that went on there.”