Light and emancipation

A conversation about Light with Sinthujan Varatharajah

சிந்துஜன் வரதராஜா (Sinthujan Varatharajah) is a political geographer, researcher and essayist based in Berlin. Sinthujan's work explores statelessness, mobility and displacement with a focus on infrastructure, logistics and architecture. In 2017 - 2018, Sinthujan was a board member of the Asylum Advisory Board of the European Commission. In 2020, he*she was part of the 11th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art with the research and art installation "how to move an ark".

Last year, Sinthujan published the book நாம் விடடுச ச் ென்ற இடங்களளை நோகக (an alle orte, die hinter uns liegen), which spans an arc from his*her own family's flight from Eelam, the Tamil region of present-day Sri Lanka, to Germany to explore migration, asylum and the persistent omnipresence of colonial patterns of thought and action. Experiences and practices with Light are omnipresent in Sinthujan's practice. an alle orte, die hinter uns liegen begins with the contemplation of a photograph of Sinthujan's mother and then reflects on photography as a weapon of subjugation and as a tool of self-empowerment and liberation. Her*his installation at the Berlin Biennale illuminated previously hidden aspects of history, in particular the experiences of Tamil Eelam refugees during the German partition. Other projects have dealt with the architecture of refugee shelters. We met up with Sinthujan in her*his Berlin apartment to talk about her*his current projects and how she*he deals with the issues of refugeeism in her research, writing and everyday life. Light deal with.

Sinthujan, what are you thinking and writing about these days?

Right now I'm thinking about how nice it would be if there was a basic income for everyone and nobody had to work for a living - and be exploited. Unfortunately, this is not yet the case. That's one of the reasons why I'm currently working on various text projects: firstly on my second book project, which deals roughly with the phenomenon of tourism. I am also working on two other texts: an essay on the relationship between video games and urban planning for an anthology and a lecture on the issue of climate justice in the context of climate flight for a Munich theater.

If you are interested in Light what impressions or experiences come to mind?

I always have to remember that Light has a lot to do with class. More specifically, access to daylight. Glass as a building material was a privilege of the rich for a very long time. And even today, the size of windows and the brightness of apartments can be used to measure discrepancies in wealth. Glass facades are still status symbols. For example, I live in a house that can also be interpreted as a slab from a distance. On closer inspection, however, it becomes clear that the windows of the apartments are very generous, unlike in many actual modern social buildings. This shows* that a different social and economic milieu must live in this house. What may appear to be a slab at first glance is in fact a so-called design house, in whose residential units glass facades form a central element that make the apartments what they are. Improving the quality of life. They are intended to be extensions of their surroundings, at least when viewed from the inside.

Are there rituals with Lightthat are important to you?

I like to wake up with the sun. That means I like to get my body and mind going with the natural progression of light. Conversely, it also means that I don't like sleeping in completely darkened rooms that distort my body's feeling and relationship with the sun, but also the moon.

What role does the Light this play in your well-being?

I am a very light-sensitive person. Before I moved into my current apartment, I lived for a long time on the first floor of an old apartment building, a typical Berlin tenement from the so-called Gründerjahre. Of course, this was not a voluntary decision, but was due to the racist and classist conditions of the housing market in Berlin. There was no direct sunlight, as the building facades were very high and relatively close together. In other words, it was notoriously gloomy and that quickly affected my mood and my quality of life in general. It made me very unhappy. In fact, I was hardly ever at home during the day because of it. Instead, I was outside chasing the sun and daylight.

How do you use the Light in your apartment?

I use Lightto set the mood, especially to create a feeling of warmth that helps me to relax at the end of the day. In fact, I usually prefer indirect lighting. Light even more than direct Light and therefore have several light sources in my home.

You have said in the past that "being discovered and being visible can also mean a kind of imprisonment". How can we think about visibility in an emancipatory way?

I am often fascinated by the many ways people use their cell phone lights in everyday life. How they serve as an extension of fire, for example. This often happens at concerts, for example, when cell phone cameras are used to replace candlelight. This mainly happens with ballads. At the same time, this technology is also used at protests, not only to illuminate them, but also to mark the space, from the ground to the sky, making it impossible to overlook, i.e. impossible to ignore. When you* look back, you* realize how elementary Light was in the form of fire at protests. Whether in the form of torches, but also other burning objects, such as wicks. Of course, being visible, making oneself recognizable, is also a fundamental part of many emancipatory movements. You* also notice this when Light is used to point to an injustice.

What light practices inspire you in your embrace of fluidity, possibility and freedom?

Fire is very important in my culture. It is central to many of our ceremonies, whether solemn or mournful. Everything begins with the lighting of a flame. It has great symbolic value. For a long time, it was forbidden for Eelam Tamils to light flames on our national days of remembrance by the so-called Sri Lankan state. But people did it anyway to commemorate those who were killed.

And which Light inspires you?

The natural Light in all its different facets. The way it feels on my skin and how it penetrates my body.

A conversation between Sinthujan Varatharajah and Eliza Apperly, Berlin 2023