The Parliament of Bodies: A Century of Camps: Refugee Knowledge and Forms of Sovereignty Beyond the Nation-State

6–10 pm
Fridericianum, Friedrichsplatz 18, Kassel
Live stream available
12–3 pm
Fridericianum, Friedrichsplatz 18, Kassel
Live stream available

With: Isshaq Al-Barbary, Mohammed Allahham, Niklas Goldbach, Sandi Hilal, Elias Khoury, Alessandro Petti, Lorenzo Pezzani, Rasha Salti, Jad Tabet, and Eyal Weizman

Curated by Rasha Salti and Paul B. Preciado

“You think you’re in the hospital, but you’re mistaken. This isn’t a hospital, it just resembles a hospital. Everything here isn’t itself but a simulacrum of itself. We say house but we don’t live in houses, we live in places that resemble houses. We say Beirut but we aren’t really in Beirut, we’re in a semblance of Beirut. I say doctor but I’m not a doctor, I’m just pretending to be one. Even the camp itself – we say we’re in the Shatila camp, but after the War of the Camps and the destruction of eighty percent of Shatila’s houses, it’s no longer a camp, it’s just a semblance of a camp – you get the idea, the boring semblances go on and on.
You don’t like what I’m saying?
Look around you. It shouldn’t take long to convince you that it’s true.
Let me walk you around the place.”
—Elias Khoury, Gate of the Sun, 2007

This gathering of The Parliament of Bodies will explore the genealogies, epistemologies, heritage and knowledge produced within one of the most poignant and morbid legacies of the twentieth century, namely “refugee camps”. The century’s first refugees were the survivors of the genocide of the Armenian populations living in the territory that would soon become the republic of Turkey between 1915 and 1923. The Armenian genocide marked the emergence of international humanitarian efforts to provide relief to survivors, the establishment of camps, and triage stations in neighboring countries and the documentation of the horrors of the experience in report and photographs in international media. The refugee camp invented a political regime without political rights and a visual regime of total exposure and dispossession.

Throughout the past century, scholarship, theory and policy have been focus on citizenship and the nation-state, while all other forms of community formation, economic and urban organization, the fabric of social relations outside the paradigms of the state and citizenship are perceived as theoretically exceptional, pertaining to anthropology, ethnography, and humanitarian contingency. Established on the principles of temporariness and impermanence, camps have they prevailed for longer than half a century. Generations of their residents were born into the world carrying their identity as refugees, even if they had not themselves experienced the forced displacement that their parents or grandparents experienced. Over time, refugee camps become districts in cities, and refugees the denizens, indentured laborers, the “guest-others” of a national economy. A hundred years after the Armenian genocide, the number of people who are identified as refugees has increased exponentially. Entrusting humanitarian organizations with their survival and destiny is so profoundly institutionalized that it has become normalized and commonplace; yet the perception of what camps represent remains “outside” the realms of useful knowledge, ways of doing and being in the world.

This forum proposes to reverse the paradigms and explore refugee camps and being in the world as a refugee as central, rather than epiphenomenal, exceptional, or temporary notions. From Beirut to Calais, from Lesvos to Zaatari, we invite architects, urban planners, theorists, filmmakers, artists, writers and activists to reflect on the knowledge accumulated and transmitted from living in the camps, the myriad histories of doing, building, resisting and negotiating power and authority, producing community, space and temporality. The legacy of a century of refugee camps constitutes a fertile terrain for critical examination of the normative paradigms of nation-state and citizenship and a re-evaluation of different cosmogonies for the organization of society, relations of authority and power, economic production, space and time.

The Refugee Heritage is a project by DAAR-Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti, photo: Luca Capuano with Carlo Favero


Refugee camps are established with the intention of being demolished. As a paradigmatic representation of political failure, they are meant to have no history and no future; they are meant to be forgotten. The history of refugee camps is constantly erased, dismissed by states, humanitarian organizations and international organizations and even self-imposed by refugee communities in fear that any acknowledgement of the present undermines a future right of return. The only history that is recognized within refugee communities is one of violence and humiliation. Yet the camp is also a place rich with stories narrated through its urban fabric. In tracing, documenting, revealing and representing refugee history beyond the narrative of suffering and displacement, Refugee Heritage is an attempt to imagine and practice refugeeness beyond humanitarianism. ​

Contemporary notions of heritage and conservation are buttressed by very powerful institutions, which are often oriented towards cultural expropriation. UNESCO’s “Format for the nomination of properties for inscription on the World Heritage List (Annex 5)” is a monumental edifice built during a colonial era. Over the course of two years, organizations and individuals, politicians and conservation experts, activists, government and non-governmental representatives as well as proximate residents have gathered to discuss the implications of nominating Dheisheh Refugee Camp as a World Heritage Site. Refugee Heritage seeks to deploy the potential for the mobilization of heritage as an agent of political transformation.

