Archives, ties and (ID)eas - Reading of selected texts

Dilda Ramazan, What does it mean to be Central Asian, today?

For this inaugural issue of Ruyò entitled ‘To my mind’, it seems of particular relevance to start from the ground zero of all the future questions this artist-run publication will definitely pose, trying to suggest some elements of response to the ultimate inquiry preoccupying so many of my compatriots and contemporaries. It goes like this: what does it mean to be Central Asian today? Below is the list of my fourteen consecutive points one can consider a manifesto.

  • Being Central Asian in 2023 means carrying within oneself the cultural code and the memory of Turkestan and its diverse indigenous population of both Turkic and Persian origin.
  • Being Central Asian in 2023 means being descendants of numerous of those who were once strangers to these lands, both forced or desired, but who, throughout centuries, decades, years and months of living here, made the region their new home.
  • Being Central Asian in 2023 means collectively undertaking the attempt to finally re-center ourselves and our unique experiences. There is a reason the region is called Central Asia, right?
  • Being Central Asian in 2023 means being classified in a multitude of both geographical and political units, neither of which fully grasping our complex identities. In fact, be it a post-Socialist bloc, former Soviet states group, Global South or Global East countries, Turkic or, more generally, Asian world, none of the mentioned can truly grant ourselves an adequate representation. This signifies that not only all forms of identitarianism are fake, but also that our rich heritage and our strategic geographical position provided us with an incredibly flexible identity which goes beyond any essentialization.
  • Being Central Asian in 2023 means permanently struggling with our authoritarian governments for having the bare minimum when it comes to human rights and dignity. Policing us, they never succeed at breaking our will. 
  • Being Central Asian in 2023 means being constantly menaced by the expansion politics and insatiable imperial appetite of the neighboring terrorist state.
  • Being Central Asian in 2023 most often means needing to learn our own mother tongues anew for they were neglected and suppressed.
  • Being Central Asian in 2023 means finding beauty and force in what was once labeled as ‘uncivilized’ and ‘uneducated’.
  • But being Central Asian in 2023 does not mean being trapped in this ‘victim of colonialism’ state at all, no. It means quite the opposite: realizing what was lost and what was its price and that probably there was collaborationism and harm caused also by the locals, not only by the outsiders, but eventually taking agency in constructing a better future.
  • Being Central Asian in 2023 means being forged by wars, both those which were waged within the region itself, marking its tragic history, and the one that is now raging on our very threshold. 
  • Being Central Asian in 2023 means quite probably being at risk to access drinking water in the following decades. It also means to breathe polluted air without the official authorities even caring about it.
  • Being Central Asian in 2023 means being protected, heard and taken care of only by fellow activist communities, while also being constantly silenced by the existing corrupted political regimes.
  • Being Central Asian in 2023 means being legal successor of the region’s dynamic artistic scene encompassing, technically speaking, a rich variety of media and, thematically, a large number of different subjects and theoretical discourses that manage to reconcile nomadism, shamanism, history and identity politics with queer and gender studies, decolonisation and non-human agency.
  • While being all of the above-mentioned and none of it at the same time, most of all, being Central Asian in 2023 means partaking in this beautiful process of collective imagining and building. Starting from the common ground, which was and will always be there, rooting ourselves in it, we now plant the future which will finally reflect our visions and no longer anyone else’s.

Asia Tsisar, The Role You Made Me Play : About Unobvious Difficulties of Studying Eastern European Art,

There is nothing more satisfying than finding yourself in the position of a narrator, sacrificing your ego to give voice to something that was invisible until you decided to name it. It is an act of claiming your position towards the story and setting its vision for future generations. The very act of storytelling plays a cruel trick on a story. First, it becomes preordained, with the logic of the story leading to the assumption that this is how it was meant to be, that this was its intended unfolding. Second, the very fact of the story’s existence is centrally constitutive in its subsequent history. It is only after the story is told that we can challenge it, look for flaws, inaccuracies, and imperfections. The history of a story is always defined by its first narrator because to begin talking about something, it must first be uttered. We do not know stories that have not been uttered, as well as we don’t see what has not been named. To name something is to give it a body, a mass, an outline. And it is for the right to name that the main battle is waged.

This text is about the right to name and tell a story, and therefore, to be heard. It’s about the right to set the vector of conversation and thus determine the prospects for its development. And yes, all of this is directly related to the history of Eastern European art.


