Linguistic Landscapes of Marginalization, Discrimination, and Racism: A Photography Exhibition Review
Liora Bigon (HIT – Holon Institute of Technology; The Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace, Jerusalem)
The photography exhibition entitled ‘Marginalization, Discrimination, Racism’ was presented from 27 June to 15 July 2021 at HIT’s Library, being curated by Roni Mero, Arch. Amos Bar-Eli, and the Library’s Head Michal Chill. It concluded an undergraduate course in ‘Graphics and Presentation’ at the Institute’s Faculty of Design, instructed by Mero and Bar-Eli. Apart from vibrant class discussions on the variegated aspects of political, ethnic, sectorial and gender-based discrimination, and drafting visual associations – the course included two site-related observation tours. Each tour took place in an Israeli locality in the greater Tel Aviv area, commonly known for its marginalization and image as a complete ‘otherness.’ Namely: the New Central Bus Station in the southern part of the city, where a considerable minority of migrant workers and refugees resides, particularly from eastern Africa, together with mostly Mizrachi Jews (of oriental descent); and, the highly-overcrowded and poor satellite town of Bnei-Brak, a voluntary ghetto predominated by Orthodox Jews who vigorously conduct religious community life. That is, a dilapidated red-tiled cement monster and its increasingly insecure environs in terms of bodily and material experience, versus a resilient cityscape designed by mundane necessities and uncontrolled informality in planning, respectively. “In spite of the physical proximity to HIT’s campus”, say the instructors, and “in spite of the fact that the students were asked to document more of the spatial components rather than of the human ones – both tours stroke the students with unexpected emotive values.”
The outstandingly-sensitive and estheticized corpus of visual documentary presented at the exhibition, renders a picture of top-down, municipal neglect that intersects with a bottom-up neglect on part of the space users in both localities. Such in-situ particularities could be easily associated with politics, policies and mundane activities of other neo-liberal cities globally, where deprivileged populations (first, and next are us?) are doomed to anything between institutionalized disregard and non-planning policies. It seems that the linguistic landscapes of the city as were captured and decoded by the students, serve as an apparatus to explore key societal issues regarding the right to the city in the Lefebvrian sense. By operating as a World City-zens, it also seems that the students intuitively grasped the idea that the current global city is far from embodying a social project, but rather it is a project responsible for a sharp socio-economic, ethnic, and gendered stratification due to the steady increase of various kinds of exploitations; a project that intensifies inequalities, urban divisions and hierarchies in all forms (Sassen 1991; 1994; Friedmann 1995; King 2016).
The photographic corpus of off-the-map quarters, neighborhoods and geo-perceptual peripheries forces us to think about the city in a comprehensive way, and about its ‘cityness’ through the linguistic landscape. This landscape generates a “city otherwise” (Wilhelm-Solomon 2020), or a “step-onomy” (i.e., a stepping toponymy, Bigon and Ben Arrous 2021) – which can be also interpreted as a source of awareness and potentiality. In other words, these linguistic landscapes imply that the urban modernity being sought by the authorities and various elites is one in which informality has no place.
Moreover, the marginalized residents that produce informality are countered by a combination of exclusionary regulatory controls that are supposed to stem informality – controls that are ranging from non-planning to deportation via governance neglect (Kamete 2013, 20). On the other hand, the exhibition’s documentation of linguistic landscapes also implies that powerlessness can become challenging in today’s neo-liberal cities, “which constitute a frontier zone of capabilities where those without power get to make a history, economy, culture” – as posits the urban sociologist Saskia Sassen (2015, n.p.). There, “actors from different worlds have an encounter for which there are no established rules of engagement”; and while large corporations come and go, adds Sassen, “the fighting poor are present. They are not asking for power, but rather saying ‘you know what? we are here, that’s all, the city is also mine’” (2015, n.p.). Even if in unconscious way, the students’ photos enframed extra-formality and brought it to the fore by demarcating its linguistic expressions as a legitimate and integral part of the city – powerful through its powerlessness, and here to be stubbornly stay.
Bigon, Liora and Ben Arrous Michel, Street Naming Cultures in Africa and Israel (London, New York: Routledge, 2021, forthcoming).
Friedmann, John, “Where We Stand: A Decade of World City Research”, in: World Cities in a World system, edited by Paul L. Knox and Peter J. Taylor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), pp. 21–47.
Kamete, Amin, “On Handling Urban Informality in Southern Africa”, Geografiska Annaler: Series B, Human Geography, 95, 1 (2013), pp. 17–31.
King, Anthony D., Writing the Global City: Globalisation, Postcolonialism and the Urban (London: Routledge, 2016).
Lefebvre, Henri, “The Right to the City”, in: Writings on Cities, edited by Eleonore Kofman and Elizabeth Lebas (Cambridge, Mass.: Wiley-Blackwell, 1996), pp. 147‒159.
Sassen, Saskia, The Global City: New York, London, Tokyo (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991).
Sassen, Saskia, Cities in a World Economy (Thousands Oaks: Pine Forge Press, 1994).
Sassen, Saskia, “The Politics of Equity: Who Owns the City?”, 2015. Lecture available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UAQuyizBIug (visited 16 July 2021).
Wilhelm-Solomon, Matthew, “The City Otherwise: The Deferred Emergency of Occupation in Inner‐City Johannesburg”, Cultural Anthropology, 35, 3 (2020), pp. 404–434.