August 12
6–10 pm
With the participation of Elias Khoury, Isshaq Albarbary, Mohammed Allahham, Jad Tabet, Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti

The discussions will be centered on the question of who writes the history of a camp? Recognizing a “culture of exile” as the perspective from which social, spatial and political structures can be imagined and experienced beyond the idea of the nation-state, a group of associations and collectives will present the proposal to declare a refugee camp in the West Bank as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

  • 6-8 pm: Presentation by Elias Khoury followed by a discussion
  • 8-8:30 pm: Break
  • 8:30–10 pm: UNESCO Application presented by Isshaq Albarbary, Mohammed Allahham from Deheisheh and Decolonizing Architecture (Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti)

August 13
12 am to 3 pm
With presentations by Lorenzo Pezzani and Niklas Goldbach, followed by concluding remarks by Eyal Weizman, and a general discussion

The discussion will be centered on the questions of genealogies, typologies and logics of refugee camps. The outcome of a conflict or situations of crises, camps are also an incarnation of globalization: What are the geographies within this impermanent space? What are the mechanisms of producing or reproducing social relations and political authority?


Refugee Heritage ( is comprised of the first four parts of the Annex 5 nomination dossier for the inscription of Dheisheh Refugee Camp ( as a World Heritage Site: Identification, Description, Justification, and Conservation.

The UNESCO nomination dossier was originally prepared by DAAR (Alessandro Petti, Sandi Hilal, Sandy Rishmawi, Elsa Koehler, Isshaq Al Barbary, Mais Musleh) in consultation with Campus in Camps (, Dheisheh Camp Popular Committee, Finiq Cultural Center, Ibdaa Cultural Center (, Riwaq Center for Architectural Conservation and Centre for Cultural Heritage Preservation in Bethlehem. Special thanks to the Odah and Al Saifi families. Produced with the support of the Foundation for Art Initiatives and 5th Riwaq Biennale.

Forensic Oceanography reports (Lorenzo Pezzani):

Ismael Sheikh Hassan’s text:

Anooradha Siddiqi’s text:

In collaboration with The Arab Fund for Arts and Culture

Isshaq Al-Barbary is a writer and researcher. His work combines discourse, spatial intervention, education, collective learning, and public meetings. He practices critical pedagogy and is the coordinator of Campus in Camps, an experimental educational program in Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem. More recent research interests and projects revolve around representations of refugee camps and refugees in West Bank camps.

Niklas Goldbach is an artist based in Berlin. In his latest videos and photographs, he appropriates architectural concepts and elements as stages to examine the relationship between subjectivity and hierarchical societal structures within and beyond the nation state through the lens of a globally expanding interconnectivity of these sites.

Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti were awarded the Keith Haring Fellowship in Art and Activism 2016-2017 at Bard College. They are the founders of the experimental educational program Campus in Camps and co-directors of the architectural studio and art residency program DAAR (Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency).

Elias Khoury was born in Beirut. He studied sociology and history at the Lebanese University in Beirut and the University of Paris. He began his career as a literary critic with his book Searching for a Horizon: The Arabic Novel after the Defeat of 1967. He was a prominent figure of the Beirut vanguard in modern Arabic literature. Elias Khoury has published more than twelve novels and four books of literary criticism. He is also known as a playwright.

Lorenzo Pezzani is an architect and researcher. He is currently a lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London, where he leads the MA studio in Forensic Architecture. His work deals with the spatial politics and visual cultures of migration, with a particular focus on the geography of the ocean. He has been working on Forensic Oceanography, a collaborative project that critically investigates the militarized border regime in the Mediterranean Sea.

Rasha Salti is an independent film and visual arts curator and writer, working and living between Beirut and Berlin. At present, she is the commissioning editor of La Lucarne, the experimental documentary program for Arte France.

Jad Tabet is an architect and planner working between Beirut and Paris. His practice extends over several dimensions of design and research, spanning the fields of historic urban landscapes, public space design, the rehabilitation and revitalization of traditional urban fabrics, the development of strategies for sustainable community growth, as well as social housing and public facilities.

Eyal Weizman is an architect, Professor of Spatial and Visual Cultures, and founding member of the architectural collective DAAR in Beit Sahour/Palestine. He has worked with a variety of NGOs worldwide, and was a member of the B’Tselem board of directors. He is the recipient of the James Stirling Memorial Lecture Prize for 2006-2007 and is currently a Principal Investigator of the Forensic Architecture ERC project based in the center.

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