Exercise 2.4 Colonial Legacy


Exercise 2.4
Outline the positions of Stanley Wolukau- Wanambwa and Jan Hoek, and reflecting on your own practice – or how you’d like your practice to develop – draw up a manifesto for how you will work in future. Research manifestoes by Dada, Dogme, et al for inspiration.

Jan Hoek’s article 

Stanley Wolukau- Wanambwa’s Aperture column

“Fortunately, the colonial era is over and now is the time to find a way to heal the hurting wounds this era has inflicted” (Hoek, 2015) Mmm… This sounds like wishful thinking, and I’m not sure Hoek fully appreciates how colonialism persists. Nor how western corporate and governmental finance is structured, leaving non-western countries in the sort of debt which can never be fully repaid, and therefore beholden forever to states abroad. The following is from Wordcentric’s website, a self funded organisation which aims to highlight and educate people about environmental and social issues facing the world.

Many developing countries and billions of people are devastated under the burden of debt and trade policies of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and World Trade Organization (WTO). In 1997, Zambia spent 40% of its total budget to repay foreign debt and only 7% for basic services like vaccines for children. If the debt had been canceled in 1997 for twenty of the poorest countries, the money released to basic health care could have saved the lives of about 21 million children by the year 2000, the equivalent of 19,000 children a day. The failure to cancel debts leaves the poorest countries in the world with nothing to spend on basic needs and much-needed infrastructure, leaving millions in poverty and destitution.


  • The developing world now spends $1.3 on debt repayment for every $1 it receives in grants. Nigeria borrowed around $5 billion and has paid about $16 billion, but still owes $28 billion. That $28 billion came about due to bias in the foreign creditors’ interest rates.
  • 7 million children die each year as a result of the debt crisis.
  • In the 52 Jubilee 2000 countries, a total of 1 billion people shoulder a debt burden of £286 billion. It is interesting to note that this is less than the total net worth of the world’s 21 richest individuals.
  • In 1999, $128 million was transferred from the poorest countries to the richest for debt repayments – EACH DAY. Of this, $53 million was from East Asia and the Pacific, $38 million from South Asia and $23 million from Africa.
  • Canceling the debts of all 52 Jubilee 2000 countries would only cost one penny a day for each person in the industrialized world for 20 years.

In addition to debt, the way western finance is structured often means non-western land and resources are owned or worked into the west’s economy. Although written in 1968, John Gerasis, says in his talk Imperialism and Revolution in America at a conference titled The Dialectics of Liberation ”…he who dominates the economy dominates the politics.” (79)  Earlier in the book Jules Henry in his recorded talk says, “…in 1951, 135 American corporations owned nearly a fourth of the manufacturing volume of the world. This says nothing about how much it controlled, how much is a sphere of interest, that is not downright owned” (58) Or “the social structures of the modern world has so limited the possibilities of existence that even emerging nations from which we might expect some new ideas, some new salvation, are forced into the old ways of predator and prey.” (54) In 2017 economic models are in a state of transition as we move from traditional manufacturing towards a digital economy, along with all the momentous changes that allows for. Much has changed since 1968, it is true, but so much of our society continues to dominate economically, and the west is still benefitting, as poorer nations prop us up. Even Aid , which we think of as being given to poorer countries somehow ends up serving the west more than those we thought it was helping. As described in this Guardian article Aid in reverse: how poor countries develop rich countries Jason Hickel writes, “… the usual development narrative has it backwards. Aid is effectively flowing in reverse. Rich countries aren’t developing poor countries; poor countries are developing rich ones.” Although a degree in economics would help to make a more concrete and fully rounded case, it is not difficult to see how the ongoing effects of colonialism continue to this day in our supposed post-colonial era. The west’s wealth was built up during and because of colonialism, and today the power that erupted then has found others means of dominating. The atlas may not be covered in pink anymore but the west’s financial coffers are effectively. What’s more the west’s economy often benefits when we import our own ideology to other countries because if we can sell a lifestyle, we can sell the products that go with it. John Gerasis talks about this; he discusses an “attitude in which they (the Americans) considered themselves to be led by destiny to impose upon the world …[]…their way of looking at things” (75)

