Color is Politics

“The phenomenological approach to space and the lived body reveals the two to be inseparable.” – Félix Guattari, “Space and Corporeity”

For French thinker and activist Félix Guattari (1930-1992), the built environment and the body are components of the self that exist parallel to one another. Buildings form who we are just as we constitute constructed space. Change to one will elicit an alteration in the other. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the case of Tirana, Albania. Edi Rama, mayor of Tirana from 2000 to 2011, used color as a political tool for social transformation. He literally painted the town in order to inspire a renewed sense of belonging. In the video for Ted Talks, Rama explains that a French EU official rushed to block the financing for the painting because the colors did not meet European standards. Rama threatened to hold a press conference denouncing the EU official as a reincarnation of Socialist Realist censorship. The French politician quickly backed down, asking, instead, for some sort of compromise to which Rama replied, “Compromise, in colors, is grey.” The most fascinating part of the video is when Rama speaks of beauty as a deterrent against crime in the absence of police. Citizens of Tirana told him that the colors gave them the feeling of being protected, and that they began to experience their neighborhoods as if they were safe places. Crime rates did fall. Was it the perception of safety that precipitated a new practice? Can aethetics move people to act in different ways? Even criminals?

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