For anyone who lives on societal margins or between categories, "owning" and being vocal about identity is an indispensable strategy for achieving recognition, support and equality. In the contemporary understanding of "identity politics," members of a subjugated constituency "assert or reclaim ways of understanding their distinctiveness that challenge dominant oppressive characterisations, with the goal of greater self-determination." (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).
Identity politics is not a new phenomenon — the term had roots in the civil rights movement and in the second-wave feminism of the 1970s before becoming the voice of gay and queer communities — but it has come to carry increasing weight in national and international social and political climates. In the wake of the surge in nationalist movements worldwide, identity politics and "political correctness" have not only been blamed for having both radicalised conservatives and led liberals astray; they’ve also been connected to the socio-economic alienation (and ensuing upheaval) that are causing would-be far-right voters to elect their own respective nationalist leaders. As the "Identitäre Bewegung," "alt-right" and other international equivalents are appropriating the protective tactics of identity politics as a result of feeling themselves subjugated and distinctive, the original leftist associations with the term are muddled.
How might an artist with an anti-colonial, anti-hegemonic public/private identity present themselves in societies that either demonise, fetishise, attack or dismiss the experiences of the marginalised? Who should have access to artistic work associated with those experiences (at which point does visibility become unsafe)? Furthermore, how does one outline an identity for the future that extends beyond essentialist self-reflection? How can we use modern technology and the internet for this purpose, and which potential pitfalls should we be aware of?
Missy Mag contributor Hengameh Yaghoobifarah, genre-defying artist Elysia Crampton and Leil Zahra from digital rights non-profit Tactical Tech, explore these questions at a time when the lines between art and activism and between private and public are increasingly blurred.
Hengameh Yaghoobifarah aka kos_mic q'andi is a Berlin-based journalist, blogger, speaker, DJ, and editor for the German feminist publication Missy Magazine. Most of their work evolves around popular culture, fashion, gender and queerness, social media, body politics, post-colonial and post-migrant realities, hybrid identities, visual culture, and the aesthetic of the Other.
Elysia Crampton is a Bolivian-American producer, sound artist and conceptual collagist who performs and speaks around the world. Her music is an ambitious confluence of ideas, synthesising multiple underrepresented histories, geographies, musical genres and cultural signifiers into compelling, colourful sonic material that packs contemporaneous dancefloor weight.
Leil-Zahra Mortada works for Berlin-based Tactical Technology Collective, an NGO of practitioners that works with data and technology and how it can be used by activists and human rights defenders safely and more effectively for their work. They are also transfeminist queer filmmaker, born in Beirut.