Imagining Queer Bandung

Film scrreenings, Film-workshop and Podcast-workshop for queer BIPoCs 
(June-August 2021)

(bi’bak website)

Beyond the kitchen:
Stories from the Thai Park

(March-July 2020; ongoing tour)

(museum website)

at Bezirksmuseum Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, 2020 / funded by Senatsverwaltung für Kultur und Europa, Bezirksamt
Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf and Goethe-Institut Thailand

un.thai.tled Film Festival 2020

& Film-workshop for BPoCs with Pimpaka Towira and un.thai.tled Collective
(September-October 2020)

(bi’bak website)
at Sinema Transtopia (project by bi’bak) 2020 / funded by Nord-Süd-Brücke Stiftung, Berliner Projektfonds Kulturelle Bildung,
Purin Pictures and Goethe-Institut Thailand

︎ Thai Film Screenings Berlin 2019 at Moviemento
︎Thai Evening in Berlin 2019 at Schalet
Exhibition breaking-through of un.thai.tled collective (August 2019)
supported by UCity Thailand, Thai Airways, Singha Beer, ExBerliner, I-Heart-Berlin


“Because I am human”

director /

- based in berlin

Sarnt Utamachote © 2021

Prakash, Gyan. "Orientalism now." History and theory (1995): 199-212.

The article offers a review of diverse critiques or expansions on Edward Said’s Orientalism; an overview on its consequences, its provocations. It appears to many scholars (especially Oriental Studies or “Area Studies, later) as either a “wake-up call”; a direct challenge in their centuries-old practices; a link between institutional power (Western imperial quest) and production of knowledge. Cultures - or the Orient - therefore should no longer be seen as “essentialist and differentiating” (based on nation states, borders nor ethnicity), but as intertwined (micro-)histories and human experiences (p208). Orientalist practices established themselves as means to hegemony (or instrument) - as “discourse” -, hence any person, whose aims are to be part or be recognized in hegemony, must comply with (p207). In this way - similar to Capitalism - Orientalism sustains its positions via being open to change and heterogeneity (p206), by involving many possible actors into its own reproductions (from “(desexualized) natives” to “(hypersexualized) Western feminists”) (p210); sustaining its authority in knowledge about the Other (p202).

Scott, Matthew. "Edward Said's Orientalism." Essays in Criticism 58, no. 1 (2008): 64-81.

Scott expands on what Said originally wrote. In short, Orientalism is a practice; production of epistemological object/product “rather than result of any direct apprehension of the real” (p65). He uses the decentralising power of Derridean reading - as “words can only be precise by a science of words, purified of inexactness, emotion or sloppiness” (Said, p145) - to understand this “study of the construction of an object, for investigation and control” (Spivak), which many diverse heterogenous texts/methodologies have contributed to (p66). That there is a direct link from Romanticism to Orientalism; that the goals of Enlightenment lies in the transcendental universalization of the human (the Orient, in this case) (p69) - yet on via coercive means; “when sympathy dissolves into subjectivism” (p69) and essentializing of the Other (p70). This goal leads to imperialism; when transcendental (Western) man uses (Oriental) Other as justification of his position as visionary, as God’s messenger and “abject” negation to this higher position (p72-73). It was the (Western) man who could find kinship between himself and Orient, by creating “phantom” to serve such kinship/mission (Said, p118); creating East as place of “strange paradigms of thought and behavior [...] in challenging and baffling ways” (p77).

Melford, George. The Sheik. (1921).

First question before I clicked on the film is - will it make a difference if someone completely else (especially from the regions) has made the film? Was this Oriental “technology” already available (let alone internalized) in the Orient since that time?

