AESTHETICS AND RESEARCH IN INTERNATIONAL POLITICS – Holly Eva Ryan’s Lines: Making Friends; Crossing Borders

This post is part of the two-part special series of GPU’s podcast, “Aesthetics and Research in International Politics”, which examines non-conventional IR research methods.

In the first part of GPU’s Aesthetics and Research in International Politics, we explored through James Eastwood’s exhibition Cradles how aesthetics could prompt emotions and reflection about the phenomenon of child removal and disappearance in the world. In this second part, GPU takes you on a journey across frontiers through twinning with Dr. Holly Ryan’s exhibition Lines: Making Friends; Crossing Borders, displayed in February 2023 at Queen Mary University of London.

Entering the exhibition space, one could see some imposing posters with juxtapositions of black and white lines hanging heavily on the graphite walls of Arts One’s Bloc room. Despite the prison-like feeling conveyed by the starkness of the space and the narratives of inequalities perspiring through some of the art pieces on the walls, Holly also showed how twinning emboldens global solidarities and disrupts international borders.

Display in Arts One’s Bloc Room. Image Courtesy: Holly Evan Ryan

Holly sat with Keren Weitzberg and Sarah Wong, her gallery assistant and Ph.D. student from LSE who focuses on the intersection of international politics and visual culture, to discuss her artistic process and the aesthetic turn in International Relations with GPU.

Denver-Nairobi twinning. Image courtesy: Holly Evan Ryan
Leicester-Masaya twinning. Image courtesy: Holly Evan Ryan

No matter how fine-grained, precise, and peer-reviewed an academic research paper can be, it will never really reach its goal if it does not cater to the right audience. Art, like in Holly Ryan’s Lines, or aesthetics, as we’ve seen through James Eastwood’s Cradles, are excellent means to propel important political messages in the public sphere.

Moreover, the beauty of exhibitions resides in the fact that they are unrestricted spaces allowing the collaboration between quote-unquote “creators” – artists – and researchers, for whom the creative environment can be transformed into powerful research channels, ultimately establishing a fertile ground for the birth of powerful creations.

At last, in Holly’s words, you do not necessarily need to be an artist if you want your audience to feel an emotion about your message or be an academic researcher to legitimate the seriousness of it. The power of art, aesthetics, or simply showing something, is that people will feel and talk – positively or negatively – about what you want to put in the world once they encounter it.

Théa Rakotondrajao

EVENT – GPU In Conversation – Film Mosaic: Leave No One Behind. Zaatari Village, Jordan.

Film Screening and Discussion

You are warmly invited to GPU’s second ‘in-conversation’ event.

Join us for the London-debut screening of

Film Mosaic: Leave No One Behind. Zaatari Village, Jordan.

The screening will be followed by a discussion on urban refugees, humanitarian architecture and creative methods.

When: Wednesday 8 February, 6pm

Where: Hitchcock Theatre, Arts One, Mile End Campus, Queen Mary University of London.

To be followed by a drinks reception in Arts One Foyer.


Aya Musmar (Petra University/UCL)

Olivia Mason (Newcastle University)

Omar Jabary-Salamanca (University of Brussels)

Hannah Owens (QMUL)

Acting for Change International – a local organisation based in Zaatari Village – produced four mini documentary-style films which speak to the theme of ‘Leave No One Behind’. The films focus on Zaatari Village, a rural host community adjacent to Zaatari refugee camp and the Syrian border. The Film Mosaic is an opportunity to explore how refugee governance is reflected in the ways residents design and build homes, streets, neighbourhoods, and their environment. Urban refugee issues intertwine with larger socio-economic injustices, including systemic gender discrimination, structural racism, and inequality based on mobility. The films were screened in October during the opening week of the Copenhagen Architecture Festival: Global Film Competition.


The Leave No One Behind Agenda is the central, transforming promise in the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It represents the unequivocal commitment of all UN Member States to eradicate poverty in all its forms, end discrimination and exclusion, and reduce the inequalities and vulnerabilities that undermine the potential of humans and other living beings. The Film Mosaic aims at documenting solutions to these forms of discrimination, creating an understanding of the diversity of the reality in which the LNOB agenda must be resolved. This includes generating new knowledge and insight about sustainable cities, residential areas, buildings, building materials, infrastructure, and other urban practices that promote the fight against inequality.

