A dhow (vessel) heaves itself upon a Gulf shoreline in 1927. The nakhoda (dhow captain) enters the bazaar (market) with his crew of divers to facilitate the sale of pearls, carved from the seabeds of the Indian Ocean’s watery pathways. 

In negotiation, the nakhoda consults the Chau Manuel, a text based, indeterminate procedure for pearl valuation. As a system of measure it is less utilised for profit maximisation but rather as a portable fiction. Abstracting the set of pearls into a spatio-temporal ledger of regional “transactions, valuations and circulations of people, credit and property” 1

This encounter exists within what we may term an interstice: what Karl Marx described as a set of relations between agents where the methods of strategic coordination for the production of mutually beneficial outcomes cannot be wholly determined by profit incentives. 

The Chau facilitates a provincial circulation that simultaneously is the “pre-condition for any kind of capitalism” 2 whilst also enabling pilgrimage and performance across the lands swept below Indian Ocean monsoon winds upwards to South Asia, East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. 

In 2015 at the Indonesian presidential palace, Muhammahad Yasir Arafat, a local Qari’ (reciter), articulated Surah al - Rahman, a chapter from the Quran. In recitation, he rejects the Arabic Maqamaat scale, opting for langgam Java (Javanese melodies). Rather than just an aesthetic disavowal of the epistemic co-ordinates that define ‘mainland’ Islam, Arafat places direct reverence to the sacred and sonic histories of Indian Ocean circulation that abstractions like the Chau enabled. 

The spirit of the interstice is not just a fetishised exposure to regional deviance from global form. It is the elucidation of systems of abstraction that produce alternative notions of value to those which profit maximisation instantiates within institutions of meaning production and nation building. 

In Arafat’s resounding utterance the interstice opens up. A vocal chamber held softly as a pearl oscillating within the pulse of ocean routes and sonic exchange. Articulated as a moment of relationality, the voice flickers transiently. In its delicate shimmer is a “world tinted towards multi-polarity” 3 , struggling to escape the protocols of a homogenised globalism.

  1. Fahad Ahmad Bishara (2022). Circulation and Capitalism in a Maritime Bazaar: Notes from a Pearl Merchant’s Chest Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Volume 42, Number 1, May 2022, pp. 107-117 (Article)
  2. Fernand Braudel and Siân Reynolds (1992). Civilization and capitalism, 15th-18th century. Vol.2, The wheels of commerce. Berkeley,Calif.: University Of California Press.
  3. Gary Zhexi Zhang (2023). Breaking up with globalisation at the Taipei Biennial.