Teacher: Dear students, please find Eastern Europe on the map. You have 3 minutes.
Western Art Museums: Dear teacher, I know the answer. According to the index of works in my repositories, Eastern Europe includes the ex-Soviet Union. So, it’s Russia, the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, the Caucasian countries (Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan), and Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan).
German Art Museums: Dear teacher, I have the same list, but also Poland.
Teacher: Sure, you do, dear.
Geography: But that’s absurd. You’ve literally named more than 10 different parts of the world under one title. How can Central Asia be Eastern Europe?
Central Asia (all together raising hands).
Teacher: There was a hand from the Cold War.
Cold War: The list is incomplete. It should include Poland, but also Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia…
21st Century: But Czechoslovakia doesn’t even exist anymore…
Cold War: I’m not finished! And Yugoslavia.
Yugoslavia: Well, that’s a revelation…
Geography: This doesn’t make any sense. If the Balkan peninsula is Eastern Europe, then why isn’t Greece part of it?
Greece: Please, we secured ourselves from those conversations long before Christ was born.
Geography: But the world map hasn’t really changed since those times… It’s not like a couple of years before Christ, there was an ocean instead of Eastern Europe.
Ukraine: Oh, I know a part of the world which would be just perfect for an ocean…
Teacher: Guess we have a problem. If Geography is confused, let’s ask History. What is Eastern Europe?
19th Century: I’ve honestly never heard of anything like this.
20th Century: Sorry, guess I’m sick. Can I go home?
Teacher: Oh, okay. Maybe let’s ask those who are on the list what they think about it.
Poland: Am I Eastern Europe? Seriously? That’s just insulting.
Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, and Hungary (in chorus): Are there any precise criteria?
Geography: Geography?
Ukraine: I don’t mind. I mean, it’s still Europe, right?
Belarus: Uh, I’m not ready with an answer.
Teacher: What about the rest?
Balkans and Baltic States (in chorus): What are the other options?
Cold War: I’m not sure there are any.
Teacher: Sorry, guys, where is the Non-Aligned Movement?
All: They’re not attending this class anymore.
Teacher: Ah, okay, please continue.
21st Century: There should be other options. I mean, if the existing answers don’t work, what stops us from inventing new ones?
Teacher: I like your point! Let’s think about what stops us.
Political History: Well, Eastern Europe isn’t really a geographical term. I mean, something for sure geographically lies to the east of Europe, but that’s not the point. Eastern Europe is a political term, and it was invented during the Cold War in the contest between communist and capitalist blocs.
Cold War: See, I told you I know better. So, Eastern Europe consists of several socialist states which, during the Cold War, were considered the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union. As it collapsed, Russia inherited the rights of the Soviet Union, and the newly independent countries around it inherited the status of its spheres of influence. Therefore, before 1991, it was Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, and after it became Eastern Europe and Russia. See, very easy.
Theory: But who said so? I mean, in theory, those countries, after the fall of socialist regimes, could have become anything they wanted and choose any developmental path appropriate for them.
Russia: Hmm, but realistically, Eastern Europe is in fact Russia. You know, all Russians are Slavs, all Slavs are Russians. It’s logical.
Logic: Wait, so Eastern Europe is not a geographical area, but a term invented for identifying Russia’s priorities in international policy?
Geography: Okay, let’s imagine, just for a moment, that this is true. Then where does this potential Russia/Eastern Europe end?
Western Europe: Right at the point where Western Europe begins. Geography: And where exactly is that?
Western Europe: Right at the point where European civilization starts. Geography: 0___0
Logic: Did anyone notice this switch from ‘Western European’ to just ‘European’?
European Union: Hold on a second, let’s not rush in our assumptions. There is no doubt that European civilization is the basis of Europe, but we kind of have never really finalized its eastern border. I mean, the border should exist, for sure, but we are willing to leave it potentially open for those who can prove that they belong to our civilization and share our values.
Geography: But what you call the eastern border doesn’t lie to the East. North, East, South, it’s literally everywhere… And it’s not really my business, but I’m just curious, what are the ways to prove that any of these are Europe?
European Union: It depends on the situation, but trust us, we are managing this process. We are very flexible and know exactly when there are enough proofs.
Geography: So, there are no objective criteria? You just decide according to your own will and needs?
European Union: Well, we do believe that both our will and needs are very objective.
Logic: Wait, so on one hand, Eastern Europe is a term invented for identifying Russia’s spheres of influence, and on the other, to mark the fluid borderline of Western Europe, which exists to highlight the difference between ‘us/Europe/civilization’ and ‘them/not Europe/barbarians’?
Balkans, Baltic States, Central Europe, Ukraine, Central Asia (in chorus): Well, this is really insulting!!!
Western Europe: Are you aware that what you call Western Europe is actually a bunch of different countries, each with its own history, values, and culture, and they don’t necessarily like each other?
Eastern Europe: Welcome to the club, then.
All together: Did you hear that? Who said it?
Poor confused child: Dear teacher, so where is Eastern Europe? Can you show it on the map?
Teacher: Oh, it’s so confusing to be honest. Let’s make it your homework.


