Shela Sheikh (Goldsmiths, University of London)
Earth Speaks: Cinema, Representation and Extractive Aesthetics
In the context of the current climate crisis and increasingly exacerbated environmental violence, issues of representation are paramount. Visual cultures determine how anthropogenic climate change is felt, understood and acted upon, and cinema in particular has taken up the aesthetic challenge of bearing witness to “slow violence” (Nixon) and “quasi-events” (Povinelli)—to accumulative, often imperceptible conditions that spill into the future, felt pre-emptively in the present. Furthermore, the shortcomings of political representation—across lines of race, ethnicity, class and gender—are made visible in widespread climate colonialism and environmental racism. Key here are the representational quagmires concerning “voice,” agency, narration, sovereignty and translation that postcolonial theory and decoloniality have been grappling with for decades, in this case extended to relations between humans and environments and the capacity for self-representation of each. But equally dangerous as mis-representation or mis-recognition is the risk of over-representation as over-determination, and the capture of difference. What representational strategies are at our disposal for negotiating this? In the context of the global extractive economy, what might be a non-extractive, non-appropriative aesthetics? Turning to various examples, I ask what the role is here of cinematic and filmic practice, experimental and otherwise.
Shela Sheikh is Lecturer in the Department of Media, Communications and Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths (University of London), where she convenes the MA Postcolonial Culture and Global Policy and co-chairs the Goldsmiths Critical Ecologies Research Stream. Prior to this she was Research Fellow and Publications Coordinator on the ERC-funded Forensic Architecture project (also Goldsmiths). She lectures and publishes internationally. Her research interrogates various forms of witnessing, between the human, technological and environmental. A recent multi-platform research project around colonialism, botany and the politics of planting includes a special issue of Third Text co-edited with Ros Gray, “The Wretched Earth: Botanical Conflicts and Artistic Interventions” (vol. 32, issue 2–3, 2018), and Theatrum Botanicum (Sternberg Press, 2018) co-edited with Uriel Orlow, as well as numerous workshops on the topic with artists, filmmakers and environmentalists.