Unraveling the Anthropocene: Race, Environment, and Pandemic
By Liberal Arts Collective
Brought to you by the Liberal Arts Collective at the Pennsylvania State University, “Unraveling the Anthropocene” brings together academics, artists, activists, and community members from around the world to discuss issues at the intersection of race, environment, and pandemic.
In this episode, LAC member Müge Gedik interviews Berfin Çiçek, a graduate student in Cultural Studies at Sabancı University in Turkey. They discuss Berfin’s project on the revival of trauma and intergenerational memory catalyzed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Berfin takes the testimony of a member from the descendent generation of Dersim massacre victims from Turkey, his grandfather, into the focus of her project while exploring how traumatic experiences trigger each other and create an intergenerational memory in general, and more specifically, during the COVID-19 quarantine. Berfin considers testimonials crucial evidence and attributes to established theories, mostly by Cathy Caruth and Dori Laub.
LAC member Michelle McGowan interviews Dr. Rebecca Tarlau, an Assistant Professor of Education and Labor and Employment Relations at The Pennsylvania State University. They discuss Dr. Tarlau’s book Occupying Schools, Occupying Land: How the Landless Workers Movement Transformed Brazilian Education (Oxford, 2019) and the intersections of Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra, or MST) with issues of climate justice, COVID-19, and social movements more broadly, including the efforts of the 3/20 Coalition in State College, PA. Dr. Tarlau also compares teacher-led movements in the U.S. and Brazil.
In this episode, LAC member Müge Gedik has a conversation with Dr. Michele Prettyman on the intersection between academic and spiritual discourses. The episode explores certain political implications of excluding certain views of life and inhabiting the world. Dr. Prettyman advocates for spiritually animating inquiry as a part of our lives. This part of inquiry opens a space for discovery and imagination to engage with life’s bigger questions as a response to very few people outside of certain fields being invited to those conversations. The ways in which we process knowledge by excluding spirituality reveal the limitation of racism and white patriarchy. Dr. Prettyman offers her way of challenging and undoing those models with spiritual discourse. She interrogates how the category of “the human” is fraud and an incomplete category. Focusing on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, she positions spirituality as another dimension of human experience in navigating life amidst racial, social, and environmental pandemics to rethink systems and structures that center life beyond violence and exploitation.
How does antiblackness, slavery, and police power structure society? What has the COVID-19 pandemic revealed about policing? In this episode LAC member Irenae Aigbedion has a provocative conversation with Dr. Tryon Woods (University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth; Providence College) on police violence, police power, and the interrelated systems and inequities that structure society. The two discuss the ways that state and police power has transformed from slavery to the present. Ultimately, they touch on the struggle to consume and process the vast amounts of information presented to us daily via multiple competing channels.
In this episode, LAC member Merve Tabur interviews community organizers Colleen Unroe, Teri Blanton, and Parson Brown. Unroe, Blanton, and Brown share their experiences with various nonviolent direct actions to stop mountaintop removal coal mining. They discuss the significance of documenting the stories of people who are most affected by the abuses of the coal industry. They also reflect on the evolution of community organizing strategies over the years and emphasize the importance of "Just Transition" efforts seeking to build alternative economic development and renewable energy within Central Appalachia.
In this episode, LAC member Müge Gedik has a conversation with Kyle Keeler on the colonial roots of our current epoch, popularly referred to as “the Anthropocene.” Keeler highlights the history of centuries of violent colonialism that would set in motion the industrial production, chemicals, and bomb blasts that are argued to distinguish the Anthropocene from previous epochs. Focusing on violent colonial theft, Keeler changes the name of this epoch to the Kleptocene, to call attention to to the theft of land, lives (both human and nonhuman), and materials that colonialism broadly, but U.S. settler colonialism specifically, imposed and imposes on North America and its Indigenous inhabitants, as a way to understand global environmental catastrophes. This episode foregrounds indigenous resistance that has been ongoing in this process of theft and extraction. Keeler situates his research on the Kleptocene as a way to imagine, decolonize, and create a future free of colonial theft and ecological destruction on repatriated land.
