Presentation at Spaces of Unnationalism Workshop

Rachel Lee gave a presentation at “Spaces of Unnationalism,” a workshop convened by Farhan Karim and Duangfang Lu at Zentrum Moderne Orient, Berlin, on 7 and 8 November 2019.

The “Spaces of Unnationalism” group at ZMO Berlin

Following an introduction by Duangfang Lu (University of Sydney), presentations were given by Abidin Kusno (York University), Wendy Pullan (University of Cambridge), Florian Urban (Glasgow School of Art), Noam Shoked (Tel Aviv University), Yat Ming Loo (University of Nottingham, Ningbo, China), Farhan Karim (ZMO), Stefan Maneval (Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg), Bülent Batuman (University of Bilkent), with a keynote by Esra Akcan (Cornell University).

The workshop investigated the following premise:
Nationalism has arisen as a significant driver in political movements and a key ideology of modern society since the late 18th century. There has been a substantial body of literature on the effects of nationalist force upon the spatial and aesthetic culture of the built environment. In recent decades, more and more studies have revealed that nationalism is not an all-encompassing, all-pervasive force. There are substantial ‘outside’ spaces that are not fully transformed or affected by nationalism but instead create fissures in the latter – spaces that we identify in this workshop as the “spaces of unnationalism”.
We are interested in developments, negotiations and conflicts in identity politics that have shaped architecture and urban spaces, but do not adhere to the normative ideologies and structures of
nationalism. We are seeking to explore how unnnationalism as a new lens will allow us not only to revisit the existing scholarship on built environments by attending to forces that have served to
diminish the importance of nationalism and national identities, but also to develop new territories of knowledge on the production and operation of spaces that have challenged nationalism’s role in justifying and consolidating domination, inequality and power hierarchy.

Rachel’s paper, “Exiles in Bombay and the Princely States,” was built around this abstract:

This paper proposes taking migration and exile as a lens through which to identify potential spaces of unnationalism in both Bombay and Princely States in India in the 1940s. Famously cosmopolitan, colonized India’s economic centre and most important port reveals a history of significant civic contributions by migrant minority groups, including the Parsi and Jewish communities. Added to these, in the late 1930s exiled artists and intellectuals made Bombay their home. Mostly fleeing Nazi-occupied German-speaking Europe, they endeavoured to re-establish their practices in India. As exiles, they were neither invested in the British colonial power nor in the Indian independence movement. Thus, their presence in the city can potentially reveal something about the spaces that were available to them and what places had they had to create in order to live and work. This paper will examine the spaces in the city that they used, created and occupied, whether through formal exhibitions and lectures or more informal meetings and salons, for example. It will focus particularly on spaces where the exiled artists intersected with local artists and other figures in the local cultural scene, and where they produced work together. These spaces include hotels and cafes, as well as galleries and institutions. In addition to the exiles who made Bombay their home, others, including the art historians Ernst Cohn-Wiener and Hermann Goetz, and the architect Otto Koenigsberger, settled in Princely States. As semi-autonomous entities, the Princely States provided a different governance form to places in British-controlled India. Often with a ‘progressive’ agenda, they enabled alternative approaches to be developed in relation to economics, culture, education and technology, for example. This paper will consider the Princely States of Mysore and Baroda in relation to both exiled artists and unnationalism, arguing that, like Bombay, they provided spaces for cultural production that did not exist in other parts of the county.

The whole programme is available here