256 Million colours of Violence

256 Million Colours of Violence is a survey-based interactive archival research project, inviting online and onsite audiences to participate in a survey-based research to actively co-create the website’s archive of colours that represent ‘violence’.

The project addresses issues of privilege and discrimination (such as sexism, ableism, racism), identity and its resulting forms of alienation. By transforming the commonplace ‘survey questionnaire’ into a diverse communication interface, the project subverts the problematic usage of such questionnaires as bureaucratic tools for data collection. Gathered from various bureaucratic and social media signup forms, the 50 questions in this questionnaire reveal ‘direct, structural, and cultural’ violence present in everyday life – particularly gender, sexuality, class, sectarian, and race-based violence.

By filling out the questionnaire, participants will subconsciously learn to identify the presence of violence embedded within questions that surround us daily – whether on social media, work environments or bureaucratic spaces. For example, although Race as a scientific and biological reality has been thoroughly disproven and is no longer an accepted fact, it still exists in socio-political discourse, both as a historical presence as well as within contemporary reality. And so, although Race doesn’t exist, it has transformed into Racism – an acute form of form of discrimintation that is based on a fabricated idea of the world we embody. Throughout the questionnaire, the participants are confronted with these questions of gender, sexual orientation, age, language, race, colour, nationality, religion, class, history, education, occupation, economic status, cultural conditioning, health, temperament, and political affiliation.

The project offers a platform through which participants recognise the inherent and embedded forms of violence in each of the ubiquitous questions posed. By choosing how to answer, and how they position themselves within the stratified spectrums of identity, participants individually cross a spectrum of pertinent issues embedded within ‘routine’ questions, initiating a process of critical introspection.

Once mentally attuned to the multiple dimensions of violence, participants are asked to respond to the last question, “What according to you is a colour of violence?” by selecting a colour from a digital palette containing 256 Million Colours. Although such responses are emotionally unique and personal, they are not ‘instinctive’ but learned through association and cultural conditioning. The project is an effort to map this conditioning, where such participative mapping provides systemic insights into the conditional relationships between the causes and effects of violence.

Through this mapping, participants co-create a ‘Colour of Violence’ archive – the only part of the survey questionnaire that is made public, whether online or through physical exhibitions. Although all participant information except their choice of colour remains confidential, the multiple responses of each participant – as contextualised meanings of lived experience and worldviews – become condensed into a single pixel of colour. This way, colour becomes a complex dataset representing a participant’s nuanced understanding of the world around them. The project is a Living Archive of these complex datasets, portraying a diversity of experience and subjectivities from across the world. Recognising and publicly sharing something as personal as a ‘Colour of Violence’ initiates further questions – a process of enquiry and a sensitive dialogue into another person’s experiences of violence.

Through continued participative sharing the project serves the role of a witness, a therapist, and a mirror – creating a new vocabulary of colour in the context of violence. This participation accumulates data, allowing us to comprehend the relationship between violence and socio-political institutions. By occupying a dual position of being both the giver and receiver of information, it facilitates a unique equal exchange – ‘an encounter of equals.’

This way, the project forms and nurtures its own community through an ongoing inquiry embedded in digital media and contemporary social culture, that not only creates awareness of violence present in everyday life but also provides tools and the necessary discourses required to counter such violence.

Ali Akbar Mehta (b.1983, Mumbai) is a Transmedia artist, curator, and researcher. Through a research-based practice, he creates immersive cyber archives that map narratives of history, memory, and identity through a multifocal lens of violence, conflict, and trauma. Such archival mappings – as drawings, paintings, new media works, net-based projects, poems, essays, and theoretical texts, as well as performances both of bodies and networks – are rooted in datafeminist, posthumanist critical theories of making visible hegemonic power relations and silenced historical materialism. He is a founding member and co-Artistic Director of ‘Museum of Impossible Forms’; a board member of ‘Kiila ry’; and is pursuing his Doctoral Research in the Contemporary Art Department at Aalto University, Helsinki.