In this episode, LAC member Merve Tabur has a conversation with Dr. Daniel Finch-Race on the impact of climate change on Venice and the mitigation efforts led by the government, the NGOs, and the local community. Describing life in Venice during the November 2019 flood, Dr. Finch-Race discusses the various coping strategies adopted by the city's inhabitants and comments on how the pandemic has affected pollution levels in Venice. Dr. Finch-Race also examines the similarities and differences between our contemporary affective responses to environmental destruction and representations of environmental issues in late eighteenth-century French and Italian art and literature.
In this episode, LAC member Merve Tabur has a conversation with Dr. Sofia Varino on her "Viral Objects" project which brings together biomedical, ecological, and popular science discourses on the COVID-19 Pandemic. As defined by Dr. Varino, "Viral Objects" are biomedical objects such as masks, vaccines, COVID-19 tests, and Vitamin D supplements that serve a preventative function and invite us to "think ecologically" about the pandemic. Dr. Varino also introduces the "Minor Cosmopolitanisms" framework that informs her scholarship and discusses how issues such as disability rights, environmental justice, and racial justice are central to understanding the different genealogies of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a conversation with LAC member Müge Gedik, Rimona Afana discusses the ties between speciesism and ecocide. She argues that without challenging our speciesist beliefs and institutions, we cannot advance justice and peace in the Anthropocene. Rimona’s cross-disciplinary research informs her multimedia artwork, collaborative projects, and activism. We will also listen to a short excerpt of her audio/video poem, “wood”, and learn about the story behind it.
In a conversation with LAC member Camila Gutiérrez (Penn State), Javiera Irribarren (Columbia University) discusses how contemporary graphic narratives from Chile, Argentina and Brazil offer non-western views on the interactions between species, time, and spaces. She argues that South American artists make a decolonial move in these comics; questioning historical and contemporary conflicts. In these materials, Irribarren finds powerful alter-native critiques of the current neoliberal State, which she describes as driven by politics of consumption in the age of the Anthropocene or Capitalocene. Irribarren also talks about her experience using these materials in the Spanish-language classroom at Columbia.
In this episode, LAC members Merve Tabur and K'Lah Rose Yamada interview Dr. Karen Keifer-Boyd, Michele Mekel, and Lauren Stetz from the Viral Imaginations: COVID-19 project. Viral Imaginations (#Penn State) is a collaborative art project that consists of an online gallery that aims to curate current and former Pennsylvanians’ creative engagements with the pandemic. The Viral Imaginations team discusses the significance of artistic expression and storytelling in the face of ecological destruction, racial injustice, and public health crises. The team also introduces the publicly available lesson plans (K-12) that incorporate submissions from the Viral Imaginations project into classroom discussions.
LAC member Camila Gutiérrez interviews working artist, teacher, and researcher Melissa Leaym-Fernandez. Leaym-Fernandez has worked in a variety of creative learning spaces that include rural towns, urban cities, and sites with environmental toxins, including with the lead-poisoned in Flint, Michigan, and many other students who are intimidated to develop creative skills but need them in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Her professional practice includes using artmaking to teach people how to express their personal voice, share feelings, and support their community through artistic skills in a non-threatening but challenging manner.
In this episode, LAC member Müge Gedik welcomes Dr. Paulo Ilich Bacca, a legal ethnographer and the Director of Ethnic and Racial Discrimination Area at Dejusticia, Centre for the Study of Law, Justice, and Society in Bogotá, Colombia. Paulo’s research proposes the idea of indigenizing international law by following the anthropological turn in which indigenous cosmologies are direct to the framework of an international legal order. This displacement highlights the power of indigenous law to counteract international law’s colonial legacies. This episode covers the problem with conceptualizing legal subjects through the exclusion of indigenous people from legal orders. Paulo’s objective is to look at Western and indigenous jurisprudence by scrutinizing colonial enterprise and indigenous resistance and bridging the gap between indigenous and state-centric law.
In Episode 14, “‘All the Way to Hell’: Mineral Rights Between Art and Activism,” Hannah Matangos and Merve Tabur interview visual artist and activist Eliza Evans. Evans introduces her activist-art project “All the Way to Hell,” which aims to draw attention to fossil fuel development on private land in the U.S. by giving away mineral rights to participants. In addition to discussing the purpose and reception of the project, Evans, Hannah, and Merve also have a conversation about the history and legal aspects of mineral rights in Oklahoma.
