Art, Law and Borders

Border issues and regimes across the globe continue to intensify; from protests around Brexit issues in Northern Ireland, the continued offshore detention prisons on Nauru, to round the clock isolation of people in prison during the pandemic. Art – in its broadest sense – is an important site of inquiry into borders’ violence and impact on communities. Further, art practice and analysis is an opportunity to destabilise settled logics of inclusion and exclusion, of enabled and disabled mobilities, of invisibility and hyper-visibility. The ‘Art, Law and Borders’ Seminar series responds to these themes, and reflects innovative research and voices on the intersections of art, law, and borders, encompassing both theory and practice. 

As part of this series, there are three roundtable sessions: 

  • ‘Enabling and Disabling Mobilities’: 7 July 2021 – 12pm-1pm (BST)
  • ‘Borderlands in Theory and the Everyday’: 4 August 2021 – 12pm-1pm (BST)
  • ‘Art, Law, and the Border(s) in Ireland’: 1 September 2021 – 12pm-1pm (BST)

The details of our first seminar event, ‘Enabling and Disabling Mobilities’ is detailed below, along with speaker abstracts and biographies. 

Art, Law, and the Border(s) in Ireland: 1 September 2021 (IRE/BST)

Please book your ticket here.


Raymond Watson: Dismantling Borders Between Communities

Helen Sharp: An Artist’s Field Guide to Getting Lost

Omar El Masri: Imagining Spaces for Representation in the Divided City: The Case of Urban Street Art in ‘Post’ Conflict Belfast

Ruth Fletcher: Witnessing Artivist Reproduction of Ireland’s Porous Borders with #KnickersForChoice

Chair: Sophie Doherty

Abstracts and Biographies

Raymond Watson: Dismantling Borders Between Communities.

Bio: Raymond Watson is an artist who creates public artwork, gallery based art, audio visual installations, audio soundscapes and large scale art in community projects. He has exhibited widely in Ireland and in a number of international venues – New York, France, Spain, India, England, South of Ireland, Holland, Israel/Palestine and the Basque Country. He has produced a number of site specific installation pieces in Ireland, Spain, India and the Basque Country and has produced a number of pieces of public art locally; most of which have been made in close contact with local communities and schools. His practice is diverse and hybrid and includes site specific installations, site specific material, and personal materials, sound and photography.

Abstract: For many years I have been creating artwork that is themed around the issue of dismantling borders between and amongst communities in Northern Ireland (NI) and in other international sites. My core starting point is from where do these borders originate? What are the bricks and mortar that sustains these borders into the future?

While there is a clear political and historical context to the NI national divisions, on a local level the experience of partisanship, with one side or the other, is often dictated by the community in which sections of the population live. Or as some would see it, the decision on whether you are Irish, or British, in Northern Ireland is often an accident of birth. People grow up absorbing the belief systems of the community and their peers. Three out of four of my grandparents were from the British tradition, yet I grew up as an Irish nationalist. I see belief systems that people subscribe to or hold dearly as being the root cause of our division. Belief systems have thrown up barriers through our minds and these barriers then manifest from the mind and onto the streets in the form of solid concrete and metal dividing walls.

I have made art interventions in this divided and contested space many times. I hold the position that those who subscribe to constraining partisan belief systems actually put themselves into a ‘prison of belief’. The Cold Floor (below) is one of many artworks that explore this actual process in a unique way. I would like to discuss the making of ‘The Cold Floor’, and the origin and motivations behind other similar artworks. All the works to be discussed draw attention to the issues of cultural confinement and constraints.

Dr Helen Sharp : An Artist’s Field Guide to Getting Lost

Bio: Born Northumbria, raised in The Outer Hebrides, lives on an island in Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. Sharp grew up on the island of Vatersay in Scotland and left the islands to take up a place in Edinburgh College of Art. She went on to gain a Masters with Distinction in Time Based Art from Dartington College of Arts. After some time lecturing and also exhibiting internationally many times, Sharp became a director of Catalyst Arts Gallery in Belfast and completed a PhD from the University of Ulster. Recently, Sharp worked as Assistant Producer on The Yellow Line with internationally renowned artist Suzanne Lacy and has curated and produced exhibitions, live art events, and programmes of community arts over the last 20 years including Fix02 the largest festival of live art in Northern Ireland with 40 artists across 28 locations. She curated and produced ‘Humbly Through the Dust’ for The British Council, an exhibition featuring 20 artists including Tracey Emin, Grayson Perry, Henry Moore and Mark Wallinger. Sharp also writes for various publications and has a fondness for horses.

