Decolonial Mapping Forum

This landing page is brand new as of 2020. Much more is to come. 

The Decolonial Mapping Forum is a participatory mapping initiative that calls for active commitment to decolonization of the cartographic process.

PERSPECTIVE

Since at least the 15th century, cartographers have served colonialist and neo-colonial enterprises, whether we look at the so-called “discovery” and mapping of the “New World”, or redlining in New York City. From early New York to today's Palestine, cartographers’ top-down view of the world has influenced development and displacement strategies and shaped the creation and expansion of settlements.

If maps have often shaped the physical and social topography of the landscape as much as they have reflected it, what happens when we shift the vantage-point downwards, and stand in solidarity with those on the ground, looking up? What would a map excavated from below, from the layers of history beneath our feet, grounding its viewers across time and space, look like? What could a decolonized map look like?

Shifting Vantage: Treating cardinal signs as relative 

“What is West? What is North?” are questions that must be answered various ways when looking at a map aimed at decolonization. If we take a look at maps drawn from a Middle Eastern, African or East Asian perspective, our understanding of time and space dramatically shifts. In the case of Middle Easterners and Africans, perhaps Africa is at top. From Asian perspectives, Asia is at center and the "West" shrinks, and onward. While our Unsettling Wall Street maps may begin with Lower Manhattan, every point can be linked to processes of extraction which begin overseas in Europe, or with non-native inhabitants' transoceanic points of origin in Africa, the Mediterranean, Europe and Asia. Notice that by the time you jump to the other side of the planet, the map rotates so that we're looking at the world from that people's perspective.

Treating the Past as Present: Questioning linear timelines 

We must utterly question the starting and ending points of any given narrative. Consider: Many creation myths relate the story of the “Beginning,” by starting with “The End,” telling the story of the emergence of a People out of an obliterating flood, for instance. Whose calendar does the entire planet adhere to? Where does human history begin? When does “civilization” begin? Particularly for the descendants of colonized peoples, the past is present, pervaded by a non-linear sense of place and time. Colonized peoples have been continuously relegated to “pre-history” or entirely omitted from “history” as a strategy of erasing their current-day presence and denying their future claims. These harrowing efforts to “disappear” them have never ceased to assault their collective well being, their families’ chances, and their singular sense of themselves. Just as people worldwide increasingly move between the visceral and the virtual, the lived and the vicarious, they also move seamlessly between layers of the present to the historical. The online realm better equips us to time-leap than ever before. No longer must we put our trust solely in an array of “experts” which leave us with a sense of historical remove. Many more of us are in a position to independently fact-check, access primary sources, and physically visit locations of interest, all at incredible speed. This presents unusual opportunities to move beyond the dominant narratives that bind us to a fixed sense of time.

Shifting Axis: Mapping from the ground, up 

The Decolonial Mapping Forum is in the process of developing a dynamic online space that brings those whose lives are and have been determined by the impacts of colonialism into the mapping process, incorporating their lived experiences into the maps themselves. As a starting point we invite you to draw your own “map of origin” and consider how it emerges from, or in relationship to the legacies of colonialism. We ask you to question our map layers, to fact-check them, and to send us your suggested edits and additions. We seek to draw you off the internet and into the streets to lead your own walks and develop your own walk routes.

Project Background

In the year following Occupy Wall Street, Rebecca Manski began excavating histories of resistance in the Wall Street area, with the intention of creating a digital platform with virtual tours and curricula to which students and teachers could actively contribute in an ongoing basis. She housed her research in Google maps in order to make better sense of the relationships between these resistance movements, their impetus and their impact. Then she began to pilot a series of Peoples' History of Wall Street walks for young people. Her aim is ultimately to encourage students of all ages to actively and physically engage with the roots and consequences of inequity, to learn from the ways that others before them have reacted to these inequities, and to take action now to shift these inequitable dynamics.

Rebecca met Patrick Jaojoco when a collective he was a part of put out a call for decolonial walks in honor of the Palestinian Nakbah. Before moving to New York, Rebecca had lived in Palestine, doing media and advocacy work for five years. In the two years prior, Rebecca had spent several months doing refugee relief work with Syrians, Afghans and Iranians in the squats of Athens. Furthermore, having lived her first five years in Jerusalem as well, Rebecca never didn't think in terms of walls, borders, liminal spaces, zones of indistinction, and the Commons. So, along with a Lenape walk leader conducting a separate walk, she answered the call, offering her “Unsettling Wall Street” walk in a new form.

This time, rather than focusing on histories of resistance from the days of Manahatta, Rebecca would dig in to the history of Little Syria, the Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian neighborhood that has been displaced to make way for the Battery Tunnel, and demolished once and for all to make way for the World Trade Center. She would also reshape the walk to make it as participatory as possible. This was something she had experimented with in a range of ways in the past and this provided an exciting opportunity to create a template for future participatory walks. She generated the content, questions, images and activities for four facilitators to split during the upcoming Unsettling Wall Street walk and met with Patrick regularly to discuss the participatory framework

We started with the questions: What would a map excavated from below, grounding its viewers across time and space, look like? Towards this end, we seek to generate an informed digital community activated through participatory walks, public conversations, and collective action in public space. We hope to encourage lines of independent inquiry that can contribute research groundwork to the growing movement to decolonize public space.

Reach out to decolonialmapping@gmail.com

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