Loss, Silence and Mimesis: conceptualising the aesthetics of refugee art
Evropi Chatzipanagiotidou (Queen's University Belfast)
Fiona Murphy (Queens University Belfast )
Paper short abstract:
Drawing on material from recent fieldwork with Syrian refugees in Istanbul, we examine potential complementarities between arts and ethnography in the effort to represent loss that is unspeakable and unspoken, comprised of silences, voids, absences and abandonment.
Paper long abstract:
Displacement is intrinsically linked to and understood through multiple categories of vast loss -human, economic, social, cultural and spatial. Anthropologists are concerned with the potentialities and limitations of our disciplinary tools and ethical mandates to document and represent such loss, especially when it is not and cannot be articulated in narrative forms. Drawing on material from recent fieldwork with Syrian refugees in Istanbul, we examine potential complementarities between arts and ethnography in the effort to represent loss that is unspeakable and unspoken, comprised of silences, voids, absences and abandonment. To do so, we focus critically on 'mimicking' as a process of simultaneously creating empathy and producing alterity (Taussig 1992), and as a central feature of both artistic re-enactment and participant observation. We examine art works of loss and displacement by refugees and other artists as spaces for ethical and epistemological deliberation of direct relevance for anthropological knowledge. Such approach focuses on the affective and the non-verbal, and helps us move away from a methodological primacy of the narrative that often leads to essentialising and fetishizing of refugee 'voices', further silencing and disempowerment. At the same time, we acknowledge the risks of aesthetising loss, silence and invisibility. The paper argues that an 'anthropology of silence and loss' in the context of displacement does not aim to resolve dilemmas around representation, experience and aesthetics, but to highlight further ethical, political and methodological complexities in documenting absence.
Silences of/and mobility: towards an anthropology of the unspoken and unspeakable