The illustration/map – How The Attacks Were Planned – appears in the latest issue of the Chimurenga Magazine No.16: The Chronic (19 Oct 2011), a “once-off, one-day-only edition of a speculative, future-forward newspaper that travels back in time to re-imagine the present”, produced in collaboration with Nigeria’s Cassava Republic Press and Kenya’s Kwani?.Click on image to enlarge.
The piece is accompanied by the caption: “The xenophobic violence currently ravaging many of South Africa’s urban areas has generally been blamed on poverty. Architect Maria Gabriela Carrilho Aragão uses reports published in this edition and elsewhere to map some of the hidden motives, from political score settling to protection rackets, behind the attacks”.
The Chronic is back-dated to the week May 11-18 2008, not only to report on the first week of the so-called xenophobic violence that took place in South Africa at that time, but also as a second chance to provide “the depth of reporting and analysis that should have appeared during this period. Our aim is not only to reanimate history – to ask what could have been done – but also to provide a space from which to re-engage the present and re-dream the future.” – read more about the project here.
My brief was to create a visual representation of this task of re-engagement, re-examination and interpretation, using “sensibility, politics and poetry to represent data in an inexact language (…)”. The data herein is derived from a research report jointly prepared by the WITS Forced Migration Studies Programme (FMSP) and the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa (CoRMSA) in April 2010 (May 2008 Violence Against Foreign Nationals in South Africa: Understanding Causes and Evaluating Responses, by Jean Pierre Misago, Tamlyn Monson, Tara Polzer and Loren Landau), which I represented in a datascape and relational word cloud – both visual summaries that attempt to find commonalities and specificities in the data collected (shown on the left-side of the illustration).
Two extracts of the Report (at bottom-left) highlight the fact that, albeit based on actual research, the report is inexact, and in fact, inconclusive. For it remains to be answered: what makes [previously friendly] neighbours turn against neighbours? How is it possible that victims were not named in the press early on, as if they were nameless, faceless, like a bunch of scattering chickens scurrying away from a coop aflame? How is it possible that the violence continues to be perceived – and remembered – as the actions of a “disgruntled mob”, when in actual fact most of the attacks were preceded by an organised meeting at which the attacks were planned? This, and much more, is what The Chronic begins to unravel.