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Senior Research Seminar: Professor Patricia Spyer, (The Graduate Institute Geneva)

When Feb 14, 2020
from 04:15 PM to 06:00 PM
Where Edmund Leach Room, Department of Social Anthropology Free School Lane, Cambridge
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Professor Patricia Spyer, (The Graduate Institute Geneva)

Extreme Perception and the Work on Appearance

Drawing on my forthcoming book, Orphaned Landscapes: Violence, Visuality, and Appearance in Indonesia (Fordham University Press 2020), the presentation addresses a momentous transformation of the terrain of the visual that took place in the early 2000s in the Malukan capital of Ambon, Indonesia, as the city was racked by religiously inflected violence between Muslims and Christians. In these circumstances, somewhat counter intuitively, members of Ambon’s aniconic Protestant elite threw up a gallery of huge billboards and murals around the wartime city displaying Christ as an omnipresent figure. These visualizing practices constituted an urgent response to the crisis of the visible occasioned by the proliferation, amidst rampant violence, of especially ‘tactical’ media such as rumors, incendiary pamphlets, pro-peace Public Service Announcements, graphically violent Video CDs, graffiti, etc. Comprising what I call an infrastructure of the imagination, this media proliferation rendered appearances untrustworthy and treacherous. The Christ picturing practices were a response to precisely such a situation of pervasive uncertainty. Themselves part of the general valorization of the visible in the aftermath of Suharto’s downfall, they sought to redress uncertainty by introducing a measure of certainty to the world. Realized as a bringing-into-vision of the Christian God, the embrace of a visual medium by Ambon’s Protestants constituted a nostalgic attempt to safeguard their historic privilege, a demand for recognition by authority in the wake of the Suharto state’s collapse, and the desire for a more proximate relationship to a god experienced as increasingly out of reach. Looming over passers-by along highways and on sidewalks, the pictures extended and transformed the visual’s terrain, introduced a novel mode of mediating transcendence, and Christianized urban space--a space, as many Protestants perceived, under aggressive erasure by Muslims.

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