Abstract: “Why don’t you just f***ck off!” was the response I got as I showed my first ‘Possibilities of Public Art’ slideshow to the residents of the Drumcree area in Portadown Northern Ireland. The rest went from there. Making art in a public realm in Northern Ireland has taught me to circumnavigate every situation before moving forward. After twenty years of making and facilitating art in Northern Ireland with much of it on one border or another, I have experienced more than most community artists may have, in terms of challenges. This paper will outline some hands-on experiences I have had as a practitioner across Northern Ireland in both community arts and contemporary arts practice contexts. Projects have included peace wall interventions, publications, cooking, gardening and film projects. I have also brought large-scale art exhibitions to Fermanagh and have sent performance artists up in helicopters in Belfast. I have even closed down Stormont with some iridescent glitter. If you are good at what you do, art in the public context may begin with one thing but it always, inevitably, ends up with something you could never have dreamed of, for good or bad. My journey is something I am happy to share and I hope it can be a field guide to others coming after me: to be lost can be helpful.

Dr Omar El Masri :Imagining Spaces for Representation in the Divided City: The Case of Urban Street Art in ‘Post’ Conflict Belfast

Bio: Originally from Beirut, Lebanon, Omar’s academic interests are concerned with the experience of everyday life for inhabitants living in cities emerging from protracted social conflicts with a focus on Lebanon and Northern Ireland. Omar’s research interest examines the intentions and motivations of urban street artists (and other subcultures) whose practices reveal new forms of civic engagement with the city.

Abstract: The research study investigates the social and political dimension of contemporary street art production in the deeply divided city of Belfast. Specifically, it examines how historical experiences with the ethnonational and the neoliberal urbanisation of space (read: culture-led regeneration of urban spaces) constitute and maintain the perceptions and motivations of street art producers to engage with everyday life. While more is understood on the neoliberal urban and ethnonational impact of social realities on the social perceptions within the milieu of divided cities, much less is understood about the impact of new social realities on social perceptions of street art communities. The research design for the project compared the social phenomenon of street art creation and production in Belfast, over a four-month, blended case study and focused ethnography. The researcher conducted semi-structured interviews with ten street artists, one festival organizer and one city management official, and observed participants while volunteering at two street art festivals in Belfast. By shedding light on some of the spatial practices of nascent cultures of street art communities, the findings revealed the street art communities engage in small- ‘p’ political acts which determine how participants view their practices, and what kind of places they hope to achieve. They firstly re-purpose taken-for-granted spaces within the city to demonstrate how street artists adjust their practices to reveal pragmatic and rule based forms of placemaking to avoid jarring with sectarian identities, while bringing attention to the democratic, transient and transformative nature of their practices. By participating in the re-defining of social and urban spaces, the street art communities, secondly, makes use of space with the intention of awakening the slumber of urban dwellers with the visceral enjoyment and experiences of creating and producing street art for the inhabitants of the space. While small, their artistic interventions gift the inhabitants of Belfast with ephemeral and gratuitous forms of interactions which present an opportunity, however temporary, for different social worlds to meet.

Dr Ruth Fletcher :Witnessing Artivist Reproduction of Ireland’s Porous Borders with #KnickersForChoice

Bio: Dr Ruth Fletcher is Senior Lecturer in Medical Law at Queen Mary University of London. She has published widely on different questions of ‘legal reproduction’, as they apply to abortion law, theories of legal form and social reproduction, and activist and academic practice in reproducing critical and imaginative consciousness through law. Her current project focuses on the materialisation of time in Irish abortion law and practice from a reproductive justice perspective, including through ‘witnessing’ as a critical practice at the interface of law, science and art.

