Magnified: The Funambulist

Posted May 16, 2022 in Print

DDF apr-may-24 – Desktop

Paris-based architect Léopold Lambert is the founding editor of The Funambulist, a magazine dedicated to recording anti-colonial, anti-racist, queer, and feminist struggles. We speak to him about this project, its redesign after 40 issues and what’s in store.


Firstly, we admit before we googled it we didn’t know what a ‘funambulist’ is? For some of the less bright sparks in our readership, can you tell us what it means and why you decided it as a name for your magazine? 

Yes, I feel sorry for this, because I thought it was a relatively common word in English, but I realized later that it was not. In Latin languages, this is the only word (Funambule, Funambulista.o, etc.) to designate a tightrope walker. I am a trained architect and have written a lot about architecture’s political power on people. I think that the way this power is coded on the drawing table is through lines, that later materializes walls. The act of walking on the line is therefore an act of subversion (not emancipation) of this power. This is why I picked that name twelve years ago and I have never really regretted it.


You described The Funambulist as “Internationalism, Solidarity, Space” when asked to do so in three words by Mag Culture. Could you expound on that?

As a trained architect, my relationship to the world is often mediated through space, and so one of the small useful aspects we may bring to the topics we’re dealing with is to read them through space (neither a better or worse approach than another, but a specific one for sure). Internationalism and solidarity come together; we are dedicated to cultivate these political relationships between many political struggles of the world, in particular anti-colonial, anti-racist, queer and feminist ones.

This involves situations we in Western Europe might be relatively (although never enough) familiar with, such as Palestine, the Black struggle for liberation in the U.S., or the fight against Fortress Europe, but it’s crucial to also mobilize larger or smaller fights for Pan-Africanism, against colonialism in Oceania or the Caribbean, against casteism in India, or for Indigenous sovereignty in South America. As such, these three words are truly driving our editorial lines throughout each of our 41 issues.


Can you tell us a bit about the redesign you recently undertook with graphic designer, Walid Bouchouchi of  Studio Akakir?

I used to take care of the layout and I can somewhat get by as someone who had to get some minimal graphic skills in architecture. Hiring a graphic designer, in particular a very talented one like Walid, is a whole other game.

The object is more beautiful and the content more accessible; I’m very happy about it. It, of course, costs more to produce and I did not want for it to increase our rates (which are already expensive for people who experience forms of precariousness in the Global North, and for most people in the Global South) so we will have to continue increasing our subscriber base in the next few months to make it all worth it!


Can you tell us a bit about the next issue – Decentering the U.S. Thinking through Blackness, Queerness, Whiteness, Caste and Indigeneity from Elsewhere?

It is a quite ambitious and reflective issue, which tries to question the way so many of us outside of the United States are influenced in the way movements of (Black, Indigenous, Latinx, queer…) resistance there conceptualize politically their struggle. It’s much less a critique of this conceptualization in the context of the U.S. than a way for us to challenge its influence, and attempt to make our inspirations more pluriversal.


Speaking to people in Dublin, let’s think about whiteness as it is conceptualized in the U.S. If we consider a member of the Irish diaspora in the U.S. for instance, it would be hard not to consider this person as a white settler living on stolen land. I might fall into a caricature here, but this person might even be a New York City cop, with everything it means in terms of racist violence. Jewish historian Noel Ignatiev talked about this in How the Irish Became White in 1995. So if we were to universalize the way the U.S. think of whiteness in its settler colonial context, we would have to assume that Irish people in the North of Ireland would be white for instance, when we know all too well that British colonialism has been racializing people in Ireland between settlers and Irish. Robbie McVeigh and Bill Rolston wrote greatly about this in Ireland, Colonialism, and the Unfinished Revolution (they are not in this issue but they’ll soon be on our podcast!). So we need other influences than the sole U.S. one to think through whiteness, but the same is true (and probably even more crucial) when it comes about Blackness or Indigeneity for instance. I’m excited for this issue to come out and to, hopefully, be useful to many people. Useful is the number one quality we’re aiming to be!

Your articles throw up staggering and enlightening facts – Sudan has been under military rule for 52 of the 67 years since its independence, there are 229 federally recognised tribes in Alaska (almost half of the 570 in the US). Does this sort of information simply stop you in your tracks?

On the one hand, yes, of course, but on the other hand, since you quote these numbers, I might ask you the same question when knowing that 6/32 of your country is still living under occupation! I’m a fierce believer in what I call “tactical optimism.” It consists, not in having hope, but in paying very close attention to the people who are fighting against what we could often perceive as an surmountable reality.


Contributions and insights tend to be garnered from locals, not ‘commentators’ per se, and this layers it with real depth of meaning and understanding. How important is finding the right person for the subject matter? What is your approach to commissioning?

It’s crucial to find a (rather than the) right person for the editorial question we’d like to ask them. Our contributors are usually a mix of people we worked with in the past, people whose work we admire and we’ve been meaning to work with, and people we have to find when doing research on the next issue’s topic.

We favor people who are strongly connected to the question, rather than people who would claim some sort of objectivity in relation to it, because they don’t have an incarnated relationship to it. We also like to cultivate what I like to call “political friendships” with our contributors, which means that our relationship goes beyond the text and often (not always, admittedly) last for many years after we publish them. It also creates a sort of community of people who can be mobilized for one purpose or another (usually in relation to this question of solidarity) across geographies of the world. This is something that people can have a glimpse of in the “Network” section of our website, which tries to present the 500+ contributors to the 41 first issues of The Funambulist.

Issue No. 40: The Land… From Settle Colonial Property to Landback is available now. Digital €6, Print & Digital €12 (€60 annual with free shipping).


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