– The Other is not “who” but “what”. It is a function. Its existence is not permanent and not complete, but rather fragmented. It appears at times when there is a need for it and disappears when that need ends. Its purpose is to illustrate, to be an example.

– It lacks its own logic and self-reasons, which is why the Other always remains unexplainable, mysterious, and illogical.

– The Other never speaks for itself. It cannot exist without a narrator, without someone who speaks on its behalf.

– The Other is also a broken rule. It exists outside the boundaries of my established norms and cannot be explained by the categories sufficient to explain me. For this reason, the Other endangers the very basis of my existence, but at the same time becomes the object of my fascination.


I said, “Everything I know about the East, I’ve learned in the West.”

Ruta said, “I’m different, but not different enough.”


Is there an Easter European art?

What do you mean – an art by Eastern Europeans?

A lot of Eastern Europeans do art, but is there an art made only by Eastern Europeans? 

All Eastern Europeans?

No, just an art, no matter how little of it – not a style and not a technique, but something broader – that’s done only by Eastern Europe?

I don’t know. Is there?

Well, there should be. The Eastern European experience – both social and political- is different from just European or the rest of the world.

And every experience is different from every other experience. Art is individual.

It is still possible to generalize about it. Renaissance art is different from contemporary one. Women are different from the man; migrants’ experience is different from locals. And Eastern Europe is different from the rest.

But it is a mixture. Art is international.

Sure, art is probably more connected to the idea of internationality than any other field. There are specific  themes and styles that transcend national borders, reflecting common human patterns interpreted by artists from diverse backgrounds through their own experiences. It is also true that artists from certain backgrounds are expected to transcend, to distil local particularities into forms digestible for an international audience. But it’s dangerous, like building a house on the sand. If you don’t know your own identity, the real meaning of your own experience, you can’t just jump up and “transcend”. It’s difficult to define even the overstudied subjects. What we refer to be the “History of art” is in fact the history of Western European art. Although it is silently acknowledged as the ‘gold standard’ against which we measure all other art histories, any attempt to publish a book titled  ‘Western European Art’ would be rather seen as an overview, we would know it is a simplification. Yet, bookstore shelves are filled with titles like ‘African Art’, ‘Islamic Art’ or ‘Eastern European Art’, which are expected to provide sufficient information about their subjects, defining what it is and how it should be interpreted.

Well, whatever ‘Eastern European art’ is, it was invented in the West, and so all its self-articulation was constructed to be obedient to the Western gaze. The lack of self-grounding is clear from a quick look at what has actually been called ‘Eastern European art’ over the last 80 years. In the 1960s, when the concept likely emerged,  Eastern European art consisted of three national art scenes: Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary. Then, during the 1980s and 1990s, Romania was acknowledged, and the Balkans were added to the map. By the 2010s, the  Baltic countries were given this label. Following Russia’s invasion, Ukraine suddenly started to be seen as part of  Eastern European art. Belarus, Moldova — it’s clear the list is still full of blind spots because it was never intended to be a representation of a geographical map. What I’m trying to highlight here has nothing to do with any specific country; the term ‘Eastern European art’ itself is the main issue. We pretend it denotes a cultural region, but in fact, we use it to mark the sparkle of something that catches the Western eye in a groundbreaking political circumstance. News, the story around, always serves as an occasion for Eastern European art to be shown,  studied, or even spoken about. This geopolitical distinction leads to the common perception that ‘Eastern  European art’ is not art per se. It’s seen as a specific version of art – the art about something, the art of something,  something-something art, but never just art. When something appears under the label ‘Eastern European art,’ it attracts attention, meaning that, for better or worse, you are not invisible anymore. But the moment after it happens, to be recognized as equal in the European art process, you need to prove at any cost that you are anything but Eastern Europe. 

In this context, ‘Eastern European’ is deemed more significant than ‘art’ itself, as it predetermines how this art should be viewed, treated, and understood. However, nobody, whose consciousness has been raised, wants to be seen as merely a label, an occasion for a story, or an illustration of a history book.

