While serving in the German military, Joseph Beuys’s plane was shot down. Wrapped in fat and felt, the artist was rescued by Tatars who provided him with the care and warmth he needed to recover. This famously fictionalized account represents the core framework of Eurasia, Beuys’s utopian vision of peace and alliance, which regardless of his intention and artistic practice is tied to an orientalist social imaginary of the future of this gigantic landmass. Throughout his practice, Beuys envisioned a Europe and Asia that would come together based on a spirit of harmony and cooperation.
Yet what has actually happened on this continent in the last 50 years is revelatory. Asia has become a massive factory producing affordable goods for European consumers. The East, including Eastern Europe, has by now also become an exporter of migrant workers employed in labour-intensive agricultural and dairy industries to feed Western Europeans, as well as domestic work and other care sectors. In sum, these migrant workers are tasked with reproductive labour that is essential to the sustenance of Western European families. Rather than Beuys’s romantic concept, it was the forces of capitalism who integrated Europe and Asia as Eurasia based on a strict division of (reproductive) labour. What is Eurasia if not an economic agreement?
As socialist feminists from the East, what we are called to do now is not revisit this grand concept of Eurasia but examine the continent through the footsteps of the women who have made westbound journeys from the East to offer domestic work – the labour that has been exploited and undervalued precisely because of its essential nature. Our role here is to demystify the “labour of love and warmth” that saved and inspired the wounded artist and examine the process of how it has been commodified and instrumentalized by Western Europe to accumulate its greater wealth and power.
Beuys should not be simply discredited for the concept of “Eurasia”. Instead, we want to build upon his legacy and his political drive in continuously asking how we can respond purposefully to the demands of the times. Beuys freely employed the different methods throughout his artistic career that seemed most effective at that time, ranging from sculpture that shocked art audiences to the educational programme through which he disseminated political ideas, and to co-founding the German Green Party to campaign for environmental conservation.
Facing an ecological crisis, inequality and division among women that are escalating at both national and global levels, we ask in the full spirit of Beuys: What needs to be done, and for whom, in order to meet the demands of this moment? We feel the urgency to expand the space within which reproductive labour is accounted for, and to acknowledge that another world is possible through reconfiguring the value of this labour. We need to bring discussion of reproductive labour back to the table.
The Center for Reproductive Labor is collaborating with migrant domestic workers to develop an online/offline educational platform based on the tradition of political and popular education with the aim of disseminating and popularizing knowledge on reproductive labour. Through this, we hope to contribute to the organizing efforts of women who, in spite of all odds, have fought for liberation and taught others what it means to live in solidarity with others.