Abstract: Law has given a lot of space to the witness as an external source of knowledge, knowledge which law needs but cannot generate by itself. This witness is conventionally perceived as an outsider, a third party to legal process and an independent source of expertise about what counts in people’s lives before the law. Here, I offer an alternative approach to witnessing, one that builds on feminist accounts of situated and embodied witnessing, to flesh out the role of mixing knowledges through artivist reproduction of legal borders. I turn to the artivism of feminist direct action performance group, Speaking of IMELDA, and consider their playful political performances as a kind of witnessing. This ‘cheeky witnessing’ improvises with legal consciousness and reproduces Irish borders as porous legal skins in three key ways. It draws on the knowledge of migrant organisers, as distinct from liberal legal jurisprudence, in grounding the call for abortion rights and reproductive freedom (a call that contributed to repeal of Ireland’s restrictive abortion law in 2018). Second, cheeky witnessing makes reproductive connections between migrant cleaners, domestic labourers and pregnant people as it situates abortion rights as one necessary consequence of recognising the value of social reproduction.

Third, this witnessing draws inspiration from feminist activism in the global south as it reaches out to the Indian pink chaddi campaign and brings knicker-wearers from around the world together to claim #KnickersForChoice. In assembling a collection of such witnessing practices, we can make available a set of knowledges which work with the partiality and incompleteness of law, and provide stimulation and sustenance in the struggle for justice. Such witnessing reaches out across and through borders and has the potential to assemble into some kind of multi- dimensional, moving whole that makes a just world possible.

Inclusivity Statement

Art/Law Network believes in a respectful shared space. We believe it is a collective responsibility to create and nurture this space for everyone, both offline and online. We will be prepared to request members and participants in network events to challenge their assumptions and engrained oppressive behaviours. We will introduce our code of conduct at the beginning of live sessions, in person or online, as well as part of any commissioned publications. If you have any questions, please get in touch with us at

Our inclusivity statement has been inspired by that of Migrants in Culture.

Borderlands in Theory and the Everyday: 4 August 2021 – 12pm-1pm (BST)

Please book a ticket here.

Lawscapes navigate daily lives; from crossing the street, electronic ankle tags, to which door you take to leave the courtroom. These three papers reflect how borderlands are visibly and invisibly encountered, and creatively engaged with through art and other mediums.


Art/Law Network: Opening Remarks

  • Hamsini Marada: Protest Art and Citizenship in India: The Tale of Shaheen Bagh
  • James Campbell: The ‘Transversal Moment’:  Court Thresholds in Theory and Practice
  • Sona Srivastava: Connecting B/order/lands: A Study of “The Trial”

Chair: Sean Mulcahy

Abstracts and Biographies

Hamsini Marada: Protest Art and Citizenship in India: The Tale of Shaheen Bagh 

Citizenship as a concept etches stubborn borders, thus amplifying the notion of visible and invisible borders amidst communities based on territories and socio-political identities. The newly introduced the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 (hereafter ‘CAA’) in India is no exception. Its attempt to expressly exclude Muslim immigrants from certain citizenship rights, led to widespread protests across the country.

The law’s ‘sensory encounter with visuality’ (borrowing the phrase from Thomas Giddens) surfaced prominently when art, as a form of dissent, blossomed at various anti-CAA protest sites. Shaheen Bagh was one such site in Delhi that became a moral example for prolonged protests led by Muslim women. Art in the form of posters, street art and installations was used as one of the resilient tools to express their peaceful dissent. Interestingly, protest art in recent times transcends the physical space and becomes immortalised in the digital space through social media platforms. This phenomenon has diluted spatial borders of protest by reaching out to more people yet attracting unique challenges. Despite the pulsating solidarity, artists and citizens who disseminated protest art have been constant victims of scrutiny, censorship and vandalism by the authorities and opposing communities in India.

In this backdrop, I aim to conduct the following two-fold socio-legal inquiry on the interaction of art, law and borders in the Shaheen Bagh protests:

  1. a) The role of protest art against a law that has the potential to create ‘symbolic borders’ by discriminating against people based on their regional and religious identities.
  2. b) The role of law, specifically the provision on freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution, in protection of art, artists and dissenters using protest art.