But think about it more deeply. Do you hear yourself? Is there any sense in denying your own story,  simplifying the experience central to the very essence of who you are, just to be visible through the lens of someone who, until yesterday, had no idea about your existence? One might say ‘Eastern European art’ is not self-sufficient because it always assumes the position of needing to provide additional explanation. But I would take it a step further, saying that ‘Eastern European art’ is the first to try explaining itself to the rest. On one hand,  it’s understandable—when faced with being perceived as the complete ‘Other,’ the initial response is to break down this wall. You would try to tell your story to make it more understandable and known, seeking connections and similarities. However, something labelled ‘Eastern European art’ has almost never transformed this situation into a real dialogue with an exchange of thoughts, where two equal partners contribute to mutual understanding,  and the action of one prompts the action of the other. It remains always a one-sided game. 

But isn’t it a natural reaction for someone who has been put in the position of having ‘to prove’ that they belong to something? Someone who wasn’t treated as an equal from the very beginning.

I would like to see all these things forgotten and revised according to new criteria; otherwise, we will just go in circles. The label ‘Eastern European art’ is seen as a deviation, something extra, something that requires too much explanation. But the act of explanation, the compulsion to conform to the ‘norm’, is what makes it so different. The word ‘understudied’ directly leads to the word ‘undervalued.’ What we know is a question of power dynamics, a war of narratives. A studied subject leads us to think that it was studied purposefully, that it is deemed more important than others. But everything we know as important was named so by someone at some point. We are taught to ignore certain stories to make our own more solid; we are also taught to sacrifice some stories to emphasize the importance of others. And some stories are just too complicated, and we don’t have the language to tell them, so we give up on them.

Every time something is labelled ‘Eastern European art,’ it has to fit into words and meanings designed for someone else’s experience. It doesn’t really matter if it is the need to fit local art processes into the vocabulary of  Western art history; to publish 10 studies just to be able to suggest that certain art practices of women in the  Eastern Bloc could be called ‘feminist,’ even though these appeared simultaneously but independently from the tradition of feminist art in the West; or, coming from a country with an absent or rather well-forgotten political tradition, you as an artist need to invent non-existing tensions between left and right-wing powers there, just to be able to ‘sell’ this to European galleries as a trending topic. It is both sad and ridiculous because, instead of working on what actually happened, you are forced to explain why something that was ‘supposed’ to happen didn’t. And most importantly, all these efforts prevent the actual understanding of what ‘Eastern European art’ is  or could be, but just turn it into a product designed exclusively for export, while in reality, the king is naked. 

Does it mean that something we call Eastern European art just doesn’t exist?  

Maybe, but it could also be an example of the right term with the wrong meaning. I know that the vivid existence of Eastern European art, beyond the labels, is wholly sensible to me, even if I can’t analyze it. Having had our heads turned exclusively to the West for so many years, I feel like we naturally came to the question— Who are we to each other? Is there something here, in between us, that can possibly overtake the meaning of the term projected onto us? I started to feel it vividly the morning Russia invaded Ukraine. At that exact moment,  something that is Eastern Europe was shaking and burning red. It wasn’t a ‘deep concern’, or the other answer of the cold mind. It was deeply instinctive – support, solidarity, anger or denial, it came from the very core of what we are. The moment it happened, it became obvious that we are connected, just like we share the same blood system. It was a clear message—Eastern Europe, just as Eastern European art, does exist, even if we still don’t know what it is. 

But you are so vague…

I know. On one hand, it’s intentional. I don’t want to draw any conclusions, as conclusions are often taken for granted and stop the flow of thoughts. On the other hand, even if I wanted to, I couldn’t draw conclusions on this subject now, because I don’t know enough. This isn’t knowledge that should be concluded by one person, any person, as none of us knows enough or has the right to settle this vision. We might think that Eastern Europe is an artificial construct. Okay, but tell me what isn’t? Whatever region we know, whatever thing we can possibly imagine, was once named so and therefore was forced to exist according to the rules of the given name. But it doesn’t mean we can’t queer it. 

Eastern Europe is an experience, and we are still yet to put the words for it into the vocabulary. We can do it by the old rules, or invent new ones – to see the things that fall out of the common pattern, not as flaws, but as directions to enlarge the ‘norm’; to make polylogue the main way to tell our stories; to accept the beauty of a nonlinearity; not to be afraid to end our sentences with doubt and question marks. ?.