*Sponsored by Global Politics Unbound and QMUL Impact


GPU is proud to co-sponsor Dr Holly Ryans’ Lines: Making Friends; Crossing Borders exhibition, which will happen throughout February 2023 at the Bloc (Arts One, ground floor).

There will be a launch event and private viewing at 5 pm on 31st January 2023, an event that will be chaired by fellow GPU member Dr Sharri Plonski.

Please find below the registration link for the event:

Event: Tankers, Tycoons, and the Making of Modern Regimes of Law, Labour, and Finance

21st March 2019 | 6.30pm – 8.30pm in ArtsOne Lecture Theatre

Please register free for this event here

Speaker: Laleh Khalili
Department of Politics and International Studies, SOAS University of London

Venue: Arts One Lecture Theatre
Queen Mary University of London
Mile End Road
E1 4NS

Excellent research on the politics of containerisation and the logic of logistics (Levinson; Cowen; Sekula) has shown the transformations these new modalities of disciplining trade have wrought not only on the circulation of goods but also the processes of production. Containers as we know them were invented in the 1950s and came especially to prominence after the 1960s, when their usage was normalised during the Vietnam war.

However, many of the practices we now associate with containerisation – foremost among them the automation of processes of maritime circulation, and the transformation of urban landscapes around the ports – go back at least two decades before the 1950s, to the legal, engineering, and financial innovations around petroleum tankers.

By focusing on the tanker terminals of the Arabian Peninsula since the 1930s and the subsequent burgeoning of tanker-ships plying the trade between the Peninsula and the rest of the world, Laleh Khalili will illuminate the radical transformations the particularities of tanker trade has formed. This includes early instances of automated workplaces; terminals far enough from port-city centres to isolate them from public scrutiny; and disciplining of workers aboard tanker-ships. Further, the shift in ownership structures and financing of tanker trades over the last one-hundred years either foreshadows or dramatically illuminates the transformations in financial capital itself. Finally, much of lex petrolea, the legal and arbitral corpus that sets the parameter of extraction and circulation of oil, itself provides the ground on which late capitalist legal property regimes are founded.

The event will be followed by a drinks reception to which all attendees are invited.

Speaker biography

Laleh Khalili is Professor in the Department of Politics and International Studies at SOAS University of London. Her first book, Heroes and Martyrs of Palestine: The Politics of National Commemoration (Cambridge, 2007) drew on ethnographic research in the Palestinian refugee camp of Burj al-Barajna in Lebanon and focussed on the particular genres of commemoration – from the heroic practices of the heady days of Third Worldism to the tragic discourses of an era in which NGOs are ascendant. She also edited Modern Arab Politics (Routledge, 2008) and co-edited (with Jillian Schwedler) Policing and Prisons in the Middle East: Formations of Coercion (Hurst/OUP, 2010). Her most recent book, Time in the Shadows: Confinement in Counterinsurgencies (Stanford, 2013), drew on interviews with former detainees of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and various Israeli detention camps and prisons – and military officers, guards, and interrogators, as well as a large number of archival sources to show the continuities in practices of detention in liberal counterinsurgencies from the Boer War until today. Her Time in the Shadows was the winner of the Susan Strange Best Book Prize of the British International Studies Association and the 2014 best book award of the International Political Sociology section of the ISA.

Film Screening: ‘Pili’

A single mother facing an HIV+ status, a community of stigma and a generation of poverty, Pili is offered the chance to change it all. But with only 3 days to do so, will she be able to? Facing generations of internalised stigma, Pili’s battle is not just for money, but for acceptance.

The film builds on Dr Sophie Harman’s fieldwork on East African women enduring HIV/AIDS.   Despite having never made a film before, producer Sophie Harman was determined to communicate the lives of East African women in the most compelling narrative possible alongside director Leanne Welham. To comprehend life in Miono, they spoke with 80 women from Pwani, discussing their lives, hopes and experiences of living with HIV/AIDS. From this, the two sketched out the beautiful story of the film. In creating the film, producer Sophie Harman and director Leanne Welham found that for most women in Pwani, their stories of poverty and HIV discrimination were the same. A mentor to the women in Miono, and a cast member in Pili named Sesilia remarked, ‘Pili is everywhere.’

Special screening and with Producer Sophie Harman and Director Leanne Welham:

Tickets for Mon 15th, Lexi Cinema:

Tickets for Weds 18th, Crouch End Art House:

Details on other cinemas screening Pili could be found on the Pili Film facebook page