With this inquiry, I endeavour to suggest ways in which the law can effectively preserve protest art.

Hamsini Marada is an Assistant Professor at Jindal Global Law School, India, where she teaches Criminal Law and an elective course titled ‘Sounds and Silences of Law in Art: Identity, Access and Activism’. As someone who is passionate about painting and photography, her current work pertains to the protection of rights of artists and their artworks. Through her research, she is also working on developing creative strategies to increase access to law through art in India and South Asia by media like street art, graffiti writing and protest art in digital spaces.

James Campbell: The ‘Transversal Moment’:  Court Thresholds in Theory and Practice

The ‘transversal moment’ of crossing the threshold is of the utmost anthropological significance. As a ‘liminal’ space, the threshold is ‘betwixt and between’, occupying a transitional and indefinable locus. From one perspective, it is understandably a place of fear, anxiety, and loathing, perceived almost universally as a dangerous space. And yet liminal spaces are simultaneously monstrous and marvellous. Thresholds are spaces of limitless potential, they are encounters with the unknown, and they are breaches through which anything can flow. It is as a consequence of this duality that thresholds are deified and revered, as well as feared. And it is this duality that both attracts and repulses with an almost magnetic force.

In religious, political, and indeed legal contexts, the portal has been depicted as the conduit from the profane to the sacred and from the quotidian to the sacral. Upon gates, doors, and pediments, promissory mottos are inscribed, and symbolic and semiotic universes are carved into stone. Our movement through is one of passage, of transposition, and even transformation. However, the court does not fulfil its theoretical promise. Its thresholds are crowded and chaotic places, cluttered with security and metal detectors. All decorum or cultivated sense of the transversal sublime is shattered by surveillance, scans, and physical searches. So too has the ritual incoherence of how different actors leave courtrooms, particularly in summary criminal settings, received insufficient critical scrutiny. I propose to address the practical failings of courts in these two regards, with reference to theoretical literature and photographic and artistic representations of legal thresholds.

James Campbell is a DPhil student at the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, University of Oxford. He has a background in performance studies, legal anthropology, and the sociology of law and holds law degrees from the University of Strathclyde, the University of Edinburgh, and the International Institute for the Sociology of Law at Oñati. His current research explores the significance of physical movement within legal spaces.

Sona Srivastava, Connecting B/order/lands: A Study of “The Trial” 

The fictional works of Kafka are symptomatic of the modernist condition, characterized by bouts of fragmentation, and alienation. A large corpus of his works bears witness to the horror that is plain existence. For example, in The Trial, we chance upon K. who is punished for no expressed crime, and is sentenced to a violent death towards the close of the novella. Perhaps, his fault was that he had aspired to be ‘more than human’, and had dared disturb the universe.

Interestingly, a great deal of action in the novella takes place within a limited spatio-temporal coordinate, mapped within a singular room of a hotel, a makeshift courthouse, and K’s workspace. All these spaces serve as a sight and a site that disrupts the notions of the idea of home. With a sustained emphasis on surveillance, and lack of privacy, these spaces emerge as soft spots that seem to exemplify the condition of modern man – one who is not at home.

In this paper, I attempt to highlight the connectivity that undergirds the existence of all characters within K’s world, and also the underlying divisions that estrange him, particularly locating this nexus within the everyday existence within the surveilled spaces, one that reckon Bentham’s panopticon model.

Sonakshi Srivastava graduated from the University of Delhi in 2020 and is an MPhil candidate at Indraprastha University, Delhi, where she researches on the Anthropocene, Speculative Fictions, and Justice, and Discard Studies. Her works have previously been published in the eSharp Journal, and as chapters in two edited volumes, and a recent piece for “The Modernist Review”, and Folger Research Centre’s blog. Her areas of interests include aesthetics and critical theory, memory and trauma studies, animal studies and ethics, food studies, and Indian Writing in English among others

Enabling and Disabling Mobilities: 7 July 2021 – 12pm-1pm (BST)

Borders are permeable, though this permeability depends on who, or what, is crossing. Art engages with these border crossings in diverse ways. These four papers reflect on borders as means for enabling and disabling mobilities, and how artistic creative practice can shed light on the persons, products, and visibilities affected by borders.  