Maath Musleh, Nick Estes, Working Towards Insigenous Liberation From Turtle Island to Palestine,

In this series of letters, regular contributor and Lakota historian Nick Estes exchanges with PalFest co-organizer Maath Musleh about Indigenous struggles and solidarities between Palestine and Turtle Island, but also with Indigenous nations in Bolivia, Venezuela, and Aotearoa.


September 27, 2019

Dear Maath,

I began this letter in Mni Luzahan (Rapid City), a white-dominated settlement sitting at the base of He Sapa, the Black Hills, our sacred mountains. More than 50 Indigenous nations maintain historical ties to this place, a land stolen from us to mine gold, a metal to us that had no intrinsic value.

This is our al-Quds.

For Lakotas, we call it “the heart of everything that is.” From space, the outline of the mountains looks like a human heart. The stories tell us humanity began here, shaped from the dirt — which is red like our blood.

N. Scott Momaday, a Kiowa author, once wrote that his grandmother’s stories of this landscape “lay like memory in her blood.” Confined to the reservation most of her life, she had never visited He Sapa but recounted her people’s history of this place.

Yesterday, I read an article about the migratory birds that fly into Gaza. The quails enter and leave, if not captured by the hungry, doing what many Gazans can’t: they enter and leave the world’s largest open air prison camp.

The U.N. predicts Gaza will be uninhabitable by next year — 2020. (Was it habitable this year? Last?)

Last week, millions throughout the world went on strike against climate change — in fear of an uninhabitable world. A young, inspiring Norwegian girl is the poster child for the movement. I wonder: What if she were a Palestinian, Syrian, or Guatemalan child? Would there be the same kind of mass support? No one seems to care that a future has already been taken from these children. They make news only when they die: their bodies wash ashore; they die in a prison camp; or they are gunned by Israeli snipers.

A European child crosses an ocean by boat for a righteous cause, embraced by millions. A Syrian child dies making a perilous journey seeking refuge in the very nations that have destroyed hers — and only harsher immigration laws are passed.

A pit sits in my stomach as I remember the beauty of our mountains, where we became human. What’s the point of saving the planet if billions are still hungry, unsafe, and under the constant shadow of war?

I am finishing this letter far from home, in the South, in Tewa lands. But He Sapa, my home, is always close to my heart. I remember the stories.

Stories narrate the human condition. And Marx once said, “Nothing human is alien to me.”


September 29, 2019

Dear Nick,

I am noting the names you mentioned, Mni Luzahan, He Sapa, and Tewa. I often feel ashamed exploring the causes of people in other parts of the world. I am confronted with several narratives, and my humble knowledge cannot help me dive into the right narrative. Of course, there could be several legitimate narratives for the struggling people, but it is always that colonial-complicit narrative that stands out. The production of knowledge is grounded in these mainstream narratives that the narrative of the people’s struggle is buried.

And hence, I try to capture the names and terms used by the Natives as they are my lead in search for the buried knowledge. I serve my students these terms to put them a step forward on the path of knowledge. The knowledge about people’s struggles; the knowledge about people’s histories and hopes for the future. The knowledge about what brings us together as oppressed people. Not only because it is human to empathize with others, but also, it is crucial for our struggle to understand how colonialism today is not a local entity, rather a global network.

It really pushes my button when an academic or a journalist uses “Israel” in a geographic reference to Palestine. Many well-intentioned think that they’re being “politically-correct,” or they are afraid of being ousted completely from the global mainstream network of knowledge. They might believe that it is confusing to people if they start using what they know are the right terms. It is not confusing. Israel is the name of the Zionist entity that colonizes Palestine.

To build a global network of solidarity and struggle, we must build a radical system of knowledge. Our communication should be rooted in the same system. And that’s when our solidarity will be impactful and meaningful. Otherwise, it is not enough that we say, we are in solidarity with the struggle of people here and there. We cannot defeat an enemy that speaks a common language by using their language. Language is powerful enough to dictate the limits of our thoughts and actions.

Greta is a star here in Sweden. Few days ago she met Trudeau, who plans to honor her work for climate by naming a 1,500 km pipeline after her. Speaking of a paradox, and the need to disassociate from the sphere of the colonial oppressor in our common struggle.

I write to you juggling between following up on the story of a Palestinian prisoner and the kidnapping of Alaa in Egypt this morning. Also, catching up on stories from the Palestinian women’s movement Tal3at. And thinking, now it is a good time to start working on my course assignments. And I keep asking myself, how can we balance our lives to truly practice our humanity as part of a global struggle? It feels like we’re cogs in a machine. How can we free ourselves from the machine?