The film “The Sheik” (George Melford, 1921) interestingly portrays a plot-twisting character Sheik (played by Rudolph Valentine, “the first gay icon”, one of earliest male stars) - who embodies racially passing power (as a British-Spanish born person but raised in the Arabic tribe), resembling of “Tarzan of the Apes” (1912 - later made into Disney films): a European “cosmopolitan” to-be-educated person who knows how to switch codes (between savage and colonizer’s languages). Sheik was educated in France, yet has to lead his nomadic tribe in mysterious Arabia (the imaginary place of dunes and caravans). Diana embodies a seemingly passive European female (with proto-feminist tendency; the need to “escape” patriarchal institution of marriage and boredom - the yearn for “adventure” and sexual liberation) - whose desire is the driving force behind film’s narrative (the film abruptly ends when she whole-heartedly falls in love with Sheik, who risks his life to rescue her - with revelation about Sheik’s “real” origin and liberation from the Other Savage). The novelist presents a person with hegemonic instrument; writing and constitution of desire - he has been using the power to construct the image of “faithful, loving” man, which becomes the object of desire in female eyes.

This heroic narratives presents firstly a hierarchy amongst savages, established during colonial times; those who bring the profits to the empire are to be recognized as “us” (Sheik being local cooperator to colonial expansion: he saves Diana from Other savage “worse” than him). Furthermore, this hierarchy is sustained by “colonial mindset” or codes of conduct - observing from how Sheik wrestles between the modern “self-control” (he decides not to “abuse” Diana, 36:00) and the savagery “sexually greedy” (“The Arabs take what they want!” - Diana). This complexity hence goes beyond the one-dimensional discourse on racial essences (doesn’t matter if Sheik is European or not, if he behaves like savage, he could be savage). Once being reminded that he should act like savage (sexually greedy, taking and plundering - instead of “You want her for yourself?”, 1:02:56), Sheik is shocked and realizes he is now “in love” with Diana.

The shot of sleeping Diana (18:48, 37:20, 1:13:47) resembles the usual “male gaze” and the audience’s identification with the “male abuser” (Sheik and other warlord), yet the shot of sleeping/wounded Sheik at the end (1:22:14) retells the empathy of “female lover” (Diana) - in this way, Sheik (heroic, self-controlling “better” savage) has finally completed the conditions of desire - of faithful, caring hero - and become then the object of “gaze”. This mode of identification - via gazing and desire - is the dominant character in this exact “Classical Era” of Hollywood (ca 1920-1950s); when the “genre” (marketization of taste, target groups and class divisions) meets (perhaps) Orientalism. Travelling into the unknown (usual trope during “Early Cinema”) now becomes retelling about the exotic knowns (the narrative genre). Recalling the presumably premise of the film :

“When love is more destined than riches, it is the will of Allah. Let another be chosen” (2:38).

The spatial plays a gendered role in this film. European subjects (the novelist and Diana) are “weak” against the sandstorms and barbaric forces (tribesmen); the savages are strong and relentless. The mobility of these subjects - usually allowed in “civilized” city/interior space; Diana could pass as a boy (as Sheik once calls her “You make a very charming boy”) or pass a Oriental person (in the beginning due to curiosity) - is disturbed in this no-man’s-land territory: the dune and desert. Sheik’s - being the only male who can mobilize force across this (the novelist can’t) - heroic act embodies exactly the empire’s mission: to utilize local conflicts and create violence under the masquerade of “unity”. The racially ambivalent - which to the extend is “mimicry” - identities are the unintentional byproducts of the empire (Homi K. Bhabba, The Location of Culture, 1994) as well. The last shot of the film when the novelist walks out from the room, failed to “own” Diana (after Diana confesses her love to Sheik), the whole tribesmen bow down after shouting “All well with Allah”, leaving only the novelist standing. This picture - if being taken out of context - can be read that tirbesmen show novelist the act of surrender or he has higher power than them.

The question I ask myself next is, would the story be this “melodramatic”, if it was the non-passing white European who captivates the white European female; if Sheik was portraying typical Euopeans and not the Oriental Arabs? - or in better words; how does the element of Arabs being savage/uncivilized/backward/aggressive serve into the audience’s perception in terms of marketing. It reminds what Linda Nochlin’s “Imaginary Orient”; critique on Orientalist “realism” of Delacroix and Gerome’s paintings - “[the artist] had come too close to an overt statement of the most explosive, hence the most carefully repressed, corollary of the ideology of male domination: the connection between sexual possession and murder as an assertion of absolute enjoyment.” (Nochlin, 1989, pp43)

