Liberating the past or haunting the future? 
Daniel Barroca (University of Florida)
SOAS Main Building - 4426
Saturday 2 June, 9:00-10:30, 11:00-12:30 (UTC+0)

Short Abstract:

How do images emerge from contexts of past conflicts? Why do they appear? How do we turn them tangible through art? What are they doing in our lives? Do we live under their influence, even if we don't quite know where do they come from? Are we using them to resolve the past or haunt the future?

Long Abstract

This panel proposes to discuss the traumatic experiences of violence and war in the strange and confusing realm of post-memory. The most tangible symptoms of traumatic transmission can be observed in cultural practices that involve an aesthetical production. In our debate, we will narrow the notion of aesthetical production to the intentional act of producing images. We will, therefore, discuss the way we understand images produced in the past or how we produce images of the past in the present. We will discuss how ghosts become perceivable through the production of shapes, projections, or representations to which we usually call art. We will hence reflect upon the evocative power of images and their capacity to connect, or mix, apparently discrepant temporalities in awkward time shifts where past, present, and future might interconnect in ways that challenge the linear historicism of our official narratives. What kind of transference occurs between a traumatized generation and the next one? Is Post-memory a haunted zone? Where trauma opens the way to the allegoric projections of imagination? How do lived experiences of violence become images in a generational transference? Do images really look back at us? How do we exchange gazes with a past that we didn't experience in the first place? Why is this important when we imagine the future?

This panel gathers participants with artistic, anthropological and philosophical backgrounds. Although the participants may present cases from specific geographies the main goal is to discuss conflict, post-memory and its images in a transversal manner.

Accepted papers:


Françoise Davoine

Paper short abstract:

In his book "A Memoir of the Future", psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion, speaks to his ghost whom he left on the battlefields of WWI. To reach his patient's areas of death, the analyst has to confront the surviving images of unclaimed experiences, in his story and in History, transmitted by his relatives.

Paper long abstract:

"A silent language is then established, one that is based on images that are shown rather than said, showing what cannot be said."1 - this passage of a book I wrote together with Jean-Max Gaudilliére a few years ago seems to put in words what for some visual artists is not possible to articulate but through the materialization of images. Images that perhaps immerge from their practices as a resurge of past events that arguably impacted 'them' generations before they were born. Perhaps the dialogue between psychoanalysis and art can shed more light on how the past can be claimed through an artistic practice, thus becoming present, through the material constructs of the artist. Can the 'ghost' become presence through the materialization of an image that artists see emerging from their own hands and with 'whom' they engage in a conversation? I will draw comparisons with the work of psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion, who in his last book "A Memoir of the Future", speaks to his ghost, whom he left on the battlefields of WWI together with his dead companions. Evoking Bion's experience, considering that the discussion will encompass the work of visual artists and philosophers, I will content that to reach his patient's areas of death, the analyst has to confront the surviving images of unclaimed experiences, in his story and in History. I will provide clinical examples.

1 Françoise Davoine and Jean-Max Gaudilliére. History Beyond Trauma (New York: Other Press, 2004), 78-79.


Michele Fulcher (Anthropologica Pty Ltd)

Paper short abstract:

The Jacobite movement in Scotland created images of power and heritage that find life in contemporary imagination and action. Oppression, sedition and war are re-formed through artistic qualities of material culture. This paper explores the impact of this on imagination and lived experience.

Paper long abstract:

The Jacobite movement has long held the interest of anthropologists, archaeologists and historians, curators, and politicians. Theologians and genealogists find shared interests as do economists, archaeologists, musicians and the military. Contemporary family life often finds its' roots in 'the '45' or indeed prior to, and others exercise imagination and create icons throughout the Highlands. Websites abound on the Jacobite cause and the Edinburgh High Street is filled with tourist memorabilia. Novels are written, movies made and television programs produced. Respects are paid to those ancestors who lie at Culloden and imaginations inspired at the battle cairn marking the battle of Prestonpans. These interests could be said to have 'coalesced' in 2017 when the National Museum of Scotland hosted the largest exhibition of Jacobite material culture ever held and entitled Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites. Images and symbols of 'sedition', of 'romance', of 'majesty', of 'despair', of 'loss', of 'bravery' are emblematic and are experienced through the imagination of the viewer, where multiple lines connecting past, present and future transect. Importantly, these images and symbols also have meaning in national and international politics and influence debate, ideals and practicalities of autonomy and cultural interrogation. Images and symbols also can underpin lived experience - again transecting multiple connections. This paper explores the impact of the artistic qualities of Jacobite material culture on imagination and lived experience from anthropological, philosophical and applied perspectives.


Janine Prins (Stichting Docuprins )

Paper short abstract:

The author reflects on her post-memory work 'Legacy of Silence', a mixed-media installation breaking the silence about colonialism, internment, independence war and expulsion from the former Dutch East Indies. This results in personal liberation despite a haunting fear for future social unrest.

Paper long abstract:

Troubled by her personal colonial legacy, the author, a visual anthropologist, conducted post-memory work by focusing on her own family, gradually revealing on camera a reluctance to remember. Over a period of nine years, a collection was compiled of various videos with nearly unedited conversations in a family setting, photo albums, letters, household items, documents and heirlooms, together spanning three generations of transference.

These private materials can be set up as a pop-up installation, accessible to the public on various locations. It offers an intimate atmosphere where one is free to follow one's own route, and touch, read, smell and look at authentic artifacts to explore this family's fragmentary, haunted past and relate it to today's mindset.

Some visitors come to realise that wide gaps between social hierarchies can cause similar ruptures in the future. This, in fact, was the maker's main motivation in assembling an installation: to stimulate reflections on colonialism as a persistent mindset.

In other words: opening up a silenced traumatic past may liberate an individual of their demons from the past, but may also unearth some 'ghosts' that will keep haunting the future.


Maria Restivo (Faculdade de Letras da Universidade do Porto)
Vera Carmo (Coimbra University / Instituto Universitário da Maia)

Paper short abstract:

The present paper focuses on the exhibition " Restos de um Império" (Remains of an Empire), by Luís de Almeida, which approaches the photographer's experience in Mozambique, first as a Portuguese military during the Colonial War and afterwards as a traveller and NGO collaborator.

Paper long abstract:

Luís de Almeida was sent to Mozambique in 1973 by the Portuguese government to take part on the war fought between the Portuguese military and the local nationalist groups that ultimately lead to the independence of the Portuguese colonies. Almeida established a close relationship with the country and its people, which he maintained over the years, continuing to visit Mozambique, either with several NGO in humanitarian missions or simply on his own. During his visits Almeida gathered documents about the country's colonial and post-colonial history and developed photographic projects that mirror his affinities with Mozambique. One of those projects, entitled by Almeida "Restos de um Império" ("Remains of an Empire) was the inspiration source for an the exhibition with the same name now being prepared to be held at Espaço Campanhã, Porto, on march 2018, curated by the anthropologist Maria Manuela Restivo and the curator Vera Carmo.

The exhibition unravels in two distinct groups that dialogue with each other in space: his work and his biography (based on his private archive), stressing the continuousness between his personal involvement with the place and its people and the historical contingencies that he constantly tries to understand, particularly the ones related to Portuguese colonial and post-colonial presence. Almeida's singular biography, ranging from his experience as a soldier in Mozambique and later as a photographer, enables the emergence of a singular perspective that unsettles the recurrent polarity between colonizer and colonized, simultaneously contributing to the heterogeneity of experiences and visual representations of the colonial encounter.