Photo:Everybody is Gone performance
By Tess Langbroek
Everybody Is Gone is an innovative live event that gives its audiences a unique perspective on the ongoing crisis in the Uyghur Homeland (East Turkistan) - without specifically mentioning China. With elements of journalism, live performance, and museum exhibition, the immersive event offers audiences the opportunity to deeply and personally understand the impact of the state-backed surveillance and oppression that affect millions.
'Everybody Is Gone' manifests how coercion, incarceration, and surveillance work within a totalitarian state. The audience participates in different activities during the performance and interacts with the staff of 'Everybody Is Gone' and other attendees. While the event will be most rewarding for attendees who fully engage with the experience, those in the audience are free to refrain from participating in any given activity and allowed to leave the space entirely at any time, the project website states.
It speaks to the collective sense of loss, to the rapid disappearance of so many people into the dark nets of the security state. It conjures fear of saying aloud what is so plainly visible to them and all those around them. For Uyghurs living abroad, it invokes the sudden, forced break in communications between them and their loved ones in their homeland.
Mukaddas Mijit, the author of the performance, is an ethnomusicologist, filmmaker, and artist. She is currently a postdoctoral fellow at ULB (Université Libre de Bruxelles). She was born in Urumchi.
Other contributors include Jessica Batke, a senior editor at ChinaFile,
John Bair, an American writer, Nic Benacerraf, a scenographer, creative director, and scholar from Brooklyn, Marina McClure, a director of theater, opera, and spectacles, and Lisa Ross, a photographer.
A woman in a yellow shirt and black skirt is standing in a large room with a pink bandage on her arm. She looks condescendingly at the seven men and women she has ordered to line up in front of her. “Sing after me!”, she snaps like a prison guard: “We are proud and strong and pledge to be faithful and unified!”
A few yards away, a man is being reprimanded: "Participant, complete the task!", a uniformed man barks. There are words and sentences written on index cards that the officer holds in front of the visitor's face: "Modernization!, progress and the Motherland! Repeat Again and again! Faster! Once more!"
When the man takes too long to come up with the correct term, the official cuts him off: "Competitor, this is not a difficult task!".
Brainwashing works through mindless repetition.
Since 2018, I have been thinking about how best to convey what is happening to Uyghurs, Jessica Batke says. "Media reports reach the same people, and only a few are interested in this topic." The team has therefore chosen a quasi-physical format that makes it instinctively tangible how the surveillance state works.
Everyone entering the performance room will find themselves suddenly in a security check. Video cameras surround you from all sides, and their images appear on monitors. There is no explanation, but only questioning by the uniformed actors. Surname? Do you have any leadership experience?
However, the performance does not mention the words China or Uyghurs. It is more about the methods of coercion and brainwashing common in dictatorships.
Nevertheless, the diction and type of indoctrination point to the Peoples' Republic of China. Participants are forced to record videos saying: "Our nation and village are daily gaining prosperity." Video clips recorded with a forced smile are a known tool of the CCP in the Uyghurs' occupied homeland, which the Chinese have renamed Xinjiang.
The performance is based on an impressive database of state sources, propaganda texts, and articles from independent media. The database contains, as a footnote, pictures of Uyghur women who receive mops and buckets for their exemplary behavior.
The form we chose is reminiscent of the Uyghur tradition of meshrep, an informal gathering where everyone is a performer and audience at once”, Mukaddas Mijit says.
The power of 'Everybody Is Gone' lies not only in the fact that the visitor knows what is happening in totalitarian states but that you literally wake up the following morning with a nagging, catchy tune: "We are proud and strong, and pledge to be faithful..." Tagesspiegel concludes.