The most interesting part of me is (53:55- 54:) the conversation between novelist and Sheik; the European man confronts/asks the savage man to rethink about his captivation of European female (Diana) - which marks exception to other Oriental females he has captured - by which Sheik replies “But she is content”. This can be problematized that,  first this is a man (actor, filmmaker as well - embodying males) speaking for women’s content; second is how Oriental Other reverses Western hegemonic “human rights” (consent) onto itself; thirdly is how the entire conversation later this sentence is left out (having no more texts for reading). This fascinates me to imagine, the reason (or failure) to represent dialogues between Oriental Other and European scholars - or rather these dialogues are not to be found because it has been a self-monologue the whole time.

I would love to further note that many persons - especially the “peripheral” (minor) characters - hardly have spoken (i.e. the texts of their voices don’t appear). They appear all as caricature - white dressed traditional/Oriental clothes. The exception is, of course, the European ladies in the city who gossip about their lives.

Fanon, Frantz. "Algeria unveiled." Decolonization: perspectives from now and then (2004): 42-55.

Fanon traces the legacy of veils - its role in colonial imaginations as well as liberation movements. Foremostly it is the most obvious “eye-catcher” to the outside world (p43). Clothes, usually representing the lifestyles of that community. However the veil (or heik) stands out, either as the obstacle between (European) males and their (possible) objects of desire, or as the (abstracting) signifier of undisclosed, of mysterious “unknown knowable” (p44). The interest/violent fascination with the veil renders both the Reality of it and the women behind it without agency; the veil seemingly becomes the women - something to be desired and conquered (p44-45). This is way the colonial regime facilitated the Algerian male counterparts as their possible compatriots; as someone who either unveils the female (what presumably “belongs” to savage male) - prostitutes them - or resists the process of unveiling - coerces them into domination (p45-46). This domestication of Algerien society recalls what Djebar said, that domination came from either European males or Algerian males themselves. When the civil wars broke out, the involvement of women into warfare was progressive, yet - with Algeria’s lost - led to massive form of governmentality afterwards. Everyone (Jews, Europeans, Arabs) who couldn’t pass as “not a threat” to French regime was suspected of being terrorists; every Haiks/veil was seen as a form of weapon. The women must therefore “perform” bodily and socially, that she was liberated/civilized/educated enough - become “unveiled-outside” even with veil on; “fatma” - in order to pass and live (p53).

This proves to be still a problem nowadays, as the contemporary society still needs to wrestle between “modifying its customers” and “reevaluating its deepest values”. But in context of colonial times, this attempt was seen, no matter how, only as mere counter-assimilation; the attempted sustain of one’s “original” “fix” originality (p47).

“At the level of the psychological strata of the occupier, the evocation of this freedom given to the sadism of the conqueror, to his eroticism, creates faults, fertile gaps through which both dreamlike forms of behaviour and, on certain occasions, criminal acts can emerge. Thus the rape of the Algerian woman in the dream of a European is always preceded by a rending of the veil. We here witness a double deflowering. Likewise, the woman’s conduct is never one of consent or acceptance, but of abject humility” (p49)

“It is the white man who creates the Negro. But it is the Negro who creates negritude. To the colonialist offensive against the veil, the colonized opposes the cult of the veil. What was an undifferentiated element in a homogeneous whole acquires a taboo character, and the attitude of a given Algerian woman with respect to the veil will be constantly related to her overall attitude with respect to the foreign occupation. The colonized, in the face of the emphasis given by the colonialist to this or that aspect of his traditions, reacts very violently. The attention devoted to modifying this aspect, the emotion the conqueror puts into his pedagogical work, his prayers, his threats, weave a whole universe of resistances around this particular element of the culture. Holding out against the occupier on this precise element means inflicting upon him a spectacular setback; it means more particularly maintaining ‘co-existence’ as a form of conflict and latent warfare. It means keeping up the atmosphere of an armed truce.” (p50)

Thoughts/summaries of readings in seminar

“Representing Middle East in Photography and Films”

Professor Wendy Shaw, Freie Universität Berlin.

