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Tabita Rezaire Ponders over ‘Swallowing Smartphones’ at Kochi Biennale

In Kochi
January 04, 2019

Given that the West leads global technology, shouldn’t Europe and America apologise for letting smartphones virtually swallow the entire mankind? Such a fantasy dialogue is what young artist Tabita Rezaire presents at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale.

The work the 108-day art festival questions the power imbalances while following an apology-forgiveness narrative that follows with humour-laced energy. Amid it, the 29-year-old Tabita calls herself as an agent of healing.

“The work seeks to capture the violent histories of slavery and colonialism, alongside a continued exploitation of African and indigenous bodies, lands and knowledge,” states the French Guyana-based artist about her ‘Sorry for Real Sorrow’. Showcased at Aspinwall House that is the main venue of the event spanning till March 29 next year, she prods the viewer to ask questions about the nature of power relations.

What’s more, Tabita argues that a new form of colonialism has simply replaced the old. “We are heading towards internet Colonisation,” she adds.

‘Sorry for Real Sorrow’ is a series of five light boxes highlighted by the artist’s holographic apology on behalf of the Western world. Paris-raised Tabita presents a cyber exchange that addresses the West’s history of imperialism and the need to decolonise existing technologies and reconciliation strategies.

The work stems from a lot of anger, when she understood the social, political and economic scope of it. “The way the technology is taking charge across the world is very similar to that of colonialism,” she says. And seeks to make the viewer ask questions about the nature of power relations.

To Tabita, most of the technology corporate giants from the West control humanity’s day-to-day activities. For instance, Facebook, Google and Twitter have “all our personal data”. This, when the internet was originally created as a surveillance instrument, she points out. “Today, we are in a fight to save our sensitive details. In a way, the internet has made us desperate for connecting with each other.”

Research for the work led Tabita to stumble upon a curious discovery: it’s along old colonial shipping routes that the world today has its undersea optical fibre cables laid, connecting humanity through the internet. “When colonialism began, they argued they were connecting us to the New World. This, while all what was happening was actually exploiting resources and, in the process, looting other countries, expanding wealth,” she notes. “It’s all the same today. Big corporates from the West are stealing our data in order to expand the wealth of their empires.”

Tabita, also a health-tech-politics practitioner and Kemetic/Kundalini Yoga teacher, creates digital encounters that offer substitute readings to dominant narratives. In the stories the new-media artist presents, the process of listening, seeing and witnessing can be potentially transformative. “Only around 51 per cent of the whole world is connected to the internet. On the whole African continent, its penetration is only 31 per cent. Within each country, the way you access the internet and the content you can access is very different.”

At her Biennale project, Tabita did a performance seeking to unearth the possibilities of decolonial healing through the politics of technology.