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Politics and Performance

Online Speaker Series organized by Sruti Bala (Theatre Studies) and Elize Mazadiego (Art History).

This 3-part online speaker series is a continuation of our Winter-Spring Series edition, which ran complementary to our jointly taught MA module Art and Activism. The series visits the intersections of politics and performance and hopes for in-depth critical reflection and conversation on social movements, political activism, performance philosophy and embodied practices. We invite several international scholars to present their recent work on histories and contemporary modes of artistic activism.


Upcoming meetings:

Thursday 30, September 2021, 16:00-18:00 CET  (online) 

Buhlebezwe Siwani (Independent Visual and Performance Artist) 

The body as point of entry: A performative reading of the film 'Sarafina!' (1992) 

By way of a reflection of the relationship between South Africa and the Netherlands in performance, the lecture will depart from the 1992 film 'Sarafina!' to illustrate how the body is the first point of entry when attempting to take over or in taking over space. Through the film, and its underlying interplay of performance, the archive and history, the lecture will discuss how the ownership of land is tied to the ownership of bodies.

Buhlebezwe Siwani is a South-African visual and performance artist. She works predominantly in the medium of performance and installations, including photographic stills and videos of some performances as a stand in for her body which is physically absent from the space. Siwani completed her BAFA (Hons) at the Wits School of Arts in Johannesburg in 2011 and her MFA at the Michealis School of Fine Arts in 2015. She lives and works between Amsterdam and Cape Town.  

Thursday, 28 October 2021, 16:00-18:00 CET    

Suzanne Dahliwal (St. Joost School of Art & Design, the Netherlands)

Art & Design in the Age of Climate Crisis and Ecocide

The cultural shift required to address the climate crisis calls on the cultural sector to look closely at the sites of ecocide globally, to understand the relationship between white supremacy, colonialism and ecological degradation. Frontline communities resisting extraction have been at the forefront of challenging the current rate of exploitation and exposing the absence of monitoring and restoration of vital ecosystems that have brought us to this planetary tipping point.

In this talk, Suzanne will explore how the climate crisis intersects with the ongoing colonial exploitation of crucial ecosystems such as the Athabasca Delta in the Canadian Tar Sands to the Niger Delta. She will share her practice as a climate justice creative to expose the webs of corporate and financial power that have led to the current crisis. Through working in international, intergenerational solidarity her work has sought to uplift those challenging the paradigm which has led to the devastation which characterizes the Anthropocene.

Suzanne Dhaliwal Voted one of London's most influential people in Environment 2018 by the Evening Standard. In 2009 she co-founded the UK Tar Sands Network, which challenged BP and Shell investments in the Canadian tar sands in solidarity with frontline Indigenous communities, spurring the internationalisation of the fossil fuel divestment movement. Her corporate and financial campaigning spans over a decade, including spearheaded a European coalition to challenge the insurance industry on their underwriting of highly polluting coal and tar sands projects. Suzanne completed a Research Fellowship at the Centre for Research in Spatial Environmental and Cultural Politics at University of Brighton from 2019-2020. Suzanne has led artistic interventions to challenge fossil fuel investments globally and currently works as a creative practice tutor in Ecology Futures at the St. Joost School of Art & Design and is a freelance consultant.

Thursday, 25 November 2021, 16:00-18:00 CET    

Helen Gilbert (University of London, United Kingdom)

Indigenous Cultural Resurgence and Environmental Justice on the Global Stage

Once largely ignored beyond their local contexts, the ecological concerns of indigenous groups now register to broad international constituencies, in both public and scientific arenas, as they increasingly align with evidence of our planet’s precarity as a life-sustaining system. This situation has lent traction to campaigns demanding recognition of traditional ecological knowledges, even as schisms emerge between mainstream and indigenous environmental movements. With examples drawn from Australia, Canada and the Pacific, my presentation focuses on embodied arts that draw instrumentally on indigenous ways of knowing and doing to perform (and inform) their activism, offering, in the process, new insights into the conceptual apparatus of the Anthropocene. Discussion of how the campaign for environmental justice inflects such insights will be informed by Rob Nixon’s theorisations of incremental ecosystem destruction as a ‘slow violence’ dispersed across time and space.

Helen Gilbert is Professor of Theatre at Royal Holloway University of London and author or editor of several volumes in postcolonial theatre and performance studies, including, most recently, Marrugeku: Telling That Story (2021) and In the Balance: Indigeneity, Performance, Globalization (2018). Her research explores arts-based activism in marginalized societies in Canada, Australia, South Africa and Oceania, with a current focus on environmental issues, notably climate change and other Anthropogenic disruptions to the water cycle. In 2015, she was awarded a Humboldt Prize for career achievements in international theatre and performance studies. 



Previous meetings:

Thursday 25 February 2021, 16:00-18:00 CET    

Mara Polgovsky Ezcurra (Birkbeck University of London, UK)

Touched Bodies: The Performative Turn in Latin American art

Respondent: Kati Röttger (Theatre Studies, University of Amsterdam)

What is the role of pleasure and pain in the politics of art? In her lecture, Mara Polgovsky Ezcurra approaches this question as she examines the flourishing of live and intermedial performance in Latin America during times of authoritarianism and its significance during transitions to democracy.

Mara Polgovsky Ezcurra is a Lecturer in Contemporary Art at Birkbeck, University of London. Her research focuses on contemporary Latin American Art and Intellectual History, looking at the politics of aesthetics and changing ideas of “life”, “agency” and “the body” in artistic practice. Her books include Touched Bodies: The Performative Turn in Latin American Art (Rutgers University Press, 2019), the forthcoming essay collection Marcos Kurtycz: Corporeality Unbound (Fauna-Jumex, 2019), and the edited volume Sabotage Art: Politics and Iconoclasm in Contemporary Latin America.