Nochlin, Linda. “The Imaginary Orient,” The Politics of Vision: Essays on Nineteenth-Century Art and Society (1989)

Nochlin’s article deals greatly to the “real” facts behind 19th century “realist” paintings (of picturesque) in the works of Delacroix and Gerome; starting from the question “whose” reality one tries to depict (p34). The exotic Other, Oriental Other are depicted as not necessarily backwards but fixated - as remnants of their vivid past - the “timeless” living history (of what is being currently destroyed by European colonialism) (p35-37). The paintings - or the choice to paint - disregards its contemporary situations; when Europe structurally attempted to civilize Ottoman Empire via technologies, education and religion; when Algeria rebelled, emancipated against the French (p50). The painters depict what the audiences - both travellers and to-be-travellers in the empire - what they want to see: the Orient people, “idle” (lazy, passive) from another time (p39)

This complicates the practice of “realism” (or better “authenticist”, “naturalist”) from 1873 which many artists have taken; the seriousness of their arts to the extend that it should no longer be seen (which means, hide itself from the critical stance) as artwork; hence ”orientalist transparency” (p38); its “reality effect” reproduces what visual culture later comes to utilize as main instrument; “the total visual field as a simple, artless reflection [of] Oriental reality” (p38).

This critique sets the institutional evaluation of paintings (as high “non-reproductive” art) down to other postcards (“reproductive” commodity) - which both include the sensual erotica (of massive conquering, desiring under mask of “ethnography” or “realism”); of male’s dominance over female and white European’s over Orientals (p45) ; which is merged by theories of Frankfurt School, who claims that cultural - surface - reflects the economy - structure - (reproductive) as well.

Chander, Manu Samriti, "Framing Difference: The Orientalist Aesthetics of David Roberts and Percy Shelly," Keats Shelly Journal, 60 (2011), 77-94.

This article points out to positionality; of putting the observer (the audience, presumably European markets, as well as artist) in distance to the Oriental Other (p81), in order to “frame” the Other as (not-yet)subject (p84); in realm of imaginary and outside process of self-actualization (locked in the material world; unable to emancipate). With somewhat complex Kantian analysis on transcendental/universalizing potentials of observer which a priori sets the position of Oriental Other in this way, this results in the “picturesque sublime” (p78-80) - in my own terms; the beauty made via the (violent, essentializing yet context-disregarding) abstraction of Other onto artistic canvas.

In this analysis, the object being seen matters more than the act of seeing (or the “culture” or contextuality of it) (p82) - “what” to be framed thus devoids the Oriental Other of his/her/their own “culture”; framing it as subject unable to be universalized (or to be included with European linage of cultures and historiography). Robert’s photography, seemingly apolitical and neutral, frames the architecture, the ruins of empire and their sizes in comparison to people who aren’t civilized men, in his perspectives (based on his notebooks) - following the tradition of tastes in reproductive mediums (p80). Shelley’s poem describes the veiled maiden as mere vision, the seen but nothing of a human (p89) yet the poet’s power can’t contain/can’t frame her “affect” - as it constitutes the desire and overwhelms the visionary/poet; “bewitching” (p91). Nature in his poem is seen as human’s action; racialized into entanglement with Other - this reflects their power (from “magic”; from subconscious’s identification with Other via our projections) (p93).

Alloula, Malek. The colonial harem. Vol. 21. Manchester University Press, 1987.

This in-dept analysis, by Malek Alloula, of postcards from Algeria problematizes the practice of Oriental photography (or “framing”); of extractivist approach towards racialized Other as object to pleasure the camera/photograph’s colonial mission/condition: to conquer, own and disclose. Alloula aims to see the consequences of these artifacts/objects; the colonial mindset still persisting in contemporary practices (p xiii). These postcards don’t represent Algeria nor Algerian persons but the photograph (presumably French’s) phantasy of Oriental female in their savagery barbaric contexts (devoid of sexual freedom, subject to Western’s need to help) - they don’t represent communication or dialogues (when Barber and Arabic were put aside and French education forced Algerians to learn French) but one-way speaking; the language of domination through the act/under the mask of communication (p xiv). “They wrest certain features of Algerian life from their indigenous context only to reinscribe them within a

framework that answers to the political and psychological needs of the imperialist's appropriation of the Orient.” (p xx).  The photography becomes the tool (of the empire) to capture what colonial language can’t express but still aims to capture via its rational/gaze of desire (p91).

