George Bajalia: Between Salt and Fresh Water

Between Salt and Fresh Water: The Production of Value in the Strait of Gibraltar

George Bajalia

George Bajalia

Beginning with a “view from the border,” which considers the border as an apparatus that not only upholds categories such as migrant, refugee, and asylum-seeker, but also produces alternative subject formations, this presentation departs from a tendency in scholarship to write with a “view of the border” that understands the border divisions as begetting solely resistance and hegemonic value. This project intervenes in this scholarship through investigating the border infrastructure connecting Morocco and Spain through the Strait of Gibraltar. An infrastructural turn in anthropology has called attention to the semiotic, institutional, and technical chains that regulate circulations of people, goods, and texts. Along the shores of the Strait, this infrastructure operates on the levels of political economy, technology, and semiotics to produce forms of value, which are dependent on and constitutive of the border.

Certain informal economic operations at the Ceuta-Fnideq border point to the productivity of value generating work, which subverts and usurps state maintained infrastructure. By tracing the ways in which the border apparatus is supported and valorized by migrant waiting qua labor, the project inquires into the ways in which border infrastructure is retooled, usurped, and subverted in pursuit of economic and political autonomy. This project reflects on this political economic value in comparison with the cosmological significance of understanding the Strait of Gibraltar as Barzakh, an Islamic eschatological term signifying both the mythological firmament separating life from death, and the geological formation separating the waters of the Mediterranean and Atlantic in the Strait: the Camarinal Sill.

As increasing numbers of Sub-Saharan migrants choose to narrate navigating through the Camarinal Sill as “doing Barzakh,” rather than solely migrating or seeking refuge, this presentation will interrogate the semiotic and political categories immanent in conceiving of the Strait of Gibraltar as a productive firmament constituted by both Morocco and Spain, Europe and Africa.

George Bajalia is a Dean’s Teaching Fellow and PhD Candidate in Anthropology at Columbia University in the City of New York, a stage and film director, and co-founding Artistic Director of mobile arts lab Borderline Theatre Project. With Borderline, he has directed F7ali F7alek (a Moroccan Arabic take on Bernstein’s West Side Story, Romeo and Juliet, and the story of Tislit and Isli) for a Moroccan national tour, as well as produced the Youmein Creative Media Festival in Tangier, Morocco. For the screen, he has directed With Rugs Unfurled: The Social Life of a Moroccan Rug, as well as Multi Meets Poly: Multiculturalism and Polyculturalism go on a first date. His research has appeared in Kalimat Magazine, Muftah.org, and numerous academic conferences in the US and in the Middle East and North Africa. Bajalia is also the Program Director for Global Voices Initiative, a US-based non-profit that brings theatre artists into language learning classrooms for digital video connections between China, Colombia, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco Palestine, and the United States. He is the recipient of academic and artistic grants such as the Fulbright fellowship, the City of Chicago 3Arts grant, and the Middle East Institute research fellowship. He holds a BA from Northwestern University’s School of Communication, and an MA from Columbia University in Socio-Cultural Anthropology. More information about his creative work and research can be found online at www.georgebajalia.com


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