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Para-Phrase: Thaddé Comar & Sherian Mohammed Forster

Feb 17, 2021 - Gita Cooper-van Ingen

All images realized in Hong Kong, Between 21/08/2019 & 25/11/2019

July 2020

The current moment is quite overwhelming. Everyone seemed to be connected to the same momentum for a bit, getting caught up in the never-ending informational cycle fed to us by media, chain text messages, youtube links and videos. But really we weren’t. Then most of us got fed up. Some of us even lost touch with our own selves, some of us became a little more of this, or often a whole lot more of what they already were. We discovered who we can really rely on and who we cannot. We saw to which extent we can rely on family, on boyfriends or girlfriends, on the workplace or on the State.

February 2020

Thaddé invited me to write in relation to his work in February, around the same time I was visiting Addis Ababa.

October 2019

I now remember that day in Paris, it was October at an art fair party and Thaddé had just returned from Hong Kong. He was quiet, tired and self-conscious. I could feel how much the situation he had just come back from made him calm and impassive to the stress of being seen again for the first time.

October 2015

I also remember all those times in his living room in Lausanne during art school. It was stressful to be a spectator of the events which French politics were fomenting but at the same time it was entitling to have moments to follow and to share about it. We were part of the very few who were interested in what was happening outside of our artsy network.

December 2015

In 2015, I attended a wild protest in Geneva just by chance. Basically I danced and cheered people on. My white shoes were a bit burnt and were tainted in red due to a smoke bomb. It was simply an intriguing sight at the time and a cool souvenir which I have carried with me since. The whole city was deeply appalled, online and in newspapers, by the savages that had spilled motor oil and paint on the Grand Théatre’s building. A far right leader’s E-cig shop had been looted at the time. The angry politician from the city of Geneva had tried to physically oppose the looters and defend his stupid shop but it was already too late. To my eyes, nothing bad had really happened that evening but the city never forgave it. Protests have been banned without authorization since 2012. In the new law, the State could fine potential organizers for any damages.

August 2016

Thaddé started documenting protests shortly after the movements against the “Loi travail”, students and rail workers protests. He would freely investigate the archetypes of young people in the streets, black blocks, seas of red flags, bushes of mics and cameras around politicians, robocop enforcement squads and many other motives of politics through their physical and mediatic representations. The gilet jaune movement followed his graduation and diploma project. The upside down BMW on Thaddé’s instagram was the kind of art that would help me get through my graduation year as well. I had a last year to spend at art school and the void of political meaning that was commonly accepted there would make me nervous one day, apathetic the next. I was hopeful to see someone investigate how politics and current unrest were represented at the temple of aesthetics named ECAL. I was ending my bachelor in fine arts at the Haute Ecole d’Art et de Design de Lausanne. I must admit that during my time there I learned to appreciate some forms and shapes which had flourished in the space. Nevertheless, I’m still sceptic about the absence of responsibility from the people at the avant-garde of representation and communication in this region I live in. This traditional absence of politics in schools that I already heard of in public schools and now rediscovered in art school, provokes a growing feeling of self shame. To me it is an echo of the slogans which I saw these days stating that being passive is a synonym of being an accomplice. Also that not being something doesn’t make you actively against something else. In the case of schools, the passiveness of not being political makes them active accomplices of any ongoing political system or cultural status quo.

May 2020

Thaddé’s images almost feel like living history in the present moment. And it is frustrating and asphyxiating to say it. I mean if democracy (which should be useful to the rights of the masses) were oxygen, we would be weakened and passive, like a stoned adolescent in front of TV incapable to imagine a world that is something more than an industry and media produced entertainment which runs on replay. We would be hopeless and depressive.
Oh wait, we actually are.

End of May, Thaddé and I set up a meeting for a final discussion around the topic of his past work. We have a beer and I look at his book. But there is no on-going material to raise hope towards. The on and off Corona related economy has people stuck in a synched pace. Suburban people of color were insulted and assaulted by police while roaming at the foot of their buildings or going to the market. While white joggers and mothers with their strollers on wider avenues in the centers were merely fined here and there.