I will get back to following up on the stories, as that is all I can do now, hopefully not for long.



October 24, 2019

Dear Nick,

I write to you from Beit Safafa. My favorite time of the year here, the olive harvest season. I am already warming up for it. This season is more than just the olives we pick or the gathering. It is a season where we commit to the land, for the collective ownership of the land.

The Zionists has been confiscating lands for decades now, and especially farmers’ lands. Or they would target the people’s connection to the land with economic policies that will force them to change their lifestyles. Even their proxy in parts of Palestine, the PA, has been imposing economic policies that saw the people migrate from their villages to the city. People were pushed out of sectors where they are productive to the services sector that chain them to the authority of the State and the Bank. Their connection to the land was targeted, intentionally or unintentionally.

This has been going on for so long. If anytime is a good time, this could also be the best time to start. We need to start working towards the liberation. As oppressed nations, the colors of our chains are the same. Our shackles have the same ring to the ear as we struggle through this life. And although within that same structure of oppression some of us are more privileged than others, it is the same fight. We either fight it together, or there is no point of the fight. The enemy is more organized than ever.

To emerge victorious from our struggle against the colonial and imperial powers, we need to start working with a purpose and a plan. We need to imagine the life post-colonialism, a real post not a neo. We need to imagine our lives beyond the neoliberalism that is holding us against the wall! We need to imagine. Without imagination we have no revolution. We share enough stories of life pre-colonialism. But a revolution cannot take you backward. It only takes you forward. Forward to a world that we collectively build. It’s a world that we need to imagine! We need to imagine every detail of it, not just a general idea of sociopolitical or socioeconomic principles. Most of the people need to know where they’re heading before they take the step. They need to see it. Imagination is the realistic tool of a revolution. Pragmatism is the sly tool of imperialism. It cannot be a revolution if it accepts the rules of engagement.

But we also cannot commit to a revolution before we adapt our lifestyles. Our lifestyles, generally, needs to be revolutionized. We need to build a system of resilience that will help us stand for long. We cannot be dependent on the system in every aspect of our life and seek to destroy it. That will eventually influence our decision at crucial stages. The people’s resilience is dependent on a parallel system of survival under which we operate. This is not a call to abandon technology although we have to seriously revise how we use the technology. We cannot lead a revolution on Facebook for example. It is a corporation that is not only complicit with the colonial but sees itself as part of it. It is not a matter of problematic policies that could be influenced. They do not hide it; they publicly declare their positions. Not the last of it signing a security agreement with the Zionist regime in 2016. They have put their products in the service of the colonial military regime, not only in Palestine, but also other parts of the world. There are thousands of digital tools that could replace Facebook products. If we cannot make that simple decision of using an alternative digital product, how can we achieve the revolution.

Changing our lifestyle is not a call to make our lives difficult. But we need to make sacrifices and work harder at points. But we need the alternative system of life. We need to think of the social and the economic. We need to think of the education and leisure. We have enough experiences in modern revolutions that could inspire us. It is another reason why I believe in the importance of the experiences of the indigenous struggle in the Americas. You guys never cease to inspire us when it comes to you social collective actions against the Authority. Of course, I understand that you might face many obstacles, but at least there are experiences on your side of the ocean that we could present a rough model that could be built on.

If we can imagine our world post the revolution and can find a parallel system that could provide an umbrella of resilience to the people, we have crossed a long way. But the theory is not enough. We discussed enough theories. And today there is an opportunity to act, before it’s too late. Yes, the righteous always triumphs. I do believe that, BUT only when they fight. A revolution is a practice not a theory.


November 27, 2019

Dear Maath,

I am writing from Albuquerque. I am sorry that I have been unable to write. This time of year is difficult. Is it not the down times that define revolutions and revolutionaries?

Last month my uncle died from a treatable infection after a hip surgery. He was unable to walk but was left without crutches or a wheelchair. I found him in his home days before he had passed. He would have died alone had I not found him.

I had an aunt who once died in the hallway of a hospital. The doctors didn’t believe the pain in her chest was real. She was alone.

The violence feels cold, slow, and isolating. It’s a low point in the movement for us here. The days are getting much shorter.

In the past, we measured our life spans in the winters we had survived. The wind on the plains where I am from pierces your soul — it is so cold. They say, if you make friends with the winter wind and count its breeze as a blessing, it won’t kill you.

