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The Border of the 'Fourth World'


The year 1848 can be seen as the time of a paradigm shift brought about by the revolutionary and labour movements in Europe. Along with 1989, it is one of the two time markers that the L'Internationale project The Uses of Art reframes as moments of dense connections between art and politics. In the mid-nineteenth century, the idea of socialism was emerging, Marx published The Communist Manifesto, and the concept of 'Latin America' was taking shape as an impulse for a second independence of the continent. Meanwhile, on both sides of the Atlantic, New Imperialism was developing a scientific image of the inferiority of the otherness that lay outside of white society. The scientific positivism and biological racism promoted by intellectuals such as the Comte de Gobineau in his essay The Inequality of Human Races (1853) had disastrous effects.

Universal Exhibitions, the human zoos that put Native Americans, Asians and Africans on display, and the so-called 'Scramble for Africa', were the most explicit expressions of this system that did not just set up a North-South divide, but even back then proposed a 'South' within the North: a 'fourth world' founded on 'pigmentocracy'. After the abolition of explicit slavery, blacks and native Americans were presented to nineteenth century European civil society in the guise of exotic entertainment. This was the case in Madrid and Barcelona, for example, with the exhibition of Ashanti, Inuit and Filipino people, never included in the key European readings of the issue.1 The human zoos displayed the racialised subjects as intellectually inferior and sexually animal, in line with Gobineau's ideas but also with those of Hegel in The Philosophy of History.

The postcolonial differentiation of the modern/colonial system set up a geographical divide between the metropolitan territories that sustained power/knowledge, and the colonial territories in which economic, environmental and human exploitation took place. Here we suggest that the visibilisation of the 'fourth world' – in a sense similar to Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui's notion of internal colonialism – makes it possible to distort that geopolitical distinction.2 As the human exhibitions clearly illustrate, since at least the nineteenth century Europe has been going through a process in which the colonial has become an internal dimension of the metropolitan sphere, affecting the management of life and death. By displacing the centre-periphery dividing line in accordance with this point of view, we activate a critical awareness of the long historical memory of this racial division of the world, which was created and concealed by and for Europe, and which continues to operate in the contemporary to varying degrees.

Through the media, twenty-first century European necrocapitalist society has been founded on the overexposure of this difference between itself and outside that it attempts to expel. The creation of the European Economic Community in the eighties perpetuated the European geopolitical myth based on the fence that marks the physical boundaries of the European bunker. Using multicultural policies to tone down the conflict in regard to that 'fourth world' that was already living in Europe, the community protected itself from the 'new' racialised other who tries to enter by means of death. The new European border created prison zones concealed in airports that don't correspond to Marc Augé's 'non-places', while the sea and the boats that tried to cross it were delimited by border fences in north Africa. A necropolitical ideology is at work in these border zones: a politics of life for the European, a politics of death for the foreigner.

The right to the power of life and death over others is conditioned by two interconnected fictions: racism and xenophobia. I recently curated the exhibition Critique of migrant reason at La Casa Encendida in Madrid with Carolina Bustamante. In it, we showed the persistence of these systems of death embedded in Spain's long colonial memory, avoiding locating the problem in the sphere of abstract reflection, and focusing instead on the policies, laws and cultural constructions that come into play in a specific cultural system. Through a range of different strategies, the works by the artists Miguel Benlloch, Rogelio López Cuenca and Magdalena Correa drew attention to the deaths that take place on the Andalusian coast and in the colonies that the Spanish state still has in Africa: the Canary Islands and the cities of Ceuta and Melilla. López Cuenca, for example, has been working on the persistence of these systems since the late seventies through the reappropriation of images and texts from the media.

Other artists included in the exhibition also reveal some of the devices of control and recruitment that operate within this necropower. Lucía Egaña uses parody to do so in her social interaction performance Miss Espanya, in which she physically wears the clichés of Spanish culture and confronts the Migrant Detention Centre (CIE) in Barcelona with this imaginary. Meanwhile, Daniela Ortiz and Xose Quiroga speak out against specific cases of migrant deaths during the deportation process, at the CIEs, and in racist raids in the streets of major Spanish cities. This pressing issue in a Europeanised Spain that saw its centralist dream emerge and die in a short period of time has also been broached by civil initiatives such as the State campaign to close the CIEs, Asociación Sin Papeles, Yo Sí. Universal Healthcare, and Territorio Doméstico, which have tried to oppose these strategies of racialised necropolitical terror.3 We consider this opposition to be a continuation and intensification of forms that have historically operated in Europe based on its invention of itself as a centre that is superior to its former colonies.

The racists police raids that take place on the streets are a clear sign that the border does not only operate at the visual level of the fences and the coastlines that have been presented as spectacle by the media. The border also operates in day-to-day life. It does so by means of institutional dispositives of repression, but also through what Philomena Essed has termed 'everyday racism'. The deaths of Osamuyi Akpitaye from Nigeria, Mohamed Abagui from Morocco, Samba Martine from Congo and Alik Manukyan from Armenia in the last few years and, more recently, of Jeaneth Beltrán from Nicaragua, are real and undeniable proof of the existence of this race-based border that we inhabit every day, and of its perpetuation as a way of controlling those who, by blood right, do not belong on 'this side' of the abyssal line.4

As such, there is a pressing need for those who seek to defend the notion of Europe as a democratic and non-pigmentocratic zone to denounce and reinvent this internal border that constitutes the fourth world. In its brimming over the boundaries of these spaces, artistic and curatorial research practice is one of the tools that can be used to shift borders as murderous fictions: not just the physical, material site of the border, but also its historical dimension, which is what fuels the everyday cultural validation of the divide that enshrines the right to life for some and routinely legally eliminates it for others.

Blanchard, Pascal et al, Human zoos. The invention of the savage, Paris, Musée du Quai Branly, 2011.Juan Latino, the first black professor in XVI century Europe, was a fissure to this racialised model through his integration to an academic system that did not allow this difference.See also, a platform created by some organizations to denounce the racist jails in the Spanish state.De Sousa Santos, Boaventura, Para descolonizar Occidente. Más allá del pensamiento abismal, Buenos Aires, CLACSO, 2010.

The views and opinions published here mirror the principles of academic freedom and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of the L'Internationale confederation and its members.