June 2020

Fast forward to these days, protests are spreading all over the world, #BlackLivesMatter has ignited once again and this time it spread worldwide. This happened only following our confinement, after we all finally saw, bent over our phones like never before, the n-th but seemingly that one that still needed to be, the ultimate, video of police violence against a black body, a black person, a black man, a black human – well, how do you want me to say it ? It was the longest one, the most explicitly cruel, and dehumanizing one. This time everything was too real, too vivid to just cross the internet. To this day I am still grateful that there were people that weren’t too numb to react. On my part, I had seen so much violence and graphic images to this day that I was only trying to start to disconnect my desensitized and derealized self from any kind of screen. I wouldn’t have been able to be there and say it went too far myself.

There should be protests in Geneva and in other major Swiss cities. In Paris, Justice pour Adama gained from the momentum and held unprecedented ground on the streets in front of Paris’ courthouse and in the media.


Journalist Rokhaya Diallo still had to mediate and throw knowledge looking like she was performing a 100m run at RTL radio station, fighting against interruptions from all white colleagues whose words were tumbling like advertisement spots, void rethorics for weak points and unclear agendas.
Chinese government is passing laws that will bury any legitimacy and the space Hong Kong protesters had for good.

Maybe it’s June and the emerging sun does us good right now. Maybe a sudden awakening of counter culture and activism is happening at the moment. It may be just a trend. Protesters have been seen wearing the latest Jordan 1’s for their social media posts.
As all young generations around the world are the scapegoat of the job market. In Geneva, 40% of apprenticeship positions were canceled for next year. Never-employed and never-was-employed, never-will-be employed, never-wanted-to-be-employed, is-not-employed-but-exploited can join forces finally.

July 2020

Fast forward to now, I was shocked and stressed out for days, learning and teaching too much in ten days of repeating “BLM”. We all had our marches in those centers we are dispossessed of. I think we bothered a few bystanders, but the shops and offices that were likely closed on our path wouldn’t be much of an audience in those areas, empty apartments and spaces owned by funds and banks neither. I realized shouting in these empty streets “La vie des noirs compte aussi” is a fucking shame in 2020. The white capitalist supremacy culminates to an extent in which it can be so absent. A picture in which only its structural property-based power, and a few canons to defend it suffice. A power that kept most of us in love for such a long time through postcards, abundant derivatives, subliminal bits of patrimonial legitimacy poured in our minds. Essentializing our territory through the structures which dominate it.

August 2020
So again, Thaddé explained to me that in the past months, the political impact is only a question of numbers, statistics, press release and damages. There wasn’t any rioting and looting in Geneva, it was mainly a symbolically united crowd and myriad of written messages. We were a number of people, especially people of color that I had never seen in that city at the same time in the center before. There was a crowd so big that I couldn’t see the end of it, marching before and after me. The New York Times reported 5’000 people, Police numbers. The local news said 10’000. The organizers, BLM Swissrom, announced 30’000. I only know that no speakers brought by organizers and militant collectives to lead the people and share their content was loud enough to effectively reach and unite the entire crowd’s chants.

The main thing that caught my attention throughout all this unrest was the violence. The one coming from above. The silent one. The latent one. The historic one. The contained one. The abstract one. The one that finally spilled a few drops too much, the drops that were spilled on camera.
Meanwhile it’s also the one not responding. The one not explaining. The one not holding back.
Meanwhile it was the one all over the screen and the radio. The one telling the overall story. The one announcing the numbers. The one moralising. The one minimizing. The one that has endless rethorics. The one that always has the right to reply. The one that gets offended. The one that is shocked. The one that doesn’t accept. The one that doesn’t understand.