We once prayed for strong enemies to harden our resolve and to make ourselves better warriors. But the wind is our friend. And what feels like a gentle breeze may be a prelude to a hurricane. Look at what is happening in Latin America.

I am encouraged by your insistence on building alternative systems in the here and now and not waiting for revolution.

In Caracas, Venezuela, an Afro-descendant leader named Maria told me the first step to liberation: “You have to kill the capitalist in your head.” With other women, she built a housing commune with gardens, a bakery, and clothing factory. They are working toward complete self-sufficiency, alongside thousands of other communes. Two Wayuu children sang us the Venezuelan national anthem in their Indigenous language to welcome us to their homelands. “This is a revolution. We’re not going back,” Jorge tells me. He’s a young Afro-descendant leader in the commune. “We’ll die before we give up our freedom.”

According to a recent report, 40,000 Venezuelans have died because of U.S. sanctions. Food shortages are real. Long lines of cars circle city blocks because there is a shortage of fuel in the country with the largest oil reserves in the world. And people are dying because there is a shortage of medicines. This is the cold violence they feel.

They are humble people who came from nothing. But they possess such immense power. But they had to fight for it, and they are still fighting for it. Perhaps it is these low moments that define revolutions. Make friends with the poverty and suffering without letting it define you; otherwise it will destroy you.

When we were in Palestine, it felt like a big Indian reservation. They told us it was a prison, so we believed them. It’s when we destroyed the reservations in our minds that they began to shoot at us and slander us as “hostiles,” “militants,” and “terrorists.” But these are not prisons or merely “occupied” territory. These are our homelands. We belong here.

Venezuela felt familiar. The Indigenous people we met looked like my aunts, uncles, and cousins. And they possessed the same welcoming warmth, the same crass humor. There were parts of Palestine there, too.

We saw the coup in Bolivia via social media. Wiphalas, Indigenous flags representing the Andean Earth Mother, were burned in the streets. Christian fascists and motorcycle gangs frothed at the mouth as they chased down our brothers and sisters in the streets. They, too, looked like my relatives back home. When we thought all was lost, the Indigenous unions and cocaleros streamed down from the mountain dressed in red ponchos flying Wiphalas. They felt like a natural force. You can’t stop the rain. You can’t stop the wind. You can’t stop power.

They didn’t march. They ran into a hail of bullets and teargas. Many were killed like dogs in the streets. But they haven’t relented. And Chile, Colombia, Haiti, Ecuador, and Palestine haven’t relented.

We’re not going back.

In these moments of terrible danger, the fear of dying alone is palpable. But all around us, we are more than just friends and comrades. We are not alone because we have relatives.

I look forward to meeting you on the land again amongst the olive groves. I described the beauty of Palestine to my aunt. The smell of the sea breeze, the distance to the ocean measured not in miles but in checkpoints. She began to cry at the thought of smelling an ocean but not being able to see it or to feel the sand beneath your toes. At that moment, she understood Palestine.

It may be a light breeze, a slight smell of freedom, for now. But forecasts point to an oncoming storm.


November 27, 2019

Dear Nick,

I am sorry about your loss. You are right! It’s the fear of dying alone, unnoticed, unrecognized; alone as persons and alone as peoples as well. The enemy, and “the neutrals,” does not care if we die; they only care when our death is loud. So we should make it as noisy as we can. And that’s why we need to come together to build our strategy and to echo our lives and deaths in the common struggle.

We follow the events in Latin America closely. Palestinians always felt a connection with the people of the continent. One of the lecture series in the Popular University, a grassroot initiative in Palestine, is on the history and struggles of Latin America. So it is ever present in consciousness.

From how you describe the fight in that part of the world, it seems that we all have a common vision for the tactics and strategies. There isn’t much words one can add. It is time for work. Your forecast is a prophecy, my friend.

May we meet soon in any land of struggle,



December 2,2019

Dear Nick,

The political atmosphere in Palestine, and the Levant region in general is more tense than ever. Everyone is forecasting an eruption of major events soon, and our biggest fear that we are not ready. And although our ultimate goal seems straightforward, in reality, we’re standing on shaky ground. Many find it difficult to imagine concepts like claiming back our land. How does that look like? How will it happen? etc.. Many questions pile up.

