I DON’T BELONG HERE أنا لا أنتمي الى هنا
In 2019, the artist Hamja Ahsan was awarded the Grand Prize of the 33rd Ljubljana Biennial of Graphic Arts for his work Aspergistan Referendum. The artist invited visitors to the Biennial to vote in a referendum on whether they should join Aspergistan, an independent country of shy, introverted and autistic people. 72 per cent of the voters supported the artist’s proposal. With this call for autonomy, Hamja Ahsan breathed back into his art project Shy Radicals the rebellious character from which the project had sprung a few years earlier.
The project dates back to a few years before the publication of Ahsan’s book Shy Radicals: The Antisystemic Politics of the Militant Introvert (2017), a satirical work in which the author bases his critique of the hegemony of the dominant culture on the foundations of anti-colonial theory in the context of a new world order that emerged with the so-called War on Terror as a result of the attacks of 11 September 2001 in the United States. What was originally presented as an international campaign to destroy Al-Qaeda has led to a severe setback in democracy under the pretext of an untenable just war theory that places security above freedom and civil liberties, and presupposes the existence of second-class citizens, racism and Islamophobia as defence strategies against the enemy allegedly hiding in our social network.
The consequences of the so-called War on Terror are evident not only in the decentralisation of fear, which has led to a torpor whose most pronounced feature is indifference, but also at the psychosocial level where these consequences manifest themselves in the form of increased fear, helplessness, hatred and vulnerability. Such emotions have spread quickly among seemingly like-minded people and have lead to social polarisation, the aggressive reverberations of which are amplified on the internet among determined supporters. Cultural tribalism ultimately conveys a sense of belonging and thus security, and punishes anyone who dares to think differently. On the other hand, it is reinforced by the resounding hall of the social networks where it equates differences with the enemy and excludes them. The global has usurped the universal and has created a blurred imaginarium of the normal which makes it impossible to articulate a collective identity that would consolidate social justice.
Visitors to the 2021 edition of the Biennale have the opportunity to learn about the beginnings and developments of the Shy Radicals project. As with many other zealous revolutionary movements, the history of the project could lead to misinterpretation if treated too superficially or limited to its subversiveness and utopianism. As radical rebels against the dominance of extroversion, a culture of hypersociality and violent positivity, the members of the movement founded by Hamja Ahsan are fighting to break the now timeless dynamic of neoliberalism, whose main principles are to suppress difference and silence any action that might trigger it.
Historical artefacts, revolutionary iconography, never-before-seen photographs, first-person narratives by enthusiasts of the movement, extroverted sympathisers and experts in the field of human rights and contemporary art show how the Shy Radicals project has succeeded in penetrating the crazy and largely dislocated standardised world, constantly bypassing truth and fiction, without losing its speculative core. The Shy Radicals movement aims to establish the fictitious state of Aspergistan, to be governed according to its own ideology and legislation. Humorously inspired by the traditional strategies of the typical repressive apparatus, he succeeds in illustrating with bittersweet irony the necessity of individual activism that does not function merely as a pose in the virtual world, but unconditionally subscribes to a contemporary and all-encompassing cultural critique.
The title of the exhibition I DON’T BELONG HERE not only reveals a direct resistance to identification with the hegemony of uniformity but also consolidates its self-exclusionary position, which radiates a demand for recognition of the significance and uniqueness of the other, the strange, the unusual and even the contradictory. By establishing distance, Hamja Ahsan creates space for a discussion about the violence of civilisational social constraints and exposes the illusion of global equality. He advocates universal values and reveals a view of otherness that has too often been pushed aside due to misunderstanding and social rejection. He portrays otherness as it has always been: as dissent, as a community of those who think, feel or behave differently. Those who do not need constant confrontation to develop their identity. Those who create alternative realities, within which they imagine new ways to belong.