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THE BOOK

CO-EDITORS

BRAD EVANS & CHANTAL MEZA

Image by Andrew Kliatskyi

State of Disappearance brings together the power of artistic testimony and witnessing with critical voices to ask deeper questions about extreme violence, the normalization of human vanishing, state and ideological complicity, and memorialization, along with wider concerns about what it means to be human in the twenty-first century. A full published gallery of dedicated artworks by Mexican abstract painter Chantal Meza inspires each chapter, bringing the aesthetic into critical conversation and leading to a multidisciplinary collection that charts a new path for recovering humanity in the face of its annihilation. Featuring contributions from theorists of violence who are concerned with the issue of forcibly removing humans from the surface of the earth, while also appreciative of the complex layers of appearance and disappearance in the contemporary world, the book attends to the many ways disappearance occurs and the ethical questions this raises.

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Slavery, Death and Disappearance

In many regions of the Americas where these Africans disembarked, they replaced the Native American populations who prior to them were enslaved and killed. Meza’s series The Void reminds us of the ambiguous nature of these spaces that were destroyed and whose peoples were dispossessed. Spaces that were new to enslaved Africans but not at all empty for the Indigenous populations who had been in the Americas for thousands of years. Colourless, the drawings in The Void evoke what these new spaces were and what they would become. Gradually, the series Apparitions takes shape from the vacant black and white networks of blurry lines to become a mass of detailed round shapes. Hair. Heads. Pubic hair. Movement. A new life is possible. But one that is not free of blood and violence.

Ana Lucía Araujo
Professor of History at Howard University. Washington DC. 

Witness

Imagine
a people neither blindfolded
nor kidnapped
by fundamentalists,
opportunists,
terrorists,
or,
capitalists.
Standing in defiance amidst the dust and debris of hate speech
and gangsters,
outlawed by compromises
made in other lands.
And the darkness falls silent.

Adrian Parr
Dean at the College of Design, University of Oregon.
Senior Fellow of the Design Futures Council.

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Postfigurative Im/memorial Art: For the Sake of Carrying Disappeared Worlds

How can we memorialize what has been erased from memory? What are we to do when the voices of victims have been silenced, and when not only all meaningful speech but also any artistic figuration would say or show too much, misrepresenting the violent disappearance that has taken place in its very effort to represent it? How can we face the meaningless void that remains without either turning away or papering over it with sense- making sounds and shapes? There are certain images – including the powerful paintings by Chantal Meza displayed in this volume – that I venture to call “postfigurative im/memorial art.” In order to explain what is meant by this term, and why it is called for, let me begin by recalling the vital roles played by language and art in the formation of our meaningful worlds.

Bret W. Davis
Professor and Higgins Chair in Philosophy at Loyola Unveristy.

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Vanishing Points

Life bleeds from the biosocial wounds etched ever more deeply into our social ecology. – Chantal Meza

Ecofascism projects the most extreme eliminationist version of social disappearance. Proponents advocate for a white ethnostate, a racially homogeneous, ecologically pristine, and pure set-aside for an ecofascist order. The commitment is to help along the culling, to advance elimination by wiping out, sending away, or preventing the immigration of the racially unbelonging, those designated strangers within or trying to enter. Ecofascists are wedded to what they insist is their national land, decrying the spoiling of the national natural beauty by industrialization, the built urban environment, the unwelcome. Green here is bleached white, soaked in the red blood of others. Blood and soil, race and nature: the battle cry of the ecofascists

David Theo Goldberg
Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, Comparative Literature, Criminology, Law and Society at University of California Irvine. 

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The violence of organised forgetting

All of Meza’s work refuses Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno’s insistence that “all reification is forgetting,” and in doing so, it offers us a powerful visual pedagogical register regarding how we see, remember, and hopefully act differently. Meza’s art is cultural and pedagogical work at its best and offers us a new map of meanings, desire, and hope with which to think, fight back, and inhabit difference as a source of solidarity and community.

Henry A. Giroux
Chair for Scholarship in the Public Interest in the English and Cultural Studies Department at McMaster University, Canada.

