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This was written by Mandy van Deven and originally appeared at Bitch Magazine.
Poster 4 Tomorrow is a project based out of France that was founded this year to encourage artists to advocate “on behalf of those who don’t enjoy the same freedom of expression that you do” by designing posters that pronounce an explicitly political sentiment regarding the universal right to free speech. Right away this struck me as problematic. In order to truly work from a praxis of liberation, one must struggle with not for those who are oppressed, as speaking for the oppressed simply reifies their dehumanization (and by extension one’s own) and contributes to the oppressed persons’ being prevented from having an autonomous public voice. Replacing one master with another (albeit one who seems well-intended) is not a solution.
Furthermore, the 100 posters that have been chosen (by a conspicuously male-heavy, largely Western jury) from the 1,834 entries have an interesting recurring sentiment in the designs that jumped out at me: women who wear hijab are not free to speak.
But a number of Muslim women’s rights advocates who wear the veil beg to differ, and they are speaking just fine for themselves. Indirectly attacking women who wear hijab–whether by choice or not–is counter-intuitive to the promotion of freedom of speech and expression, as it positions veiled women in a double bind of silence whereby they are declared as having been duped by their culture or faith (and are, therefore, unfit to speak) and denies them agency in shaping their own lives. This sentiment is one of arrogance and domination, not one of solidarity.
Perhaps Poster 4 Tomorrow should take a cue from Hamid Dabashi about what solidarity might look like. At the very least they should lay off the paternalism and false generosity that serves to shift themselves–not the people they “speak for”–in a position of authority.