© 2022



TEXT Maryam Arshad
Feral Assemblages by Ella Khafaji
London, UK

Feral assemblages, posing as a split-screen video essay traversing the routes of the ‘invasive’ plant species Buddleia Davidii, is actually a work of dualism. To see Feral Assemblages as a critical investigation alone is insufficient -  it is a detailed study into linguistics, British colonialism, imperial infrastructure, race, and migratory patterns of people and plant.

“Feral Assemblages seeks to question the category of the ‘invasive species’ and of ‘race’”  — Ella Khafaji

This dualism is referenced explicitly by the artist. It is the encounters this ‘invasive’ plant has that are documented, through archival film, botanical diagrams, scientific classifications and contemporary video. The clashing looming train sounds, the droning singular beat, and the blurred typography works to create a tense harmony. Buddleia Davidii emerged in Europe in the late 1800’s, a result of the importing of this ‘ornamental exotic’ species from China by a ‘missionary botanist’. This introduction alone reverberated across movements, linguistics and histories, for Britain especially.

Buddleia Davidii was categorised as ‘invasive alien’, echoing the same language brought about by colonial systems in regards to migrants and refugees. Outsider. Foreigner, Non-citizen. Entrenched and deeply divisive narratives that cross between plant and race. Khafaji points this out, “daily encounters we have with colonial legacies but do not always register”. These legacies are ever present and exacerbated by discourse, policy, media and language that propagates notions of the ‘other’. Dehumanising information and bodies of knowledge which are self-produced, and given a space to direct common thoughts and practices.

Just as Buddleia Davidii has spread, aided by seed dispersion across railway lines and wind tunnels, it mirrors the British empire and its widespread systems of building, thinking and speaking. The ties to infrastructure stem from these colonial modifications, uprooting previous environments for transport lines connecting imperial hubs. Feral Assemblages played in one of the 878 arches making up the London and Greenwich line, built in 1836. As it unfolds and as minutes pass, Feral Assemblages asserts itself as a memory, a reflection and an experience, to “connect the histories of the city and of the area where it was shown to the lived experience of the individual and the collective”. Imperial infrastructure and trade are embodied by the Buddleia Davidii, entangled throughout the railway arches and across Britain. Entangled in such a way that the colonial systems in play directly impact and inform all other systems, signifying the insurmountable effects of an empire.

These plant and people trajectories are undeniably tied to the past. Colonial influences echo across, infiltrating and permeating contemporary notions of ‘invasive’ species and of migrants. Feral Assemblages turns toward the Bengal Delta and Eichhornia crassipes in the later parts. Khafaji makes ties between the railway and the plant species, ties which become interconnected as they are understood to a greater detail. Ties which resound across race, empire, infrastructure and ecology. It is systems of power which seek to control and dominate that take place across these dualities of human and ecological crises. Systems of thinking which seek to identify markers of difference and threat. Systems of language and classification which disempower, displace and distrust. Feral Assemblages becomes a disruptive study, binding the inextricable, deep-rooted and hauntingly similar systems which dictate the ways we see invasive species and race.

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