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D_____NCE

There remains – for now – a more visible dance, one made luminously manifest, for instance, in Chantal Meza’s series of paintings aptly named Apparitions, but elsewhere as well. Contrary to Foucault’s account, one can easily observe that there is dancing there, accelerations and decelerations, traces or archives of the painter’s dance, moments and movements of the spectator (of “the eye and the spirit,” as Maurice Merleau-Ponty has it), older animal dances (“who is beast?” Meza rightly asks as she paints), hunting dances, and also war dances, rehearsal and repetitions, vanishing stages of a pained evolution, of ossified or loosened, living and dying rituals, suspended metamorphoses, fleeting and conflicting scenes of a series in formation. States – and stages – of disappearance. Or d—ance.

Gil Anidjar
Teaches in the Department of Religion at Columbia University

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Technologies of disappearance

Maybe in art I could find better resources for thinking this matter through. I recall Barnett Newman, the vast emptiness of his paintings. Images of spaces made such that one can go into them and disappear. Newman who always preferred the tundra to Paris. Newman who just wanted the paint on the canvas to look as good as it did in the tube. Then I think of Chantal Meza’s series Since the Beginning. Didn’t she paint disappearance? That one image of hers with all the colours and intricacies of a vast placenta. “Disappear, where?” it asks. “The body,” it replies. Yet the body that she paints is no maternal home. I see there a deranged tree of life that promises to strangle me in its torments.

Julian Reid
Chair and Professor of International Relations at the University of Lapland.

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Disappearances

I was struck by Meza’s series Fragments of a Catastrophe, which accords with Theodor Adorno’s famous characterization of modern art as an “explosion,” which is one of its “invariable traits.” I was reminded that the task of modern art is homologous with the task that I faced as a writer, that of turning what has passed into silence into a loquacious explosion.

Michael J. Shapiro
Emeritus Professor in the Department of Political Science at the
University of Hawaii, Manoa.

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A Murder of Possibilities: The Altricidal State as a Robinsonade

The imaginal in Chantal Meza’s art pulverizes the gaze and conscripts the viewer in its call, which addresses those who look and those who refuse to look – as another type of (un)seeing. Her own conversion to witnessing was not accidental. She visited Chiapas in Mexico in 2017 and met with the Zapatistas and related communities affected by systematic disappearances committed by the federal government. The subject matter is critical to Meza’s aesthetic choices – the tension between painterly abstraction and the figuring of disfiguration. As Gustave Flaubert asserts, with pure art, the subject is irrelevant, “style in itself being an absolute manner of seeing things.” Meza articulates the psycho-poetics that gestures toward the co-originarity of earthly existence and the cohabitation of alters.

Mangalika da Silva
Teaches in the Department of Media, Culture and Communication, New York University.

State, disappearing...

But where the substance of what is being described is not unambiguously identifiable with an object, as in most of Chantal Meza’s artworks, appearance and disappearance are difficult to separate or distinguish – for the what has become ambiguous. Something is shown in the work, but it is difficult to say just what that something is. In this situation, what is shown does not simply appear; rather, it disappears but without vanishing or leaving a total void. In this respect, it participates in what I have elsewhere described as the triad of visibility, invisibility, and divisibility – a triad that tries to take into account the convergence and nonexclusivity of appearing and disappearing based on the intrinsic divisibility of signifiers, visual as well as verbal and acoustic.

Samuel Weber
Avalon Foundation Professor of Humanities and
teaches comparative and German literature at Northwesterns Univestiy.

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The disappearance of emergencies

Although modernity was overcome with the end of colonialism and the rise of cultural anthropology, the resentment that this turn caused among ruling powers has now created a condition where the greatest emergency is becoming the absence of emergencies – that is, the disappearance of existential emergency by the rhetoric of control imposed by right-wing and capitalist powers to preserve their power. The goal of this essay is to illustrate this return to order and how Chantal Meza’s art rescues us “into” the greatest emergency, as Martin Heidegger says in the epigraph.

Santiago Zabala
ICREA Research Professor of Philosophy at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona.

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Art and disappearance

Meza’s work, then, refuses the affective economy of the face that was referenced earlier, and I focus here on her monumental project State of Disappearance as a way of teasing out how facelessness, the nonhuman, and the abstract can help us to confront, contest, and resist the realities of forced disappearance in contemporary Mexico. Here, I continue to consider the link with the spectral through a focus not on specific ghosts but on ruptures in space and time, on the afterlife of disappearance, and on how Meza’s abstract swirling shapes are an attempt to capture the chaos of disappearance, to articulate its humanity, and to share in its grief.

Nuala Finnegan
Professor in the Department of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies
University College Cork, Ireland.

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