- Editors' Note
We are living through a grim moment of global convergences, from emerging contagious diseases and the looming threat of catastrophic climate change to insufferable forms of social oppression and authoritarian regimes of surveillance. We invite our readers to contribute reflections, considered scholarly meditations, or short notes "from the field" to help illuminate the ongoing turmoil of world historical crises.
Meanwhile, our inaugural issue of 2021 begins with the section "The African-Soviet Modern," which brings together interdisciplinary scholarship that explores the multiplex connections between Africa and the Soviet Union. Organized by Elizabeth Banks, Robyn d'Avignon, and Asif Siddiqi, the section investigates the distinctive ethos of African-Soviet projects of modernization and modernity that diverged from Western capitalist projects. The essays explore these projects in their own terms rather than as a state socialism destined to fail or a sideshow to particular national or nationalist histories. Andrew Ivaska's study of the circulation of exiles from Mozambique's FRELIMO insurgency, Banks's history of the troubled relationship between Soviet and Mozambiquan women's groups, Siddiqi's examination of Soviet satellite tracking stations in Africa, and Steffi Marung's genealogy of Soviet paradigms of geography and development all point to the distinctive temporalities and the methodological challenges posed by foregrounding underexplored Soviet transregional connectivities.
The essays by Owain Lawson and Natalie Koch bring together political geography with environmental histories to investigate the workings of local, regional views of the land—and its rivers and deserts—from Lebanese hydroelectric engineers to Saudi desert dairy farmers in the section titled "The Geopolitics of Nature." Their focus on the relationship between modern technopolitics and the natural landscape draws attention to the transnational links and international vectors that moved through the concepts and constructions these actors engaged with, from international financiers, urban planners, and development ideologues to desert geographers and agriculturalists.
Finally, we end with the section "Political Aesthetics," which comprises an essay on the affective feminism of contemporary Iranian art by Foad Torshizi and an original interview with the Palestinian artist Rana Bishara. As Lila Abu-Lughod's interview with Bishara makes so clear, regarding art as an active form of reconstitution as much as representation—or as a form of activism in its own right—highlights the aesthetic as much as political possibilities and perceptual movements it activates. Torshizi draws attention to the contemporary artist Ghazaleh Hedayat's haptic visualities as aesthetic movements that interrupt acts of representation. Meanwhile, Bishara brings to life a variety of everyday objects and scenes that animate their embeddedness in contemporary Palestinian life under Israeli occupation and control and yet simultaneously integrate the experiences of dislocation and suffering they aesthetically represent, such as the use of barbed wire (ubiquitous in the landscape of occupied Palestine) wrapped around a melting ice cube in Hunger Strike/Ticking Freedom, which appears on the cover of this issue. As Bishara recalls so evocatively when describing her series Blindfolded Histories, these bittersweet juxtapositions are themselves political acts as much as aesthetic representations: "Each time a viewer steps into the space," she states, "there is movement. An emotion is released in this space of frozen moments from the brutal realities of our history." Indeed, this evocative reanimation of collective memory and loss reminds us all of the power and beauty of art as activism. [End Page 1]