Thursday 25 March 2021, 16:00-18:00 CET

Mark Fleishman (University of Cape Town, South Africa)

Theatre amongst the ruins: The poetics and politics of South African adaptations

Respondent: Hanneke Stuit (ASCA)

Through the conceptual metaphor of the ruin, the lecture explores the ways in which the classical archive has been mobilized and reinvented by two white theatre-makers in South Africa: Athol Fugard's production of Orestes in 1971 and my own adaptation of Antigone (not quite/quiet) in 2019.

Mark Fleishman is Professor of Theatre in the Centre for Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies at the University of Cape Town. He is also a co-artistic director of Magnet Theatre, an independent theatre company established in 1987. Recent publications: Performing Migrancy and Mobility in Africa: Cape of Flows in the Studies in International Performance series at Palgrave (2015) and two special issues of the South African Theatre Journal on Translation & Performance (2019 & 2020). He is currently principal investigator on the project Re-imagining Tragedy from Africa and the Global South, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Thursday 22 April 2021, 16:00-18:00 CET

Jennifer S. Ponce de León (University of Pennsylvania, US)

Another Aesthetics is Possible: Arts of Rebellion in the Fourth World War

Respondent: Elize Mazadiego (Art History, University of Amsterdam)

The lecture will examine the roles that art can play in the collective labor of creating and defending another social reality. Focusing on artists and art collectives in Argentina, Mexico, and the United States, Ponce de León will address how experimental practices in the visual, literary, and performing arts have been influenced by and articulated with leftist movements and popular uprisings that have repudiated neoliberal capitalism and its violence.

Jennifer S. Ponce de León is an interdisciplinary scholar whose research focuses on cultural production and antisystemic movements in the Americas since the 1960s. She is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania where she is also faculty in Latin American and Latinx Studies. She is also Associate Director of the Critical Theory Workshop and an independent curator. Her book Another Aesthetics is Possible: Arts of Rebellion in the Fourth World War (Duke University Press, 2020) theorizes aesthetics as an integral component of contemporary social struggles. Her writing has also appeared in American Quarterly, Philosophy Today, ASAP/Journal, Social Text, e-misférica, GLQ, and in multiple edited collections.


Thursday 27 May 2021, 16:00-18:00 CET

Laura Cull Ó Maoilearca (Amsterdam University of the Arts, NL)

Performance Philosophy and Animals: Towards a Radical Equality

Respondent: Jeff Diamanti (Environmental Humanities, University of Amsterdam)

Can art allow humans to occupy the worlds of non-human animals? How can performance contribute to addressing anthropocentrism, speciesism and the violence toward animal bodies such perspectives enable? Laura Cull Ó Maoilearca will address the importance and challenges of including animals in how we think about the relation between politics and performance according to an intersectional approach that considers how animal oppression connects with other forms of structural violence and inequality.

Laura Cull Ó Maoilearca is Lector, Head of DAS Graduate School and Head of Research at the Academy of Theatre and Dance, Amsterdam University of the Arts in the Netherlands. Her current research project is the AHRC-funded Leadership Fellowship, Performance Philosophy & Animals: Towards a Radical Equality (2019-2022). Her recent books include: The Routledge Companion to Performance Philosophy (Routledge, 2020) and Encounters in Performance Philosophy (Palgrave, 2014), both co-edited with Alice Lagaay. She is a founding core convener of the international research network, Performance Philosophy, joint series editor of the Performance Philosophy book series with Rowman & Littlefield, and an editor of the open access Performance Philosophy journal. Laura originally trained as an artist at the Slade School of Art in London and presented performances internationally including Tanzquartier Wien (2015); ICA London (2008); Serpentine Gallery, London (2008, with the artists’ collective, SpRoUt); and TATE Britain (2003).

Thursday 24 June 2021, 16:00-18:00 CET

Ana Vujanović (Independent scholar and cultural worker, Berlin/Belgrade)

The politics of production in the performing arts

Respondent: Christa-Maria Lerm Hayes (Art History, University of Amsterdam)

The lecture argues that performance today is a model of production, rather than a model of politics, as it has been assumed in democratic society. This, however, does not mean that the performance is apolitical or politically irrelevant, but that its politicality is now usually indirect and tacit, predominantly operating in the register of the ‘political unconscious’. Reasons for that indirect and dubious politicality of the performing arts should be found in a wider socio-economic process of today’s neoliberal society. The point is that therein, politics has already been immersed in capitalist production, which is post-Fordist and post-industrial. That phenomenon has multifold causes and consequences. In order to disentangle it, I unfold the twin processes of the economisation of politics and the politicisation of production, as a backdrop against which one should approach the issue of the political dimension of art today.

Ana Vujanović holds a Ph.D. in Humanities (Theatre Studies). She has lectured at various universities and was a professor in the Performance Studies Department at the University Hamburg. Since 2016 she is a team member and mentor at SNDO – School for New Dance Development, AHK Amsterdam. She was a founding member of the TkH [Walking Theory], a Belgrade-based collective, and editor-in-chief of the TkH Journal for Performing Arts Theory (2001-17). She has published a number of articles and several books, such as Public Sphere by Performance, with B. Cvejic (2012), A Live Gathering: Performance and Politics in Contemporary Europe, edited with L. Piazza (2019) and Toward a Transindividual Self, with B. Cvejic (2021). She also works as a dramaturg in contemporary theatre, dance, performance and film. With filmmaker Marta Popivoda she is engaged in long-term artistic-theoretical research, which most recently resulted in a documentary Landscapes of Resistance (2021).

with the support of the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis and Department of Art and Culture, University of Amsterdam