Please book a ticket here.


Art/Law Network: Opening Remarks

  • Renan Porto: Cocoa Lawscapes 
  • Benjamin Thorne: Mass Violence, Forced Movement and Post-Conflict Belonging: Artistic expression of lived experiences and community in the Rwandan diaspora 
  • Emma Patchett: It’s A Free World: The Enmeshed Border 
  • Raymond Watson: Cross Border Collaborative Artworks

Chair: Lizzy Willmington

Abstracts and Biographies

Renan Porto: Cocoa Lawscapes
Cocoa is a knot that intertwines a wide network of global production linked to local configurations of power and social hierarchies. Cocoa ecology is deterritorialised in a process of commodification of cocoa seeds, which are commercialized and exported. I grew up in a place where cocoa is produced, the beginning of this supply chain. After moving to two other cities in different regions of Brazil, I arrived in London, which is also one of the financial hearts of these global chains of capitalist production. In this research, I pursue these lines of motion that cocoa follows and investigate how these two worlds are connected. It requires me to think of the local ecologies of cocoa crops in connection to this global arrangement. The object of my research are these lines that put us in a transatlantic cross-boundary territory of conflicts in motion. My personal trajectory affects my perspectives and this is not only unavoidable but instead deliberately intentional. I am the son of a family and a world that suffered from the production of misery that is correlated to the production of wealth in England. My research intends to make visible and enunciable these cross-boundary lines that produce cocoa lawscapes, which are the spatial assemblages of human and non-human bodies that put at stake an agonist game of visibilisation and invisibilisation of what is allowed or not, what bodies are allowed or not to withdraw either by explicit constraints or by the conditions that unable bodies to withdrawal.

Renan Porto is a PhD student in law at the University of Westminster. His research explores the political ecology of cocoa crops in the northeast of Brazil through a multispecies approach inspired by indigenous cosmologies, looking through this investigation how societies are shaped in a non-anthropocentric perspective. He grew up in a small village called Florestal in the state of Bahia in Brazil, where he used to help his father in the works with cocoa.

Benjamin Thorne: Mass Violence, Forced Movement and Post-Conflict Belonging: Artistic expression of lived experiences and community in the Rwandan diaspora

Focusing on the Rwandan diaspora in the UK and engaging with archive material from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, this paper is interested in exploring what arts methods (co-curated exhibition and play) can do to further our understanding of how legal archive material relating to mass violence may disrupt and complicate assumptions of how those forced to flee mass violence navigate notions of belonging and community. Specifically, the diverse range of post-conflict mechanisms and initiatives attempting to aid societal recovery, justice and peace, also have potential to initiate a sense of exclusion, or erecting borders. Borders, in the sense of who is considered to be part of a post-conflict community, and thus whose experiences and voices can be heard, and are perceived as relevant and authentic. Particularly, those who are forced to flee conflict or mass violence and attempt to start their life ‘anew’ in a foreign country are often encapsulated, or included, in discourses of diaspora, rather than ‘post-conflict community’. Both within academia and the media. However, like those who physically live in post conflict societies, those who are forced to flee, are arguably still victims, perpetrators, survivors, or children of these interplays of identities. Similarly, those who fled beyond the borders of mass violence, often seek notions of justice, forgiveness, healing, reparations, and attempts to move beyond violence. For those forced to move, is it more useful to consider their sense of belonging not as fitting in one group or another instead consisting of fluid interplays between the two? And, what is lost or silenced if we ignore these interplays? In short, this paper explores the potential of arts methods through working with the Rwandan diaspora (UK) community exploring how the lived experiences of Rwandans who have lived much, if not all, of their lives outside the country, interact and shape meanings within the archival material and notions of belonging.