Hoek’s failure to recognise just how structurally implicated the west is makes me question the rest of his argument, which ultimately strikes me as naive and uninformed. Saying that I am often plagued with doubts and wonder to myself, am I really only in a position to photograph other slightly kooky, middle-class but relatively impoverished ex actors – i.e. people like me? Is there really always the risk, and risk not worth taking, of offense, cultural appropriation and racist/imperialist insults? Should I stop documenting Just Shelter’s trips altogether, for instance? It’s an ongoing internal discussion I have with myself and no doubt will continue. I suppose the thing is, why am I compelled to document that story when I’m not a documentarian or a journalist? And my answer is always, how am I implicated as a reluctant oppressor (Areliella Azoulay’s phrase) in this situation and what can I do as a concerned citizen of the world to address it? I feel like I covered some of this when I wrote about Imperial Court and don’t intend to dwell on it for much longer. The fact is European nations and the US have horrific records, and much in our current world continues as ever it did, despite the myth we are civilised and advanced, and we westerners have lot to answer for in a number of ways.

Stanley Wolukau- Wanambwa sums it up perfectly. “Just as modernity is inseparable from colonial history, so too is the abjection of “primitive” blackness inseparable from white privilege. We would do well to question the contextualization of race in such photographic work, so that we might more clearly see the white skin lurking beneath its black masks.”

We have been asked to come up with a manifesto. I have tried and for some reason it feels trite. To summarise, the only thing I can do is approach each situation afresh, do my best to be respectful when that seems like the right thing to do, and ignore the rules when necessary if doing so feels appropriate instead. As I try to do with everything I tackle,  I will always aim to question rhetoric from where ever it may stem, and query anything that feels dogmatic or questionable or downright false. One of the things I have noticed with photography is that sometimes it can seem that some people in the profession come across as a bit or a lot sanctimonious. I am aware some people I know may think this about me after I’ve gone to Dunkirk and written about it. So I am trying to refrain from lecturing or writing from a position of self-imposed superiority. On the one hand, I feel passionate that we as a community should think about the reality of hundreds of families and individuals living in the woods, and that it shouldn’t matter whether one believes in a socialist ideal or something more akin to a Keynesian trickle-down effect. The facts are people are living in the woods without any support, being brutalised by police, left outside of any safety net and it is just as wrong as things can get. On the other hand, what gives me the right to document on the few days I travel over there? I’m not volunteering in any significant way. I’m not a refugee. I’m white so laden with that history. What I lack in fiscal capital I make up for in cultural capital and am so on anyone’s terms am relatively privileged. But something about that feels patronising and makes me uncomfortable. Many, although not all, of the people I meet in Dunkirk seem more educated and more accomplished than me. And all have experienced things I can only imagine. But I can imagine and it horrifies me. In the end I think about how these images I’ve taken, many of which I have not released anywhere, and wonder if perhaps they might be of some interest in years to come when humanity looks back at its behaviour and begins to work out how it allowed so many people to die, to live without the most basic of needs being met, and treated with so little dignity and cruelty. perhaps they won’t be and it will just have been me who learned something on those journeys. Other than that, I simply aim to get on with my existence and see how and what occurs. I can’t really have any more of a manifesto than that.

Added on 19 November from another post I wrote on my Sketchbook blog: “And so it seems today, more than ever, if one were to give value to even a small part of Lanier’s thesis, we really need to get in touch with the routes of critical thought, be brave enough to criticise current and emerging ideologies, even ones that we feel most aligned with, to do so in a constructive and adult manner, and be prepared to receive questions and admit flaws in one’s own arguments. I was asked in one of the exercises on my course to come up with a manifesto in relation to my photography and I think this ideal would have to be at the very top of it.” (Field, 2017)

For the record here is a link to a number of manifestos that may be of interest. http://391.org/dada-manifestos.html





One thought on “Exercise 2.4 Colonial Legacy

  1. “….. approach each situation afresh, do my best to be respectful when that seems the right thing to do, and ignore the rules when necessary if doing so feels appropriate instead.” Seems to be the beginning of a pretty good manifesto to me.

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