Presentation and Discussion / “Hijacking an Island: How America Stole a Nation,” with Louis Olivier Bancoult, Paula Naughton, and David Vine
Date: Monday, 20 April 2015, 7–9 pm Location: Cabinet, 300 Nevins Street, Brooklyn (map and directions here) FREE. No RSVP necessary
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Photo by Chaplain Larry Sellers, Commander, US Navy, Seabee Battalion, Chagos Islands, 1971.
Please join us for a presentation on and discussion of the history of the Chagos Islands, with Louis Olivier Bancoult, leader of the Chagos Refugees Group; David Vine, associate professor of anthropology at American University in Washington, DC, and author of Island of Shame; and Paula Naughton, creator of The New Atlantis, a multi-media documentary project chronicling the history of the islands.
The New Atlantis project tells the story and plight of the people of the Chagos Islands—a small isolated archipelago in the middle of the Indian Ocean. In 1973, the population were forcibly evicted from their homeland by the British government to make way for a US naval base called Diego Garcia. The Chagossians have been living in abject poverty ever since and little record of their culture and existence has survived. They have remained steadfast, however, and are fighting political and legal obstacles to return to their homeland.
The governments involved created a fiction that a permanent population had never existed, a claim made easier to uphold because photographic evidence to the contrary has now been dispersed, much like the Chagos community itself. The New Atlantis project maneuvers through this fiction in order to bear witness to the untold history. Taking testimonials from the displaced Chagossians as a starting point, the project uses archival material obtained from a variety of sources, such as photos from Flickr, retired US Navy Seabees, museums, individuals, and documents from Wikileaks. An entirely different mode of documentation is offered in the paintings of Chagossian artist Clement Siatous, whose visual summonings of his homeland are done entirely from memory. All of these merge together to form an achronological tale of a lost Atlantis.
This evening’s discussion is timed to coincide with the visit of Louis Olivier Bancoult to the US in order to call on the Obama administration and the United Nations delegations to support Chagossians’ right to return and their claims for reparations and justice. Our discussion marks Bancoult’s visit, as well as the launch of the project website.
ABOUT THE PARTICIPANTS Olivier Bancoult is president and co-founder of the Chagos Refugees Group (CRG), which has represented the Chagossian people for more than thirty years. An electrician by training, fifty-year-old Bancoult has gained international acclaim for leading Chagossians to victories in three lawsuits against the British government, which controls Diego Garcia. In 2000, 2006, and 2007, the British High Court ruled his people’s removal from their homeland illegal, only to have the victories overturned by a 3-2 decision in the House of Lords. Undeterred, Bancoult has continued to lead the Chagossians’ legal and political struggle to return to their homeland and gain proper reparations for their expulsion. Bancoult has represented the Chagossians in London and Washington, DC, at the United Nations and the Vatican, and at numerous international forums in Europe, Africa, and Asia.
Paula Naughton’s multi-media documentary project, The New Atlantis, encompasses photography, painting, video, interviews and artifacts. Through processes of collecting, creating, and curation, the project re-contextualizes this dense research and brings into question the role and power of photography as a colonizing tool. The multi-disciplinary approach defies traditional boundaries of an art practice, and aims to give voice to the Chagos community and act as an agent of change. Curation and presentation of exhibitions also expands into Naughton’s role as director of Simon Preston Gallery, New York, since 2011. Other recent curatorial exhibition includes "The Mind Was Dreaming, The World Was Its Dream" at Temple Bar Gallery, Dublin, in 2014.
David Vine is associate professor of anthropology at American University in Washington, DC. He is the author of Island of Shame: The Secret History of the U.S. Military Base on Diego Garcia (Princeton University Press, 2009). His new book, Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Overseas Harm America and the World, will be published by Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt in August 2015. David is also the co-author, with the Network of Concerned Anthropologists, of The Counter-Counterinsurgency Manual, or Notes on Demilitarizing American Society (Prickly Paradigm Press, 2009). Other writings have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian (London), Mother Jones, the Huffington Post, the Chronicle of Higher Education, International Migration, and Human Rights Brief, among others.
Beer for this event has been lovingly provided by Brooklyn Brewery. Refreshments courtesy of Sprizz-O
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