Benjamin Thorne’s main areas of interest are socio-legal studies, transitional justice, and critical theory. Currently a central focus is memory, transitional justice, and legal atrocity archives. More generally, Benjamin is interested in questions around visual and audio representations of crime, law and justice, arts methodologies, and the co-existence of spaces of law and faith in the aftermath of mass violence.

Emma Patchett, It’s A Free World: The Enmeshed Border

In contrast to Jean-Luc Godard’s assertion that “cinema is made for spreading things out, for flattening them”, this paper argues that film provides a means of revealing the spatiotemporal depth, weight and messiness of the lawscape by focusing on the visibility and materiality of legal materiality, under the initial hypothesis that the border – manifested through the law – is rendered somewhere between ‘fetish’ (Kofman 2002) and ‘trace’ (Derrida 1976).  Reading the normative through a critical visual methodology in Ken Loach’s It’s A Free World (2007) invites a close reading of materiality as a means of disentangling the enmeshed status of the border. This paper aims to engage with cinematic representations of border crossings by considering how, when all bodies bring space with them, the lawscape is always in the process of emerging in everyday spaces. A critical analysis of law-as-art provides an aesthetic framework in which to engage with the shaping of border spaces in their endless process of reproduction, revealing the inherent spatial vulnerability of the demarcated nation state.

Emma Patchett is a teacher of law and an independent postdoctoral researcher focusing on law and film. Emma was most recently a visiting fellow at the Open University in 2020, exploring spatial vulnerability, time and trauma in immigration detention. Prior to this she was a postdoctoral research fellow at the Centre for Excellence in Law, Identity and the European Narratives at the University of Helsinki, working as part of a subproject on the issue of immigration detention across the European Union.

Raymond Watson, Cross Border Collaborative Artworks.

As a practicing artist who grew out of the divided communities of Northern Ireland and who has worked in contested spaces in other countries, I very much hold the position that in today’s world and inside today’s societies that there are many borders. These multiple borders are within the national borders and very often they restrict everyday movement and normal life.

Our borders that are national and that are marked by an official line on the map, are often also a physical line on the earth that is accompanied by customs and military posts that are easy to see and to encounter. But the multiple borders that exist within the minds of populations that share the same city and rural hinterlands are much harder to negotiate and identify.These social borders are not legislated and exist as the result of deep rooted belief systems. Within Belfast, as within many cities around the globe, people of homogeneous national and cultural affiliations live together with ‘their own kind’. This practice can exclude those who are seen as different and essentially can create a state of mind where borders exist within many societies.

In 2011, I launched an art project that was designed to explore the context of social and cultural borders. The Belfast Flags of Hope was a project that engaged all groups, cultures, religions and ages in the population to create a modest art work on a blank canvas. Approximately 10,000 art canvases (art flags) were created with the aim of portraying core elements of our shared and common humanity and avoided all reference to partisan national symbols. The ‘art flags’ were then strung together on a single line and flown along the main section of the Belfast Dividing Wall (Peace Wall).

This exhibition site was chosen because it is Belfast’s most visible site of political and cultural division. The Belfast Flags of Hope project re-imagined the flag format (a traditional symbol of division) to create a mass public art project that was inclusive and unifying. Its exhibition along the Dividing Wall was a popular and a loud shout out against radical cultural division. The Flags of Hope project was also created on a smaller scale and exhibited in many other countries for example, The Western Sahara, Catalonia, The Basque Country, Australia, and the USA. I will be presenting this project and its goals of bringing communities together and crossing cultural divides.

  • Belfast Flags Launch: (Link:
  • Flags of Hope, Western Sahara: (Link:

Raymond Watson is an artist who creates public artwork, gallery based art, audio visual installations, audio soundscapes and large scale art in community projects. He has exhibited widely in Ireland and in a number of international venues – New York, France, Spain, India, England, South of Ireland, Holland, Israel/Palestine and the Basque Country. He has produced a number of site specific installation pieces in Ireland, Spain, India and the Basque Country and has produced a number of pieces of public art locally; most of which have been made in close

contact with local communities and schools. His practice is diverse and hybrid and includes site specific installations, site specific material, and personal materials, sound and photography.

For more information on this project please contact 

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