The veil or white cloth on their bodies are obstacles or resistance towards photographer’s sight; invoking disappointment and rejection; whiteness becomes symbol for photograph’s blidness - or in better words: reversal of gaze; disruption of voyeurism (p7). This aligns with typical “journalist” practices - usually done already via travellogues, ethnographic films and scientific studies - that aim to “scrutinize” “disclose” the secrets (performative) hidden behind the colonialized females. These clothes - especially the veil - recalls however the “closure of private space. [...] injunction of no trespassing upon this space, and it extends it to another space, the one in which the photographer is to be found: public space.” (p13). This creates a certain “abject” in the photographer; frustration, negation - the incompleteness in his ability/his possible failure to constitute his gaze/self in this power relation (p14), therefore he decides to unveil the veil and give figural portrayal “to the forbidden”: to trespass by using his power - as the man who can sets the stage for photographic apparatus - by fetishizing the Other as “models” of his own desire (p18). HIs harlem; availability of (bored) female subjects ready to serve his gaze (p34) consists of the colonized and now rearranged (set) under bourgeois traditions: “true nature ostentatiously begins to supplant an eroticism whose only excuse is that it was never there in the first place. By contrast, it is undoubtedly the absence of any pornographic idea and the play of a pleasing chiaroscuro that turn the last odalisque of the series into a sort of masterpiece.” (p 78) The harlem doesn’t only include the single, seemingly promiscuous persons but the families - now rationalized/civilized (under banner of “culture” “long traditions”). The use of jewelries or decorations to reproduce the “truthfulness” doesn’t necessarily mean the truthful representation/portrayal: “Truthfulness in details may very well not constitute the truthfulness of the whole, however.” (p50). This is when realism becomes reductionism (p92).

Collection of postcards/erotic representations of Oriental females become thus like trophy - like “raied bodies [as] the spoils of victory, the warrior’s reward.” (p122); it produces/creates a new servitude - “they are reborn, but this time they are available and consenting, welcoming and exciting, submissive and possessed. The postcard can represent them in this way, runs the rationalization, because that which established and maintained the prohibition around them, namely male society, no longer exists.” (p122) - safe from their male counterparts’ savagery practices; ready to serve those in power (Europeans).

Betts, Gregory K. "Wanted Women, Woman's Wants: The Colonial Harem and Post-Colonial Discourse." Canadian Review of Comparative Literature/Revue Canadienne de Littérature Comparée (1995): 527-555.

The article by Gregory K. Betts complicates, expands what Malek Alloula had paved and failed - the act of speaking for and exclusion of Algerian feminist readings by Malek himself, as an Algerian man. As Assia Djebar put it: it is either the male colonialist or the male traditionalist who profit and reproduce these female products/images (p535). Although seeing Photographer not as individual person, his camera not as a camera but the scope of “cameos of colonial desire and fantasy than psychological or sociological readings of their supposed objects”, reproducing Orient object as reductive, raw mystery material - which renders all individuals into one undifferentiated unity, or undefined appropriative multiculturalism (p529). This can be traced back to Master’s anxiety; what precedes control over the Other (p531).

The problem arises at the question of nakedness. Although holding true that veiling oneself as a part of FLN (national liberation front) (p535), the nakedness - exposed/captured through these photos - shouldn’t be read as mere “prostitutes” or the Unreal; that Algerian females who politicized one’s naked body didn’t exist. The records of “free” prostitutes does exist (p536). In this critique, one can turn away from colonial harem to Algerian harem, the Real (beyond the real; usually imaged in Oriental practices) (p539). By this one has to take into account the Algerian society is not homogenous; its gender conflicts - hence no real “unity” - exist (p540).

Assia Djebar offers another way to collect and portray these gender resistances and disunity - via “polyphonic approach”; by listening and allowing translation and cracks in the meanings’ holes to happen, constitute not singular but plural voices (p542). Another method is to question what do the women want, rather than what they are reduced to (p547).