Sunday, September 4, 2016

Zimanyi - Image Project

For this assignment, I decided to make two different images. The first image is a modified version of an image I made last year for a similar assignment in a Media Arts + Practice class, where we were asked to edit a photograph in the style of Barbara Kruger. For this assignment, I wanted to revisit and reimagine the image I made last year by returning elements of color to the image (as opposed to the black & white with red text aesthetic that Kruger is famous for) and repositioning the text in the image. The original photograph was taken by a photojournalist for Reuters in 2015, and shows the expansive border fence Hungary recently built along its southern border to prevent refugees and migrants from crossing into the country. On the left, Hungarian police officers stand guarding the fence, while on the right, refugees are crowded along the fence, unable to continue forward. The text, “Welcome to Europe,” moves from right to left, so that the signifier “Europe” lies behind the wall and high in the sky, inaccessible / out of reach to the refugees. In my first version of this image edit, the word "Europe" was at the bottom left corner, while "Welcome" was in the top right corner. This time, I decided to switch the location of the words to emphasize that Europe is not only blocked by the fence, but it is also an unattainable ideal. Europe is the "happy object" that millions of people strive to reach, hoping that once they enter Europe their lives will be significantly improved. By placing the word "Europe" in the top left corner, I aim to symbolize the ways in which even after refugees and migrants cross into Europe, they continue to be met with obstacles and obstructions that prevent them from being fully included and supported in European society. The welcome statement is meant to ironically reference the constitution of the European Union, which purports that the EU is “founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.” The EU Constitution continues, “These values are common to the member states in a society in which pluralism, nondiscrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail,” and states “The Union shall develop a common policy on asylum, subsidiary protection and temporary protection with a view to offering appropriate status to any third-country national requiring international protection.” Most refugees have made their way towards the EU for exactly these reasons: the promise of freedom, equality, dignity, and opportunity. Though the Union publicly and legally presents itself as a tolerant and welcoming place, the swift closing of borders between Hungary and Serbia, Austria and Hungary, and Austria and Germany during the summer of 2015 has revealed not only that the Union does not have a cohesive agreement or method in place for helping resettle refugees, but that the religious, ethnic, and perceived ideological make up of refugees significantly impacts member states’ willingness to offer appropriate asylum and aid. This can be surmised from statements made publicly by the governments of member states such as Slovenia, which insisted that the Slovenia will only accept Christian refugees so as not to threaten its cultural values. The question to ask now is, if the European Union has agreed to respect “human rights” and “human dignity”, which refugees count as human, and who decides? Surely, the image above suggests that, for the European Union, the definition of human is not universal, nor is it universally applicable.

The second image is taken from a military drone feed just before an attack is launched on a target (I found the image in this article by Rolling Stone). For this image, I added the text "WHOSE HOMELAND? WHOSE SECURITY?" underneath the target. The yellow text above the target, which reads "Laser ARMED," is part of the original image. The questions "whose homeland?" and "whose security?" are 
meant to trouble the logic behind the rhetoric used to sell the War on Terror. By constantly using the notion of "national security" to justify military action, the US and its allies have been able to garner support from the public despite curtailing numerous international laws regarding the rules of warfare, as well as significantly eroding many of our civil liberties at home. The notion of a war against "terror," which - according to Congress - is a "worldwide struggle" in which the "battlefield is wherever the enemy chooses to make it," raises innumerable questions about how exactly a "terrorist" is defined. It is significant that, within the WoT, it almost always seems to be defined as a non-state actor, while military action on behalf of a recognized government, no matter how brutal, continues to be legitimized (Saudi Arabia's war against Yemen is a particularly strong example of this). Also worrisome is the fact that the United States has taken on the strategy of "preemptive justice" through methods such as drone attacks, ostensibly to prevent another terrorist attack on American soil. However, by acting offensively and preemptively in the name of "homeland security," the security of civilians in other nations has been completely eroded. The process begs the question: what interests, exactly, are we trying to secure, and who is deemed worthy of access to a secure and peaceful life? 

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