Enjoy Poverty! (please)

Brussels

“When you look down,
all you see is your own fear.”

It took guts for Renzo Martens to make this film. The images he presents and the strategies he attempts mirror the white west back to itself, largely in unappealing ways. Exposing the exploitation of poverty implicates himself just as much as it critiques casual disregard for suffering.

By chance, earlier today I came across a quote I’d clipped out of Newsweek a few months ago, from a special they did on women leaders.

“People have to allow fear into the process.
It’s part of creativity, whatever your job.”
Kimberly Peirce

It seems to me that we often avoid looking down. The quote from the film refers physically to the black water of a river, potentially populated by dangerous creatures. Metaphorically, it refers to socioeconomic status. What does it mean to look down, to actually see the suffering of others, to face the fact that our relatively pain-free lives are built on an edifice of others’ deprivation? There are limits to sympathy, indeed: we can only feel so much. But we can do more to change the structural conditions that perpetuate hopelessness.

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