Society for Urban, National and Transnational/Global Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
How are representations of poverty in cities of the global south forged and produced for transnational consumer publics? With a focus on the works by European artists, my research explores the performative projects, art exhibits, and photo-images of urban dispossession in the southern world. How do these image-makers imagine shantytowns, barrios, and favelas through and for European eyes? Propelled by shifting political commitments, competing representations of urban poverty are manufactured for public attention by aesthetic, symbolic, and affective means, ranging from the romance of despair or humanitarian compassion to a nostalgic longing for premodern signs of a deprived but simpler life. The make-shift conditions of these expansive edge-cities are branded for consumer publics as portable icons of poverty. In contrast to the racialized human form, which is central for the imaginary of the North American ‘ghetto’ (Linke 2014, 2018), the southern shanty-inhabitants and city builders are rendered visually absent: a tropology of people’s disempowerment and dispossession. Although intended as a critique intensifying inequalities, the globalized traffic in urban poverty-art relies on a detachment from social life to produce a repertoire of free-floating emblems and signs that can be variously deployed, assembled, appropriated, and discarded. In an act of ‘topographical amnesia’ (Verilio), corrugated metal roofs become representational tropes of shantytowns and their (dematerialized) inhabitants. Such visual representations of urban poverty are globally consumed as works of art that can alter urban imaginaries, encourage tourism, and local economic development as much as neoliberal subjectification.