Closer Looks at Beyond Change: Accessibility and the Demographics by Maya Ober

From 8 to 10 March 2018 the FHNW Art and Design Academy in Basel hosted the design conference Beyond Change, organised by the Swiss Design Network and interested in the impact of design within current social and political landscapes. Here, Depatriarchise Design co-created the space Building Platforms together with Decolonising Design and Precarity Pilot. We publish a series of co-written reviews to share memories, impressions, and thoughts from the conference with you. Accessibility and the Demographics is written by Maya Ober, followed by pieces from Benedetta Crippa and Anja Neidhardt.

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Photograph © Depatriarchise Design

On the opening day of the conference, we gathered in the foyer to meet with around 47 people who signed up for the workshop “Breaking ground: Laying a Foundation for an Intersectional Collaboration” co-organised by Decolonising Design, Precarity Pilot and us – Depatriarchise Design. The workshop was a result of a few months of online collaborative work – including Skype conferences, a plethora of exchanged emails – between all three platforms, who never collaborated before nor physically met.

The group who attended was different than any other workshop or conference I have ever participated in. Almost 80% of participants were women, at least 30% coming from the global south. One registered participant couldn’t come, because he was denied visa by Swiss and Schengen authorities. Even though all the organised events within the platforms were free of charge, still the ability to physically participate in those events was highly restricted. In order to come to Basel, in Switzerland – one of the most expensive countries in the world – people have to possess extended economic resources to cover the high costs of lodging, food, and transportation. High costs are not the only obstacle, borders and visas are the other, maybe even more important ones.

Mahmoud Darwish “Passport”

They did not recognize me in the shadows

That suck away my color in this Passport

And to them my wound was an exhibit

For a tourist Who loves to collect photographs

They did not recognize me,

Ah… Don’t leave

The palm of my hand without the sun

Because the trees recognize me

Don’t leave me pale like the moon!

 

All the birds that followed my palm

To the door of the distant airport

All the wheatfields

All the prisons

All the white tombstones

All the barbed Boundaries

All the waving handkerchiefs

All the eyes

were with me,

But they dropped them from my passport

 

Stripped of my name and identity?

On soil I nourished with my own hands?

Today Job cried out

Filling the sky:

Don’t make and example of me again!

Oh, gentlemen, Prophets,

Don’t ask the trees for their names

Don’t ask the valleys who their mother is

>From my forehead bursts the sward of light

And from my hand springs the water of the river

All the hearts of the people are my identity

So take away my passport!

جواز سفر

محمود درويش

لم يعرفوني في الظلال التي

تمتصُّ لوني في جواز السفرْ

وكان جرحي عندهم معرضاً

لسائح يعشق جمع الصور

 

لم يعرفوني، آه… لا تتركي

كفي بلا شمسٍ، لأن الشجر

يعرفني…تعرفني كل أغاني المطر

لا تتركيني شاحباً كالقمر!

 

كلُّ العصافير التي لاحقتْ

كفى على باب المطار البعيد

كل حقول القمح،

كل السجونِ،

كل القبور البيض

كل الحدودِ،

كل المناديل التي لوَحتْ،

كل العيونِ

كانت معي، لكنهم

قد أسقطوها من جواز السفر!

 

عارٍ من الاسم، من الانتماء ْ؟

في تربة ربَّيتها باليدينْ؟

أيوب صاح اليوم ملء السماء:

لا تجعلوني عبرة مرتين!

يا سادتي! يا سادتي الأنبياء

لا تسألوا الأشجار عن اسمها

لا تسألوا الوديان عن أُمها

من جبهتي ينشق سيف الضياء

ومن يدي ينبع ماء النهر

كل قلوب الناس… جنسيتي

فلتسقطوا عني جواز السفر

SDN Beyond Change 2018
Photograph © SDN, Samuel Hanselmann

Citizens of around 117 countries (over 60% of all the countries in the world) require a visa in order to come to Schengen-zone (that includes Switzerland) – meaning that accessing the space of the foyer was almost impossible for designers, thinkers, researchers, students coming from those countries. Following Ramia Mazé, who during her keynote emphasized the importance of quantitative research, I have created a nerdy excel table, as she calls it, to calculate the total population of those countries. Based on the information from files at: gsociology and schengenvisainformation the excel sheet shows that approximately 4,85 billion people (68% of world’s population) have highly restricted and limited access to Schengen-zone, hindering them from coming.
What does it mean for a design conference? What contents are represented and get a stage, when the majority of world’s population cannot participate in academic events? How should we discuss the domineering bodies, who constitute a privileged minority? How can we depatriarchise, deprecarise and decolonize design structures?

The subject of accessibility, co-creation and co-sharing of knowledge was repeatedly emerging during different activities at Building Platforms. Whether we were talking about accessibility, basing on nationality, class, gender, and geography or basing on physical impairments of one’s body. Remarkably the contents provided by our three collectives attracted, a crowd very often filled

with the marginalised,

with the transparent,

with the invisible

who are constantly on the fringe of domineering design discourses. Even though we succeeded in raising the questions that challenge the status quo, often causing a very high discomfort among the privileged who seemed to be refusing to recognise their status, what was done during these three days is only a very small crack in a high, thick, reinforced concrete wall.


Maya Ober is a designer, researcher, and educator, focusing mostly on collaborative projects. She works as a research associate at the Institute of Industrial Design at the Academy of Art and Design in Basel (Switzerland). She is a founding editor of Depatriarchise Design, a practice-led research platform, that examines the complicity of design in the reproduction of oppressive systems, focusing mostly on design patriarchy.

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