Semiotic Dungeons

Racialised signs in the contemporary West are a worrisome apparition of an ancient, abominable spirit. From this linguistic vault, the ‘other’ comes into sight through a wicked textuality that festered in antiquity, the Middle Ages and the Age of Discovery, during which difference was ciphered through terror, magic and mystery. This historical continuum accounts for an enigmatic yet familiar mode of othering: the corruption of racial markers into marks of monstrosity. While not always entirely abhorrent, the disfigured signs that emerge from this crypt of representation carry sadistic traces. Torture and torturer may be out of sight, but the manipulation of the racialised figure is evidence of an occult punishment. Like the growls of a chained prisoner hidden in the sepulchral depths of a torture chamber, the monstrous other reveals its gory confinement.


Image: Johann Zahn, Specula physico-mathematico-historica notabilium ac mirabilium sciendorum, in qua mundi mirabilis oeconomia, nec non mirificè amplus, et magnificus ejusdem abditè reconditus, nunc autem ad lucem protractus, ac ad varias perfacili methodo acquirendas scien, 1696. Publisher: Joann Christoph Lochner, Nuremberg. Courtesy of Louisiana State Library (LSU).

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Diego Ramirez is an artist and writer. His research-based practice deals with the legacies of colonialism in visual culture. His writing has been featured in Art + Australia Melbourne, Runway Journal Sydney, Critical Contemporary Culture Journal London, The Article Melbourne, Fragmented Magazine Melbourne, *dumb brun(ette) Melbourne and in publications for various exhibitions. He is represented by MARS Gallery.

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