Seismography of Struggles
Towards a Global History of Critical and Cultural Journals
Seismography of Struggles is an inventory of non-European Critical and Cultural journals or produced in the West by diasporic communities—including those of the African, Indian, Caribbean, Asian, and South American diaspora—in the wake of the revolutionary movements of the end of the 18th century up to the watershed year of 1989.
The sound and visual work included here reflects populations who have experienced colonialism, practices of slavery, Apartheid, and genocide. Also included are works from others who experienced violent dictatorships as well as brutal political and cultural convulsions.
The struggle against slavery is at the root of many critical and cultural journals. Colonialism impacted the social and cultural cohesion of a number of communities and was also fought against in both writing and gesture by constantly renewing the modalities of political action.
In the 18th century, the American Revolution failed to put an end to slavery and to the dispossession of Native Americans. The abolitionist drive was principally nourished bymaroonage, a method of resistance and resettlement by African Americans, especially by former slaves. This began as early as the 16th century, first in Africa, spreading to the Mascarene Islands, then to the Americas and the West Indies, through its clandestine political and artistic practices—inaugurating a practice of singing, poetry, and dance that continues to this day—and, later, through its narratives and texts. Very few materials from that era have survived and the rare few that exist are hard to access. Yet, it is in them that a model of critical resistance was born and realized in various media, as well as in cloth, wood, papers, and a variety of signs and drawings. The equivalent practice in Europe was Samizdat, which involved the clandestine copying and distribution of literature banned by the state, especially formerly in the communist countries of eastern Europe. Samizdat was produced underground by Jews to fight against oppression. But all of these precarious practices have withered over time.
These journals constantly affirm their thwarted ambition for independence; as a whole, they are made up of singular voices from bold writers who are drawn to renewed political and cultural prospects. The oldest material evidence of this eminently modern exercise is L’Abeille Haytienne, a critical journal that was founded on the island of Haiti in 1817. The journal expresses the constant desire for emancipation. Christopher Columbus landed in Haiti in December 1492 and named it Hispaniola. The island later became a French territory and was renamed Dominica and, over time, more than 400,000 slaves live there and were subjected to France’s ferocious rule. C.L.R. James noted that, in 1789, this territory alone accounted for more than two thirds of French foreign trade. In 1804, the revolt of subjugated populations gave rise to the birth of a small independent state of Haiti. Even though this cause was won, the struggles continued.
For over two centuries, print media has been a space that has accommodated varied experiences. Born out of a sense of urgency in response to colonialism, journals have aligned with a critical, political, aesthetic, poetic, and literary ambitions and helped sustain graphical and scriptural creativity. They have appeared with regularity in the struggles that women and men have waged for their emancipation. Consisting of formal singularities and political objectives that support of human communities and their aspirations, the journal, this fragile object, often pulled together difficult material that was motivated by noble causes and the determination of committed authors. The journal reveals a rare aesthetic power. In this all-digital era, we must reestablish and qualify its formal, aesthetic, and political function on a global scale.
The Seismography of Struggles exhibition is presented in partnership with The Institut national d’histoire de l’art (INHA), Paris.