A friend told me the other day about his visit to the Kanaky. He spoke of actions the Kanak took to reclaim their lands from the French colonials since the 1980s. And this got me thinking that one of our shortcomings in Palestine is our ignorance about these specific actions by the Indigenous people in lands across the oceans. We, unfortunately, construct narratives about what we think those natives aspire for. Many even think that their struggle to reclaim the land, and often, they are brought up as an example of what we try to avoid. This is unfortunate. We do to the narrative of the others, what exactly is done to ours. It is essential to incorporate the perspective of the Natives of Turtle Island, and generally, in what colonials call “the new world,” to our knowledge about the struggles of the Natives. I’m not less ignorant about this issue. How does your people see the concept of reclaiming the land? I do realize when I use the phrase “your people” I might be unintentionally making a generalization about the Natives in your continent. This is unintended, but I fall short with words.



December 3, 2019

Dear Maath,

The storm is blowing in. Land reclamation is tricky business. After all, it is “illegal” by definition.

I am reminded of how settlers here tell us to “Go back to the reservation!” or to “Go back to where you came from!” When we do go back to where we came from — the land itself — they charge us with trespassing. Some say we should revel in being “outlaws.” But I think of the tens of thousands of migrant children imprisoned in detention centers, or the thousands of migrants and refugees who die during the perilous journeys to safety. There is nothing romantic about illegality.

We are not against the law for the sake of being common “criminals.” Quite the opposite. We are against the current legal order precisely because we are creating a new law — or, more accurately, we are restoring an older legal order, an Indigenous legal order. Settlers destroy to replace. The same goes for the law. They criminalize us, the original people, to hide their own illegality. The destruction of settler colonialism is the proliferation of Indigenous life and governance.

The process of taking land back, therefore, happens to our own customs and our own ways. We can look to the example of Unis’tot’en Camp in unceded Wet’suwet’en Territories. What is currently British Columbia is trying to build an oil pipeline through their territory. The camp exists to restore relations and customary hunting and gathering rights, to protect the forest and rivers. While under constant police surveillance, Unis’tot’en Camp remains free Indigenous territory. My friend Anne brought us the blessing of fresh water from the river. They can still drink water directly from the river — it’s that clean and pure!

We recently visited the Ihumātao land occupation in Aotearoa, the Teo Reo (Māori) word for what settlers call New Zealand. The land defenders are attempting to reclaim Indigenous land from private real estate developers. It’s a radical demand and initiative, since most land restoration projects have only targeted state land. It’s deeply inspiring. And I share this picture of their land occupation, because, like all of us living under the boot of settler colonialism, we know we are not free until Palestine 
is free, from the river to the sea!


2 poèmes de Gracia Cianga Mwamba,

Congo, Seen from the heavens

for Kavira,

[the first Congolese to board a space shuttle is a rat]

i unfold
saliva teeth

gnaw at their flag’s skin
floss with the fat

i swelter
rabies, love

homeland’s got no food
yet, i fly

i devour
the sky

from the troposphere,
every human is a rodent

i rat

for my freedom warriors
more bone than muscle

i ascend,
poverty’s defiance

already, love
i split the sun


The monolith & the 15 million

[February 17, 2021:
a monolith appeared in Kinshasa, DRC
tall, silver metal, reflective.
it burned the next day.]

want is a terrifying verb.
need is more familiar:

clawed grip. dagger nails. slow crawl. ’cross crimson soil. cobalt prints.

there’s a rhythm to survival.
tempo in the snap back growl tongue. 
bang head swing airborne slam soil. halt.

to survive. or to fight?

to despair. or fold. and yell. weak grip. yell and yell. my lord:
the voice box is so well-protected. it dies last.

once. 15 million spirits. flickered out.
Zaire became a battleground. of prayers.
to flesh. and teeth. and uniforms. lord.

to pray to the sole of a shoe.
to sing while your country is ablaze.
when burning:
the voice box is so well-protected. it dies last.

how else. would he. my brother.
work a piano.
like it’s made of 15 million notes.

how terrifying. a man can kill. a body.
but not erase a song. from bloodlines.

not sure why.
not sure anyone chooses to be alive. the way they need.

to breathe. gulp air. and mold and gasp coltan. in place of air.
to need air. yet beg. oh lord. this burning.

this survival. outlives the tallest clef.
hell. music hath no fury. like a c#minor. sung. by a band of warriors.
defending their want. in music.

surely. like hell. this desire. unsheaths a machete.

to want. a home.
unbloodied. unbodied. i want.
and want. dagger nails. crawl taut:

i burned the monolith. and its maker. and spit. a choir.

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