2021 Size: 20 x 15 x 5 in. (gusset) Medium: Tote Bag; Hand screen printed cotton fabric Object #: TO-47 — Still available at the Brooklyn Museum and their online shop — Exploring the history and politics surrounding concepts of “intellectual property” and “private property” through media, print, and signage. These concepts presented themselves as we examined the institutional pathology behind today’s glaring “vaccine apartheid” expressed by the disproportionate severity of the Covid crisis upon the developing world. (
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Proceeds from this collection will be donated to charities responsibly addressing the Covid crisis in India. Consider this our “Ode to Sisyphus”.
“The world has reached a situation of ‘vaccine apartheid’...The big problem is a lack of sharing. So the solution is more sharing", World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at the Paris Peace Forum on May 10, 2021. (source)
Following the demise of Actually Existing Socialism in Europe; the U.S. and Western Europe were eager to control the first, second, and third worlds under a common economic model. While the rest of the world was theoretically given a “choice” as to whether or not to enter into the “free trade” regime of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and its system of agreements and obligations, this “choice” was a false one as resisting the neo-liberal economic order of the winners of the Cold War would lead to complete ostracization (see Cuba 🇨🇺 ).
During the heyday of the Cold War-India, Indonesia, Egypt and others in the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) tried to maintain economic autonomy with varying results. One of the limited successes of these experiments was the development of a generic pharmaceutical industry. At the time India granted only “process” patents thereby allowing for local drug manufacturers to create affordable versions of many medicines. Accessibility and equity issues in India’s health care system continued to exist, but the generic drugs industry was able to address some pressing health concerns.
With the ascension of “free market” fundamentalism in the 1990s, many countries, including India, joined the WTO and, among other things, agreed to amend their local intellectual property laws to match the U.S./Western European standards found in the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS). The TRIPS regime is now regulating the world’s ability to bring a humane resolution to the current COVID-19 crisis. The “laws” of the market are ensuring that humanitarian aid via vaccines are only going to those who can afford to pay, leading to a “vaccine apartheid” based on the hierarchical status of one’s nationality. As life begins to return to normalcy in the U.S. and Western Europe, countries that were once in the NAM are reduced to begging the domineering West for “charitable” economic exemptions & medical relief. (source)
What this example illustrates is how seemingly “neutral” laws and regulations can be utilized to ossify a relationship of dependency. The former NAM nations are to be “looted” for their raw materials by the first (primarily white) world and its corporations who then transform these materials into objects that hold “intellectual property rights”.
"Loot” born from the Hindustani/Sanskrit lūṭ/lotra became a common 18th century term synonymous with imperialist plunder when the British East India Company initiated their model of involuntary privatization & coercion throughout South Asia.
Bengal Famine 1770
To break this cycle, we strongly propose a revolutionary “looting” where appropriated wealth is “looted” back.
During the period of the West’s “primitive accumulation”, entire groups, cultures, & classes of darker human beings were humiliated to the ranks of common property and it’s this that has led some to point out that “private property is a racial concept” and that the literal ownership of humanity was what the supposed “Founding Fathers” considered their “pursuit of happiness”.
“Not only is capitalist development completely reliant on racialized forms of power, but bourgeois legality itself, enshrining at its center the right to own property, fundamentally relies on racial structures of human nature to justify this right. Private property is a racial concept, and race, a proprietarian one.” (Vicky Osterweil, In Defense of Looting: A Riotous History of Uncivil Action)
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