‘The only possible relationship to the university today is a criminal one’. — Fred Moten and Stefano Harney Harney, The Undercommons: Fugitive planning and Black Study, 2003
In his classic manifesto for decolonisation, Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon wrote of the spatial administration and organisation of the colonial city — a ‘compartmentalised world’ marked by racial segregation and architectures of control and surveillance. Fanon demonstrated that there is always necessarily a spatial and visual dimension to the colonial project and thus, too, with the project of decolonisation, emphasising that the struggle for decolonisation as a ‘programme of complete disorder’ also demands a complete visual and spatial re/disordering of the colonial city.
What then does it mean to decolonise education? What is the spatial ordering of art education today? One need not look far to see the ways in which it has mimicked the processes and philosophies of colonialism, as Fanon had predicted the national bourgeoisie would.
Today we may study the architectures and spatialities of Karachi’s art institutions in the persistence of coloniality. From the Indus Valley School of Art’s bizarre appropriation and relocation to Clifton of a historical Khaaradar building, to NAPA’s occupation of evacuee property, to Karachi University’s strategic location on the margins of the city so as to distance student politics and organising as far as possible from the city centre. Policed by Rangers and surrounded by barriers, our art institutions today display their investment in reproducing and subjecting their student bodies to the daily humiliations and disciplining of, hegemonic power structures and relations.
In Decolonising Knowledge and the Question of the Archive, Achille Mbembe writes: “Decolonising the university starts with the de-privatisation and rehabilitation of the public space … It starts with a redefinition of what is public, i.e., what pertains to the realm of the common and as such, does not belong to anyone in particular because it must be equally shared between equals. The decolonisation of buildings and public spaces is therefore not a frivolous issue ... Decolonisation of buildings and of public spaces is inseparable from democratisation of access.”
Describing the classroom as a site of decolonisation Mbembe argues for ‘classrooms without walls’, “We need to reinvent a classroom without walls in which we are all co-learners; a university that is capable of convening various public forums that become points of convergence of and platforms for the redistribution of different kinds of knowledge.”
We seek then, in the Karachi Art Anti University, not to build structures or walls, but a refuge. To build what Fred Moten and Stefano Harney call ‘the fugitive public’ — to flee the halls and corridors of institutionalised education and instead occupy and claim street and public space in the city as sites of study. To embrace and understand ‘study’ to quote Moten, ‘is a form of sociality instead of alienation’. To situate ourselves in our larger social context instead of barricading ourselves from it, to learn, seek and produce knowledge collectively while exploring new ways of inhabiting, knowing and being with the city, and being with each other.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, August 2nd, 2015