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Brazil 1, Germany 7 (Credit: The Telegraph)

To all new students: welcome to Berlin. As you make your way through the city, you will hopefully immerse yourself in the endless exhibitions and concerts, wide-ranging festivals celebrating all things from film to butter, engaging street art, striking museums adorned with (not uncommonly) stolen artefacts, shabby clubs that will reject you thrice in a row, and countless döner places that will have you believing döner is as much a part of the German cuisine as a schnitzel. At this point, it just might be. Many things in Berlin will enchant you, but it is only fair to warn you that there is also an adaptation period (which I have affectionately nicknamed my existence here thus far) that most non-Berliners will have to face.

Coming from Brazil, I don’t think the cultural differences could be any more striking than I have found them to be. After 17 hours of flying, one goes from saying “good morning” to strangers on the street to inadvertently sharing one-second eye contact at the U Bahn – which here could be interpreted as risqué flirting. Why would one look a person in the eyes? We have shoes for that.

Indeed, it is a peculiar day in São Paulo when the handrails of the train are not used for pole dancing by a teenager with a sense of humor or a street artist as a performance prop. I was not naive enough to expect a Carnaval at the U-Bahn, but it did surprise me when I dropped a water bottle on the train by accident and observed that the facial expressions that ensued could contextually fit a funeral. I know you are big on recycling, Germany, but I was going to pick it up.

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“Thoughts” — a painting I made during my gap year in 2016. (Credit: Lucia Pradel)

I stared through the open window. My lungs filled with the cold winter air, and an odd sense of hope invaded my soul. A small ray of light peaked out from behind the clouds and rested next to me. God then whispered through my right ear: “This year will be good, Ana. Not that the rest have not been good, but this one will be especially so.”

I smiled and said: “Thank you for the blessing,” and the thin ray of sun hid once more.

After hearing those brief words, I lay flat on my bed and thought about life. These days my ceiling had become my favorite canvas because my imagination and memories could stain it without leaving a visible trace. I stared at it for a few seconds, and my eyelids began to feel heavy. Then, quickly enough, a hollowness invaded the depths of my chest. This feeling of emptiness was not new: It had been tingling all through my being for a few months. Oddly enough, though, as soon as this new year rang in, it became louder — acute.

As the days passed, I continued to experience the same sensation. I spoke to my friends about it and tried to explain this “emptiness,” but no words could capture the feeling. Even when I was able to explain, it never felt like I had said enough, which is why I could not blame them for their lack of useful advice. Some replies ran along the lines of “Why are you thinking so much?” and “Do not think about things so much, Ana.” A small number of them sympathized, saying they “got it,” but then stayed silent. Others would just shake my words off by telling me to “just leave it; it will solve itself, Ana.”

But I couldn’t just leave the nothingness, this emptiness, alone.

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Veronika doing silk acrobatics around campus (Credit: Anna Zakelj)

IKEA recently sponsored a performance piece staged by the theater troupe led by BCB second-year Veronika Rišňovská (HAST). The challenge? Create an engaging, interactive performance — in a shopping mall. How to go about such a project, in a site like a shopping mall, where interactions with strangers are typically minimal and people arrive to shop, not be distracted by theater? Veronika and I sat down to discuss her theater troupe’s creative process and performances, and the possible future of the modern shopping mall.

 

Music:

  1. “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits
  2. Excerpts from shopping mall advertisements as found here, here, and here.

 

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BCB Promotional Poster for Champ of the Camp (2014). (Credit: BCB)

Mahmoud Kaabour’s film Champ of the Camp (2014)  opens up with the song of a South Asian man set against the backdrop of a modernistic building covered in glass windows. The song is called “Long Separation” and the setting is the United Arab Emirates (UAE). This sort of  juxtaposition becomes thematic of the movie: the poor migrant worker stands in front of a luxurious building that was built by people like him but that will never be a space he could inhabit. The man sings: “No one knows my unknown story.” Through the film, Kaabour attempts to tell the story of this man and many others like him in the first ever documentary about the controversial labor camps in the UAE.

On the 7th of December, BCB showed just who and what are behind the shiny skyscrapers of the Emirates. We were lucky enough to have the Lebanese/UAE director Mahmoud Kaabour at the screening to discuss his award-winning documentary Champ of the Camp with us. The documentary was filmed in the UAE labor camps that house migrant workers from South Asia who are mainly employed as manual laborers in construction. For years, no one was allowed to film in these camps as it would cause controversy for the UAE: This kept these workers practically invisible to the international community. After years of trying to get the film permits, Kaabour and his team were finally allowed to shoot this film under the guise of making a documentary about a singing/talent competition for the migrant workers organized by Western Union.

“We were talking about the labor issue without talking about the labor issue. Otherwise, [the UAE government] would’ve shut us down,” explained Kaabour after the screening. Even though its tone is neutral, just with its existence, The Champ of the Camp has given the Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi workers of the UAE a voice — a narrative voice as well as a singing one —  that they sorely lacked. 