What is the connection between race and environmental justice? Which communities are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis? How does including race along with class, gender, sexuality, and disability for climate justice provide a broader perspective on climate change research and adaptation strategies? In this episode, LAC member Müge Gedik interviews Dr. Nancy Tuana (Penn State, UP) about her new project “Climate Apartheid: Forgetting of Race in the Anthropocene.” We focus on an eco-intersectional analysis that is necessary to understand intersecting and co-constituting axes of systemic oppression of certain groups of people and environmental exploitation and degradation. Topics include the intersections of the COVID-19 pandemic and the disproportionate effects of ecological destruction and climate change on black, native American, and indigenous communities in the United States and Brazil. Dr. Tuana highlights the importance of integrating ethical issues into modeling in climate change research to have ethically and epistemically responsible adaptation practices geared towards what communities value and to make the decisions that matter to them.
What does performance and protest look like in a time of pandemic? How do we study live performance at a moment when keeping our distance is the safest way to keep safe? When do we as researchers stop observing and put our bodies on the line in solidarity with protest movements? In this episode, Irenae Aigbedion (LAC) and Camila Gutiérrez (LAC) interview Dr. Elizabeth Gray (Penn State) on her current and future work on art and activism in Latin America. We focus on her book project, The Poetics of Intervention: Art and Activism in Contemporary Latin America, visiting Chile, Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina through Dr. Gray’s stories and reflections on the transformative art and publishing practices that have emerged in these countries. Our conversation shifts to an exploration of the beginnings of her second project, an analysis of Mapuche activism and the battle for land rights in Chile. Together, we open up a larger discussion of social movements—in particular student led movements—that have fundamentally reshaped the country.
When we talk about the things that define us--the things that make us who we are--, what do we show the world, and what do we keep to ourselves? How is art a tool that we can use to bridge gaps in providing care in medical treatments? These seemingly separate questions come together in this episode, as Irenae Aigbedion (LAC) and Mark Stephens (Penn State College of Medicine) discuss identity dissonance, the value of art in medicine, and discovering the self through the art of mask making. As they discuss the transformative power of mask making in the context of identity formation and medical practice and treatment, the two think through the ways that art can engage with the triple crisis of racial violence, ecological disaster, and global pandemic.
In this episode, LAC members Müge Gedik and Camila Gutiérrez interview Dr. Eduardo Mendieta (Penn State, UP) about his project on the anthropocentric COVID-19 virus in terms of an apparatus of pandemic governmentality in the Anthropocene as well as the role of colonialism and slavery in the production of the Anthropocene, including European colonialism that initiated a process of extraction of resources and bodies that lead to the destruction of indigenous peoples and ecosystems. Topics include how globalization, mega urbanization, mass transportation and tourism, vectors of contagion enable the global spread of viruses in the epoch of the Anthropocene today, in which globalized humans become the facilitator of a global pandemic such as that of COVID-19. We discuss how neoliberal politics of extraction change the metabolism of the earth through changes in the seas, the atmosphere, and on the land; and the detrimental consequences of the climate crisis and the following politics of death on black, indigenous, Latinx, and people of color. The discussion continues on how the politics of death that follow European colonialism and modernity emerge out of the genocide of indigenous peoples, Native American peoples, and the slave trade. We explore the relationship of causality between colonization, globalization, and the exchange of viruses and bacteria that occurred in this process, and the correlation between microparasites (virus, bacteria) and macroparasites (kings, autocratic governors).
In this episode, Merve Tabur (LAC) interviews Gidon Bromberg, Nada Majdalani, and Yana Abu Taleb, co-directors of EcoPeace Middle East. Gidon, Nada, and Yana introduce the environmental peacebuilding and conflict resolution strategies employed by EcoPeace Middle East in addressing transboundary water justice issues in the Jordanian-Palestinian-Israeli contexts. Co-directors of EcoPeace Middle East and Merve have a conversation about the significance of youth education programs like the "Good Water Neighbors" project in raising awareness on environmental issues and promoting peace in the region.
