Memory, Activism and Social Justice NUBS 2.05
Jul 04, 2023 11:30 - 13:00(Europe/London)
20230704T1130 20230704T1300 Europe/London 1.3. Potent(ial) Archives

In several disciplinary contexts, the analysis and critique of (the) archive(s) has gained significant importance throughout the last decades. The so-called "archival turn" has led to a shift of focus from "archives as source" to archives as cultural artifacts of knowledge production and technologies of government (Stoler). Consequently, archives have become a site not only to readdress the past but to inquire into the role of archives in shaping and regulating histories, communities, and subjects. This has become particularly important in the context of histories of exclusion, dispossession and human hierarchization, where archival biases and irrecoverable absences are most tangible. Political power, as Derrida has famously argued, relies on the archive and the truth-claims it produces. Challenging the epistemic power of archives thus becomes more than a concern for the past. Being constantly re-read in the present, archives carry within them the potential of their dissolution (Hall). They remain, to borrow from Derrida again, dependent on the future.The four presentations of this panel share an interest in the complex interrelations and dependencies between archives and social change. They present close readings and analyses of different cultural objects, from literature, digital archives, visual arts to memorials, and address different sites of struggle, injustice, violence, and marginalization. Since archives are not bound to the past but hold aspirations for the future, the presentations of this panel explore the potentialities of archives in (re)shaping communities. This also entails a critical stance towards grammars of "hope" and progress and their often exclusionist visions of the future. The outcome of archives' aspirations for social change is thus underst ...

NUBS 2.05 MSA Conference Newcastle 2023 conference@memorystudiesassociation.org
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In several disciplinary contexts, the analysis and critique of (the) archive(s) has gained significant importance throughout the last decades. The so-called "archival turn" has led to a shift of focus from "archives as source" to archives as cultural artifacts of knowledge production and technologies of government (Stoler). Consequently, archives have become a site not only to readdress the past but to inquire into the role of archives in shaping and regulating histories, communities, and subjects. This has become particularly important in the context of histories of exclusion, dispossession and human hierarchization, where archival biases and irrecoverable absences are most tangible. Political power, as Derrida has famously argued, relies on the archive and the truth-claims it produces. Challenging the epistemic power of archives thus becomes more than a concern for the past. Being constantly re-read in the present, archives carry within them the potential of their dissolution (Hall). They remain, to borrow from Derrida again, dependent on the future.
The four presentations of this panel share an interest in the complex interrelations and dependencies between archives and social change. They present close readings and analyses of different cultural objects, from literature, digital archives, visual arts to memorials, and address different sites of struggle, injustice, violence, and marginalization. Since archives are not bound to the past but hold aspirations for the future, the presentations of this panel explore the potentialities of archives in (re)shaping communities. This also entails a critical stance towards grammars of "hope" and progress and their often exclusionist visions of the future. The outcome of archives' aspirations for social change is thus understood to be open, always depending on the precise context in which it takes place.
Accordingly, the presentations of this panel do not follow a common approach, but propose to read archives against the grain, or along the grain (Stoler), deploying methods such as counterfactual historical imagination (Gallagher) or listening to its lower registers (Campt). Resisting an extractive, recuperative historical attitude (Arondekar), they search for ways to respond to the traces of control and normalization, but also of unrepresentable affects and feelings, dissonant voices, possibility, even revolt. How can unexplored possibilities in the past help towards a better understanding of a community's history and change its male war remembrance (Herold)? How can the historical archive around HIV/AIDS with its focus on visibility, audibility, and control be read for its fissures and obfuscations to allow that archive to become more expansive, and to develop a method of analysis that tends to the affective and is attuned to loss and mourning that is not directly portrayed as part of that archive but haunts its boundaries nonetheless (Willemars)? In what ways do practices of protests and mourning related to claims of social justice constitute archival movements (Pinto)? And how can caring for silenced, excluded, or absent voices contribute to new visions of futurity for those whose future continues to be put at risk by the violent histories and mechanisms of exclusion that characterize colonial modernity (Lindemann Lino)?



Vera Herold

A German War Memorial in Lisbon: Inscriptions, erasures, additions

Hidden behind walls and tucked between a modernist church and a postmodern mirrored glass building, there is a war memorial known to few outside the German community in Lisbon, the Lissabonner Deutsche. It consists of various bas-reliefs and plaques in a narrow, and shadowy side yard of the German Protestant Church in Lisbon. On the corner of the main and the side yard, atop the few steps that descend to the memorial, stands its only surviving sculpture, Die Trauernde (The Grieving Woman).

Commissioned in January 1934 and inaugurated in June 1936, the memorial became both the site and victim of the German Kirchenkampf (church struggle), acknowledged in two additions made decades later. Together with the changes and erasures in 1935/36, they constitute palimpsestic layers from the First World War to the 1990s, reflecting German war remembrance in the twentieth century and that of this diasporic congregation in particular. Its layers reveal how an initially pacifist project accommodated first heroizing Nazi war remembrance and later the solemnity of post WWII memorisation.

In this paper, I want to search the archive(s) not only for the partial destruction and the subversion of the planned memorial, but also for what might have been. What would Die Trauernde represent had all sculptures and bas-reliefs been kept or their removal been different? By applying counterfactual historical imagination (Gallagher, 2018), buttressed with mnemonic accounts and my own lived experience in this community, I propose changing Mieke Bal's apodictic statement "that's how it is" (1999) to "that's how it could have been". Rejecting an extractive or mining attitude towards the archive (Arondekar, 2005), treating it as subject rather than as source (Stoler, 2002), I want to look more closely and listen to its lower registers (Campt, 2015) – and its silences – in order to understand what these erasures caused and impeded. To what extent do the additions made to this memorial after 1945 reflect the original project and how can absent and silenced voices be heard when there are no documents or reliable sources?