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A man on his daily commute (Credit: Elisa Soto J.)*

Venezuela’s pain has grown to unimaginable heights. With the highest known oil reserves in the world, it was once the richest country in Latin America. Now, inflation soars while GDP plummets. Murder rates are at an all time high and basic medicine is barely accessible. The humanitarian crisis has led tens of thousands to leave their home. All carry a piece of that pain with them; among them, my best friend.

We met at boarding school in 2013 around the time the crisis took a turn for the worst. After Nicolás Maduro’s election that year, conditions worsened. As my friend and I grew closer, she confided in me her fears. There were feelings of betrayal and defeat, but mostly of utter powerlessness. She would stay up all night trying to stay connected. Distance takes most of your power away; the one thing you can do is stay informed. You latch onto information — reading and sharing, reading and sharing. Unfortunately, most news is bad news.

With the best intentions, 16 year-old me attempted to help. Working within my frame of reference, I treated it as I would any other heartbreak.

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“If desire [in a society] is repressed, it is because every position of desire…is capable of calling into question the established order of society…it is revolutionary in its essence…It is therefore of vital importance for a society to repress desire, and even to find something more efficient than repression, so that repression, hierarchy, exploitation, and servitude are themselves desired…that does not at all mean that desire is something other than sexuality, but that sexuality and love do not live in the bedroom of Oedipus, they dream instead of wide-open spaces, and…do not let themselves be stocked within an established order.”

— Gilles Deleuze, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia

Stencil graffiti depicting Elmahdy, in the form of the nude blog photo of herself. Its text also refers to the case of Samira Ibrahim. (Credit: Women in the Revolution)

In his essay Arab Porn (2017), the Egyptian author and journalist Youssef Rakha deconstructs an aspect of Egypt’s cultural history of the new millennium. He makes a case for how and why amateur Arab pornography acts as a political tool against the sexually repressive status quo. He attempts to account for the failures of the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 by connecting the activists’ shortcomings and ultimately frustration to the nature of Arab porn, which is reflective of the Egyptian society’s approach to sexuality, culture, politics and change. Sharing Rakha’s views, I see the Egyptian Revolution as a failed one: It replaced a military dictator with a misogynistic Islamic fundamentalist one, turning the country into a theocracy that was later overthrown in a military coup to have Egypt return once more to military dictatorship.

While Egypt does not have an official porn industry, if one searches for Arab Porn, plenty of home-made, low-quality videos can be found. Through a voyeuristic gaze, Rakha analyses various porn videos (links to which are included in his book), and draws what I perceive as far-fetched connections between the amateur porn industry, the Arab Spring in general, and Egypt specifically.

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Stepping through gauzy curtains (Credit: Clara Fung, Institute for Art and Architecture, University of Fine Arts, Vienna)

Spatial memory is a term often used to describe the neurological process of recalling where something happened or where an object was placed. This type of memory is also used to project into the future, to plan a route to a desired location.

It is hard to consider spatial memory without invoking a poetic light. What is this intangible part of us that is tied to places and our memories of them? How is it that we can still recall the layout of a childhood home despite not having stepped foot in it in years?

The themes of the “Tread Softly” exhibit included “the city, migration, and memory”. The title is an allusion to the W.B. Yeats poem, “The Cloths of Heaven”, where he writes, “Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.” [*1] It considered how the cities we live in become the space in which we operate, tenderly attending to ideas of spatial memories, among others.

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The School of Athens (Credit: Raphael, 1509-1511)

“The story so far:
In the beginning the Universe was created.
This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.” (Adams, The Restaurant at The End of the Universe)

Whether the core was excavated from the bowels of the Earth 15 years ago or 500, the fact remains that Plato’s Republic is a timeless piece of philosophy that embodies the very essence of the discipline. It not only provokes a constant reinterpretation of our understandings and beliefs, but because the subject of the book is the human soul, a phenomenon unchanged from Socrates’ time despite changes in the environment, its relevance remains regardless of the epoch.

No matter how much thermodynamics likes to emphasise that time is the only constant, it cannot be denied that some times seem to change disproportionately to others. Athens isn’t the same mild-wintered, Mediterranean wonderland it was when Socrates frolicked in the streets: the tides are changing, and people must adapt to the urban heat island effect in the city centre if they want to survive. This is why, on noticing the general unrest in the student mind regarding Plato and the (long dead) old (white) man’s place in the twenty-first century, I felt perhaps it was time someone wrote a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Republic, to show what one can expect when opening this treasure-chest.  Here’s what my Guide has to say about the unbelievable things they talk about in the Republic:

Listen, Listen:

“In the next place, get yourself an adequate light somewhere; and look yourself — and call in your brother and Polemarchus and the others — whether we can somehow see where the justice might be and where the injustice…” (The Republic, 427d)

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