In this episode, Irenae Aigbedion (LAC) welcomes Dr. Jamie Lee Andreson (Penn State) to the series to discuss the latter's project, "Candomblé Temples in the Fight against Religious and Environmental Racism in Brazil." Through her personal stories and case studies, Dr. Andreson takes us to the main site of her work: Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, where a fierce battle for religious freedom and antiracism is taking place. She examines the threats that candomblé temples face today and unpacks that ways that colonial history, contemporary global politics, and the ever present tension of the COVID-19 pandemic have complicated and even prevented their religious practices. Dr. Andreson shares the ways that temples themselves are nonetheless fighting back against oppression and mobilizing for their freedom to practice and their right to exist.
LAC member Hannah Matangos interviews Kristin Jacobson, Professor of American Literature, American Studies, and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Stockton University in New Jersey. Jacobson researches what she terms “adrenaline narratives,” or perilous adventure stories. She and Hannah have a conversation about the ways race, gender, the pandemic, and the climate crisis converge in the American adrenaline narrative.
In this episode, LAC member Camila Gutiérrez interviews David Van Ness (Northern University of Arizona) about his artistic production combining glitch art, digital 3D models, and 3D printing. David talks about his first encounters with glitch art, his personal trajectory, and seeing art as a collaboration between the human and the computer. Then, David discusses a project where he uses hate crime data to alter the 3D models of scanned Confederate monuments. Other projects involve creating 3D models and music from biological forms such as the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, and creating new proteins from music.
LAC member Hannah Matangos interviews Sacramento-based conceptual artist Jeff Musser. In the episode, Musser discusses how he came to tackle race, racism, and whiteness in his work, and the ways in which his perception of these topics - and their relationship to his own personal and family histories - has changed through his artmaking. In his artmaking practice, he figures himself an amateur historian in researching the history of racial categorization in the United States and beyond while also drawing on his own formative personal experiences that framed and reframed the ways he thinks about race. Matangos and Musser further critique the centering of Whiteness in the Western art historical canon, discussing how Musser’s own aesthetics work to undermine this centering, often through a “constructive discomfort” on the part of the viewer.
You can view the artworks, artists, and exhibitions discussed in the episode by heading to our website: https://sites.psu.edu/liberalartscollective
In this episode, LAC member Irenae Aigbedion interviews Rob Gerhardt, a New York based photographer, on his series, "Mic Check." Focusing on the development of the #BlackLivesMatter movement across New York City, his series is an ongoing chronicle beginning in 2014 after the grand jury ruling in the case of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. The conversation asks us as listeners to consider what it means to write history and to use the tools at our disposal--in Rob's case, photography--to make an intervention in a very tense historical moment. Ultimately, the two discuss the resonances between the contemporary #BLM movement and the US Civil Rights Movement of the 50s and 60s and speculate on what might be different this time around.
In this episode, LAC member Müge Gedik welcomes Dr. Margot Finn (University of Michigan) to talk about her project “Bellies Full of Stars: Feeding Multitudes of Multitudes in Apocalyptic Times.” This conversation begins with Margot Finn’s approach to the Anthropocene and her conceptualization of apocalypse. She underlines the importance of the ways we tell stories about time, the future, what it means to coexist. Coexistence and symbiosis become crucial tools for the discussion of multispecies justice in food futures in the Anthropocene, elaborated through examples of eating and thinking with companion species such as the lichen, the Hawaiian Bobtail Squid, and the Matsutake mushroom. Margot Finn points at the difference between the metaphorical distinctions between symbiosis and parasitism and the biological reality where interrelations are not usually mutually beneficial. Finn highlights the ways the pandemic has forced her (and she hopes others) into a new awareness of the dual racist epidemics of violent policing and disproportionate COVID-19 deaths in Black & Indigenous & Latinx communities.
In this episode, LAC members Irenae Aigbedion and Tembi Charles welcome Dr. Sinfree Makoni (Penn State) and Dr. Bassey Antia (University of the Western Cape) to have a conversation about their project, "Humor as a Semiotic Resource: Coping with COVID-19 Stress in Africa." The conversation branches out from a close examination of their work to a reflection on the ways that humor can be a tool to "speak back" to power, to critique histories of colonialism, and to shape a new identity for Africa itself. Humor becomes a critical tool we all need to navigate the unique social pressures we are currently facing.
In our pilot episode of “Unraveling the Anthropocene: Race, Environment, and Pandemic,” we introduce you to the team and discuss our interests in and goals for the project. We also discuss the history of the term “Anthropocene” and its significance in relation to our position at a land grant institution in Central Pennsylvania.