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e-flux journal: Jonas Staal on indigenous uprisings and "stateless democracy"


Moussa Ag Assarid, from the series The Revolution Is Without Frontiers, 2014

In the December issue of e-flux journal, artist Jonas Staal examines the history of anti-colonial and anti-state uprisings in northern Mali. Generations of indigenous communities in the region have resisted efforts—first by French colonizers and then by the Malian central government—to imposes state structures on a population that has historically lived outside of them. In recounting this history, Staal shows how these anti-state movements have nonetheless adopted certain icons and symbols associated with the nation-state as a form—in particular, flags. Staal calls this the “counter-performance” of a state: “I would like to explore the other performance, the one in which stateless peoples, indigenous to the territory—however problematic that term is—articulate the possibility of a state of their own. What exactly is the anatomy of this counter-performance?”

While acknowledging the power of this counter-performance, Staal argues that real liberation does not come about through the replacement of one state with another. Rather, it comes about through the wholesale abandonment of state structures, which are inherently oppressive and anti-democratic: “How we can liberate democracy from our states? How do we redefine the practice of democracy without the construct of the state? Our liberation, I believe, is to enact, in the face of the total states arising before us, a stateless democracy.”

Read the full essay here.