Ilios Willemars

HIV if only

I attended an art exhibition on the cultural response to HIV/AIDS organized by a group of HIV positive women when I was ten. Now, I close read one of the works shown there, 'HIV if only' by Danny Drenth, to show how that response centers around metaphors of visibility, audibility, and control. The work consists of a canvas that features the outline of a human figure and 'HIV if only' partly written, partly cut into the canvas with a knife.

If only, a cure would have arrived in time; if only we would have known the virus better; if only we would have recognized how HIV affects women as well as men; if only we would have known, seen, invested, acted, and measured more accurately; if only there would be justice; if only there would be control.

This quest for justice is, in a Muñozian sense, thoroughly queer (Muñoz). Drenth's work invites the viewer to engage in a kind of utopian thinking in its quest for what could have been, for what can be, and for what will have been possible. But queer projects are never immune to the normalizing, institutionalizing, and controlling drives of archival practices (Hanhardt, Foucault). Indeed in its emphasis on absence, violence, and invisibility, Drenth's work draws on an existing archival paradigm around HIV/AIDS that understands hope, grief, and anger, as part of a larger economy of visibility, audibility, representation and control.

Nevertheless, I argue that 'HIV if only' opens up ways of relating to the cultural archive around HIV/AIDS that circumvent this tendency. I read Drenth's work not for the justice it achieves through utopianism, but for a form of justice that is never reached, always yet to come, never finished, always fiction, never fact, always virtual, never present (Derrida). If only refers not to the (in)visible or to the (in)audible; it refers to a specific form of affect that remains unrepresentable and troubles the archive (Cvetkovich); a form of mourning that refuses to be shown but that touches us nonetheless (Chare).


Sofia Pinto

Feminist Collages: A Transnational And Insurgent Archive Of Feelings

"Angelita Assassinada a 1/21", Angelita Murdered on 21st January. The outcry is short and vehement, each letter occupying a A4 sheet of paper, drawn in black uppercases. It has now disappeared from the street where it was first made public on a pink wall in Porto, Portugal. But you can still find it on Instagram on the account @collagens_feministas_porto. The post caption reads in Portuguese: Angelita murdered on 1/21 (2022), on account of transphobia! We do not forget. Not one woman less!

This sentence is just one of many that have filled the cityscape and cyberscape around Europe: the Feminist Collages exist in London, Amsterdam, Amines, Rennes, Lisbon, Porto, and others. Bounded with the same aesthetics and mission, the sentences give visibility to feminist struggles, denouncing violence, murder, and injustice inflicted on women. They also bound women and their struggles together on a transnational level, creating a network of solidarity and protest.

But the need to protest often relates to practices of mourning, when certain lives are deemed less valuable and bodies become open battlefields. The claim that Angelita was murdered not only denounces a systemic violence directed against female and trans bodies, it also becomes a way to grieve that lost life, both a cry and an outcry.

As Ann Cvetkovich has argued, practices of mourning are deeply related to archival impulses. Knowledge is not the exclusive domain of the archive, as feelings can also permeate and constitute the archive. Such archives of feelings often live outside institutional spheres and rest in other informal or personal spaces. If enacted by social movements, these archives may scatter on the streets to reclaim social justice, becoming insurgent archives.

In this presentation, I draw upon Boaventura dos Santos´s notion of the "insurgent archive" and Ann Cvetkovich´s "archive of feelings" to examine the ways the feminist collages in Portugal destabilize the institutional archive; and I enquire if and how the project constitutes itself an archive and its possible contributions to the expansion of archival boundaries.


Verena Lindemann Lino

Adas Raumkonstellationen: Futurity in Sharon Dodua Otoo's Posthuman Archive

In this paper, I explore the relation between archive and futurity in Sharon Dodua Otoo's Ada's Raum [Ada's Realm] (2021). Spanning centuries and continents, the novel entwines the lives of four women, each called Ada, and their experiences faced with different articulations of injustice, violence and exclusion. Ada's Raum cross-cuts in loops between these Adas and their particular time-space settings: between the village women in 15th-century pre-colonial Ghana, the British countess in 19th-cetury Victorian England, the Polish inmate of Dora-Mittelbau concentration camp in 1945 and the pregnant Black student in present-day Berlin. However, the shifts do not only occur between the stories of these Adas, but also between several first-person narrators, including the four women and a fluid consciousness that incarnates various inanimate objects as well as an unembodied being in conversation with God. Ada's Raum assembles stories, voices and perspectives that exceed what one commonly encounters in historical archives and discourses, attesting to the (political) importance of fiction in caring for the untold layers of past injustice and violence that keep hunting the present. However, while Otoo's novel can be read as a repository of disruptive ways of telling and seeing, I argue that one of the important aspects of Ada's Raum is precisely that it does not yield to a recuperative "historical desire" (Arondekar 2015) and the evidentiary models that it enables. On the contrary, I argue that Otoo's novel suspends dominant discursive frames of addressing past injustice and violence, insisting instead on a radical infinitude of the archive and the futurity it holds. Drawing on Walter Benjamin's writing on history, I propose to read Ada's Raum as a "constellation" that entangles past, present and future in connective loops rather than a progression of linear time. Without lending itself to any untroubled narrative of hope and progress, this narrative constellation actually acknowledges the brokenness and vulnerability of our world and thereby enables a sense of futurity for those whose future continues to be exposed to constant threat. 

PhD Candidate
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Universidade Católica Portuguesa
Assistant Professor
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Leiden University
Invited lecturer
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Universidade Católica Portuguesa
Postdoctoral Researcher
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Universidade Católica Portuguesa
 Tamara Kolarić
Assistant professor
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Dublin City University
 Nairy AbdElShafy
Independent Oral Historian & Researcher
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