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Accepted Paper:

Syrian Visual Cultural Production as Critiques of Violence: Its Provocation and Potential  


Joscelyn Jurich (Columbia University)

Paper short abstract:

Contemporary Syrian films and visual art deliberately contrasts with the temporality of 'high speed eventfulness' (Wedeen 2019) that defines information and image circulation from the Syrian conflict. It represents an important critique of violence in the contemporary global media landscape.

Paper long abstract:

The Syrian conflict is now entering its ninth year and as of this writing, over 570,000 are dead and 10,000 missing (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights 2019). In this context of the most socially mediated and digitally visually documented conflict in history (Lynch et al 2014), the work of Syrian visual artists and filmmakers is particularly relevant as they privilege forms that emphasize storytelling, experimental narratives and individual testimonials that contrast with what Lisa Wedeen (Wedeen 2019) has described as the temporality of 'high speed eventfulness' that defines the circulation of information and images from the Syrian conflict. Examining the work of several Syrian artists, filmmakers and film collectives, this paper will argue that their work represents a new critique of violence, one that emphasizes how the hyper visualization and sensationalizing of violent images from the war constitutes a necropolitics (Sai 2015), and that both challenges Azoulay's concept of photography as a civil contract and the possibility for an ethical watching of images that may produce an 'emergency claim' to political action (Azoulay 2008) and responds to Sontag's warning of the power of violent images to anaesthetize and transfix (Sontag 2003). It will further demonstrate how some of these artists, such as the anonymous film collective Abounaddara, are making new rights claims by imagining and advocating for as yet non-existent rights. It will argue for the ethical and political relevance and provocation of that performative imaginary and critique of violence in the contemporary global media landscape.

Panel P106
Provoking Visuals: Creative Engagements with Borders, Wars, and Conflicts [PACSA Network]