The Empire of Law. Legality and Other Narrative Tools of Colonialism


Eurocentric power needs to create narratives about colonial history in order to control interpretations of it. Concepts of law and justice have played an important role in this. Also today, the idea of justice is used to approve violent migratory control policies, including the aggressive persecution, detention, and deportation of persons.

The conference The Empire of Law. Legality and Other Narrative Tools of Colonialism deals with the subject of law, justice and colonialism from a decolonial and anti-racist perspective.

Speakers, among others, include Yuderkys Espinosa MiñosoDaniela OrtizWalter Andino MidenceBlack Speaks BackCollectif Mémoire Coloniale, Lutte contre les Discriminations, and Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez.

The conference is co-produced and co-commissioned by Netwerk Aalst, Belgium, and KADIST, Paris in the framework of Netwerk Aalst’s programme The Unreliable Protagonist and KADIST’s three-year project Not Fully Human, Not Human at All, curated by Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez. The conference is also part of the programme of the Contour Biënnale 9: Coltan As Cotton.


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9:30 Welcome with coffee

10:00 Short introductions by Laurens Dhaenens, Natasa Petrešin-Bachelez and Daniela Ortiz

10:15 Keynote Speaker Yuderkys Espinosa: Journey to the Jungle: Imagery, Self-redemption and Eurocentrism

Yuderkys Espinosa is a writer, researcher, teacher and anti-racist decolonial feminist activist of Afro-Dominican origin who has developed a critique on the coloniality of feminist reason.

In her lecture, Yuderkys Espinosa will present a genealogy of the making of the colonial subject and its racialisation. Therefore, she will discuss a series of cultural products that were produced from the 15th century on by the European sciences and arts and that saw the savage America and the (ever) naked bodies of non-white women and men (indigenous, black, oriental) as territories to be conquered. She will revisit the emergence and development of the concept of ‘race’ and focus on a series of pictorial and literary works from the 17th, 18th and 19th century, relating them to the chronicles of the European naturalists and expeditionary forces. The aim is to display the relationship between these representations and past and present readings of extra-European people and to uncover its involvement with the Eurocentric narrative and the colonialism of power.

11:00 Discussion

11:30 Panel discussion: Coloniality and anti-racist politics on a local level

In conversation with Walter Andino, Black Speaks Back, Collectif Mémoire Coloniale et Lutte contre les Discriminations, and Fatma Yildiz, Daniela Ortiz will tackle the challenges of fighting racism and colonialism on a local level. Walter Andino is a sociologist and civil rights activist who is active in the region of Mechelen and has been working with several organisations on the importance of decolonising our societies.

Black Speaks Back is a Brussels media platform that voices discussions that are not being represented by regular press, most importantly the African diaspora in all its complexity. They do this through videos and use spoken word, raising questions about representation and the power of images as well.
Mémoire Coloniale is a Brussels collective that is committed to decolonizing minds, public spaces and society as a whole by deconstructing racist stereotypes about people of African descent. They played a vital role in the creation of Place Lumumba in Brussels.
Fatma Yildiz is a council member of Aalst for Groen. Over the last 20 years, she has been active as a volunteer in various associations that work on diversity, education and poverty.

Participants: Daniela Ortiz, Walter Antonio Andino Midence, Black Speaks Black, Collectif Mémoire Coloniale et Lutte contre les Discriminations and Fatma Yildiz.

13:00 Break for lunch

15:00 Panel Discussion: Coloniality and art institutions in perspective

There is no doubt that the development of museums, and of art and art history in general in the Global North is a result of a process of coloniality of power and racial capitalism, which, as we know well, has been accumulating wealth through the mechanisms of racialization and dispossession as a result of the centuries-long slave trade. Let us remind ourselves of Orientalism, of the role of European painters in the knowledge production about non-Western countries, world fair exhibitions or the role of art in the colonisation of Americas. Many of the colonial mechanisms that marked this development are still functioning today. Politics of extraction, domination, appropriation and omission mark a huge part of the production and discourse of, and about, exhibitions, biennials, museums, and so on.

Interestingly, despite the foundational relationship with colonialism, art institutions and organisations are also considered the last asylum in society where one can speak within the hospitality of artistic freedom, which, again, has foundations in the West. They are viewed as a space for experiment, reflection and debate. There is a clear awareness that it is impossible to escape the political reality but at the same time there is a belief in art as a tool to open new cultural, social or political perspectives.

The panel Coloniality and Art Institutions in Perspective will address the difficulties to set an agenda while understanding and undermining institutions’ own histories.

Participants: Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez, Els Silvrants-Barclay, Anne Wetsi Mposa, Ares Shporta, Anissa Boujdaini, and Nada Ghosn

16:30 Short coffee break

17:00 Performance lecture by Daniela Ortiz

Daniela Ortiz will make a statement based on the research she conducted during the first phase of the project. The images that she will present are the result of two residencies in Netwerk Aalst and a long stay in Peru, where she filmed in Lima and in the region of Cusco.

18:00 Activation of the exhibition Atlas Unlimited of Karthik Pandian and Andros Zins-Browne: ACT II: Leave Me Alone (Marrakech, 2012)

Since 2011, Karthik Pandian and Andros Zins-Browne have been exploring the image of revolution in the wake of the Arab Spring. The latest iteration of this ongoing collaboration is Atlas Unlimited. Taking place across a number of international venues, Atlas Unlimited changes and adapts to its specific context, as a succession of ‘acts’ at each location. On the day of the conference, you are invited to join a curatorial walkthrough of a fictional biennial within the exhibition at Netwerk Aalst, featuring fictional artists making real artworks. A controversy at the crossroads between revolution and meme.

19:00 Dinner

20:30 Screening: EUphoria by Black Speaks Back (20′) + Q&A (30′)

In EUphoria, an afrofuturistic musical, Black Speaks Back and young talents from different European countries (Belgium, the Netherlands, Romania, Germany and France) question the notion of a homogeneous white Europe and search for their ‘Afro-European’ identity. How do these youngsters with African and/or Afro-Caribbean roots understand European citizenship?

21:00 End

26.10.2018 09:30