And mainly I thought about this group of people, I mean this group of persons. The ones at the head offices and the ones that receive their orders. I thought about those people I was almost never acquainted with. Those fathers I never had, those bosses I never followed. And I have been wondering about the DNA of their authority, the pressure of their heritage. I tried to feel how violent the hold of their entitlement must be upon them. How violent this feeling must be which makes their wives cook but not speak up. So violent it makes the children listen but not question. So violent it restrains the people that are used at any level to hold on nothing but their hope. So violent it can emphasize control in any mood and color, in any language and logic. From pedagogy to seduction to murder, some humans/men over many have been born and raised to excel™ at subordinating others.

I am still wondering about this class of people, this culture that they have, this culture “They Live” (1988). At this point we always have to ridiculously compare ourselves with this movie by Carpenter. There is an integrated and amnesic ignorance of who’s in charge, or a diffuse sense of “them”. We are also at a point in time where good conscience, Christian charity, performative universality and all the patriarchal capital mess it covers starts to reveal its bitter taste, because the ones concerned, the oppressed ones, start to tell their experience themselves. The white savior that used to unbalance the impunity of his class by his good words is starting to be checked. This savior and all the other more uncaring and blatant models of patriarchal domination are getting unbearable for a new smartphone norm of democracy – one that is in most pockets. The actual direct democracy – beyond its sweet Swiss example – is slowly waving upon traditional classist and centralized power.
At least the internet makes us feel that potentiality somehow, pouring and oozing with news more accurate than the traditional show which politics used to put on. And in their newfound indignity, their sudden apparent lack of foundation (giggles), we discover their appearance, their emptiness, their short sighted vanity, their absence of culture, else than the one of ruling. I found a list of synonyms to the verb “réprimer” that encompass most of this cultural habitus of law and order: suppress, punish sth., repress sb./sth., quell, stifle sth., contain sth., smother (sth.).

Now is the time to turn our backs towards a pointless future and face the ones urging and pressing us towards it, towards their own ridiculous sense of eternity. They have to be identified and understood, more urgently than any oppressed and depressed human being. It’s the cause that should be commented in full effect, not the damages. I don’t want to see another drowned or stranded child on a Turkish beach. I want to see the ones behind all of this that enforce the situation who create this distress, this tragedy amongst tragedies. I want us to locate and define who the author of all this really is.
The ruling class of our society and culture traditionally used to make a point of being eternal, through authority, history and posterity, having the utmost authorship upon our destinies. Part of taking back the hold of our narrative currently depends on being able to represent what affects us in its entirety. In a rich world like ours, misery doesn’t come from below like the flames of hell licking our feet. It comes from above. If we could turn off the “enlightened providential state” trick that used to be pulled on us, we could start to light our own fires again.

Thaddé Comar (b. 1993) graduated from ECAL in 2018. He is based in Paris and Lausanne where he juggles between commissioned photography, editorial and personal explorations.

Sherian Mohammed Forster: Sherian was born in Cointrin in the 90’s, next to Geneva’s airport. While based in Geneva, he did an exchange at Ale School of Fine Arts, Addis Abeba, Ethiopia, in 2018, before graduating with distinction from ECAL, Switzerland, in 2019. Recently, he joined Inner Light, his most cherished project so far, which focuses on clothing and printmaking and started a MSc in Arts & Creative Industries Management in Paris.

Para-phrase is an online project that commissions pairings of images and text, where a photographer is invited to submit images and a writer is invited to respond to the selection. It offers a platform for exchanges and responses between artists, writers, and curators whose work produces and promotes the discipline of lens-based media. Para-phrase draws on the multiplicity of artistic processes and aims to encourage their exchange. It supports a wide range of voices from an expanding network of practitioners open to collaboration and exchange and shows that the outcome reflects the many, varied approaches of how to interpret both image and text. Both the acts of writing and photographing attempt to interpret the world, to decipher the symbols, figures, data, complexities of our respective realities.