Towards a Subversive Cartographic Praxis

The famous earthrise picture of NASA published in 1968 has led to the rise of new cartographic inquiry and planetary sublime. One that casts an extraplanetary gaze at earth and its residents. Where cartography assumes a neutrality in data created through remote sensing and earth observation. As Bruno Latour describes it, this has lead into a retreat into subjectivity. Such cartography allows little agency to locally constructed counter movements and radical acts of subversion. Moreover, it also erases historical agency and differentiation which has been produced through colonialism and extractivism. 

The famous earthrise picture from NASA from 1968

It is no wonder then that these representation of gloom and despair have translated into narratives of transhumanism. Of the search for another planet for inhabitation such as the thrust to colonize Mars and be a space faring civilisation as the Space X founder Elon Musk claims.  However this thrust would lead into similar disposessions as Ursula Le Guin very aptly sketches out in her science fiction novels. 

Space X Starman capturing earthrise from the visor of a Tesla somewhere between Earth and Mars.

How can new forms of representation and cartography be generated through experiences from critical cartography? While working on this project, we stumbled upon Kapashera being a nodal point in the global empire of cotton. A captive class of workers who stitch cheap cotton and synthetic textiles arriving from China into garments destined for markets in Europe. This nodality of Kapashera shapes its land transformations, the nature of its urbanisation, its metabolism.

Firstly, the cadastral plan of the settlement becomes a de-facto masterplan at the hand of its powerful landlords who enable the construction of tenements through 'cadastral urbanism'. This plan is drawn on pieces of linen and evades detection because it is imbedded in the transitory structures of argrarin land registers. We felt this as an important starting point in our act of subversive cartography.

A cadastral plan hand-drawn on a piece of linen which typically becomes a de-facto plan for land transformations.

How can new forms of representation and cartography be generated through experiences from critical cartography? While working on this project, we stumbled upon Kapashera being a nodal point in the global empire of cotton. A captive class of workers who stitch cheap cotton and synthetic textiles arriving from China into garments destined for markets in Europe. This nodality of Kapashera shapes its land transformations, the nature of its urbanisation, its metabolism.

Firstly, the cadastral plan of the settlement becomes a de-facto masterplan at the hand of its powerful landlords who enable the construction of tenements through 'cadastral urbanism'. This plan is drawn on pieces of linen and evades detection because it is imbedded in the transitory structures of argrarin land registers. We felt this as an important starting point in our act of subversive cartography.

A woman in Kapashera stitching a rug from textile waste.

Something that we observed quite often in Kapashera was that there are other forms of labour that exist under the thresholds of visbility. This includes the labour of care through which the women transform textile waste into a resource. Almost 30-40% of textile used in the manufacture of garments is wasted in the form of cutouts. The women in Kapashera go out and collect this waste on the day they cannot find work. They use it is a form of work on the days they cannot find work or as an extension of domestic chores. The women work with this waste turning it into a number of very beautiful household objects such as rugs, bags, drapes, etc. Many of the tenement rooms are actually filled with the beautiful work that the women produce.