In her February 2019 performance-lecture, commissioned and copresented by New Museum affiliate Rhizome and documented here, artist Morehshin Allahyari illuminates her concept of digital colonialism in relation to the technologies of 3-D scanning and 3-D printing.
Morehshin Allahyari, King Uthal, from the series Material Speculation: ISIS, 2015–16 (process image). Courtesy the artist and Upfor Gallery
Since 2015, Allahyari has advanced the term “digital colonialism” to describe the tendency for information technologies to be deployed in ways that reproduce colonial power relations. In her lecture, Allahyari discusses this tendency through a consideration of the 3-D scanner, which is widely used by archaeologists to capture detailed data about physical artifacts.
Describing the device as “a tool of witchcraft and magic,” Allahyari reframes 3-D scanning as a performative, embodied act with open-ended political potential: “Put it to use. Let it colonize the colonizers,” she suggests. She introduces a series of replicas of cultural artifacts from the Middle East, speaking about the objects’ long histories as symbols and relics and their personal significance, while she and technologist Rosalie Yu perform a ritualized 3-D scan of each one. Allahyari’s approach to 3-D scanning, in which the narratives around objects may be materially and poetically rewritten, reveals the capacity of that technology to enact violence or care.