DEVIAN Art

 

Colonel & Khaled D. Ramadan

In the debate on expatriatism, nation-states most fear the satellite dish and the Internet—in other words, any facility aiding the construction of a “virtual identity. “This concept of virtual identity is the focus of the multimedia project cast by the artists Colonel (Thierry Geoffroy) and Khaled D.Ramadan.

The project presents the way in which expatriates become the “authors” of their own identity and the processes by which they constantly draft and redraft themselves in virtual/personal logic. Much of the literature on expatriate identity focuses on the construction of so-called false identities and the notion of identity swapping. <back

 

Such a position has been critically analyzed by Edward W. Said in his book Orientalism, which states that criticism should not be directed at the construction of identity but rather at the way cultures and identities of so-called others are presented as timeless, archaic, irrational, wild, and dangerous. Bio Colonialism negotiates such arguments and attempts to reconstruct the postcolonial identity and the perception of cultural primacy in the age of networking and mass migration. Theorist Magdalena Donea has discussed the concept of “virtual identity,” the (re)construction of identities, and their challenge of traditional notions of our ways of indicating who we are. She highlights how assumptions such as physical appearance, accent, and mannerism tell us that one has a fixed identity related to one’s sex, geographic location, history, and social class. Nonetheless, in the disembodied world of the virtual community, identity is ambiguous.

The project consists of manufactured objects, videos, sound effects, prints, and design items related to the current condition of postcoloniality, immigration, and resistance. Colonel and Ramadan exhibit their own bodies and family histories by using performance art (video) to convey the complex ways in which these two non-Danish subjects are presented in the Danish society and the ways they have been affected by the continued encounter with stereotypes of themselves. In three different videos, one of them produced jointly Colonel and Ramadan use their own family photos and footage archives to negotiate and demonstrate their original social status, life style, and condition before they both stepped into Denmark and obtained a new social status—that of the immigrant.

Ramadan’s country of origin, Lebanon, was formerly a French colony. In his video slide-show Wide Power, Ramadan chooses to reflect on the status of his country under the French intervention and again in the late modern period. During the Lebanese Civil War, French soldiers patrolled Beirut’s streets and, as a child in Beirut, Ramadan and other children were asked by French soldiers to pose in front of their lenses. Ramadan’s video questions the motive and fate of these photos taken by French soldiers. He also questions whether he has become some sort of Orientalist when he, at a later stage in life, takes up photography. Does his life in the West have anything to do with his adopting of colonialist manners? Is it possible that he has started to eroticize anything that is different and remote?
Colonel’s video consists of sequences of an old documentation video shot in Algeria by his parents, who were both working in Algeria during French colonial rule. His father was a captain in the French army while his mother was a teacher. The parents shot the voiceless video during Colonel’s early childhood. The video shows how Colonel’s father describes the living conditions during the Algerian war to his son with all that they entail—from domination to identity cancellation and occupation. About his video Colonel has said: “I am just an abstract French comedian using family film to find my identity. In this personal project I am an introspective person. I am questioning the family—family love and geographical position—and Perceptions of actuality. To me, the project is about an honest moment, facing the hidden sides and emotions.” Tracing the genealogies of their own family histories, as well as that of the idea of site specificity, offers the project an anthropological approach towards themselves as subjects.

The joint video performance Art Talk by Colonel and Ramadan asserts the cultural difference, the “otherness” in relation to the Danish society, which is inscribed on non-Danish subjects. Art Talk plays with the setting of the BBC World program Hard Talk, hosted by Tim Sebastian. Shot in a similar esthetic style, Art Talk is a conversation between Colonel and Ramadan, who negotiate their dissimilar cultural backgrounds during one stage and their current cultural similarity during another. One subject of particular interest is the phenomenon of placing immigrants into one scoop of the social fabric, a practice undertaken by the Danish media and a considerable amount of the Danish public.

In the video, Ramadan clarifies the experience of being an Arab in contemporary Denmark in light of the cartoons published by the conservative newspaper Jyllandsposten in 2006, which caused an international uproar. Colonel, on the other hand, declares the end of his social status as the legacy of self-proclaimed fine French colonialism. “Living in Denmark makes me feel like an Arab,” Colonel says in the video. What becomes part of both artists’ new identity—the immigrant identity—is the concept of mobility and [re]presentation within a particular context. The activities in the project Bio Colonialism reflect mobility, travel, and [re]presentation as an ideological move to and from different locations, and back and forth in a continuous exchange of cultural patterns. Bio Colonialism presents diverse views and perspectives on the notion of powerful/powerless and colonizer/colonized. It debates the current living conditions and sociocultural status of immigrants and examines how their critical status affects, but not reflects, the local culture in Denmark and perhaps the rest of Europe.

Stine Høxbroe and Khaled D. Ramadan