(P026)
Participation and Guardianship: On the Ownership of Images in Movement
Location SOAS Main Building - 4426
Date and Start Time 03 Jun, 2018 at 13:30
Sessions 1

Convenors

  • Timothy Cooper (University College London) email
  • Vindhya Buthpitiya (UCL) email

Mail All Convenors

Short abstract

This panel will consider issues of informal and participatory heritage transmission in South Asia, operating in relation to dominant or absent heritage regimes.

Long abstract

This panel will consider issues of informal and participatory heritage transmission in South Asia, operating in relation to dominant or absent heritage regimes. For example, in Pakistan, a lack of heritage infrastructure and industrial support has forced market-based film retailers to pull master copies and memorabilia materials from obscurity via neighbourhood waste collectors, indifferent heirs, or from closed and destroyed cinemas. In post-war Sri Lanka, the state's triumphalist discourse has been met with the mobilisation of photographs of the war dead and missing as objects of civilian resistance and collective memory, forming a participatory counter-narrative.

These examples signal the existence of forms of mobile and temporary guardianship. Such acts are conducive to mourning and memorialisation, and as contingent on participation as on authority, access, and ownership. Platforms for sharing, saving, and disseminating significant images are notably porous; they are characterised by an exorbitance that preserves far more than they intend to. Museum institutions and archives, on the other hand, permit the movement of heritage objects only so long as it takes place within a wider infrastructure for its dissemination. Such acts of dispersion are designed to be economically and socially productive, politically expedient, as well as generative of a heritage as a category of political economy. Thereby, the panel will explore examples of mobile and temporary guardianship, spread across sites and carriers, marked by reproduction and dispersal beyond the actual or symbolic boundaries of heritage regimes.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Temporary Guardianship, Mobile Custodianship: Preservation, Transmission, and Archival Knowledge in A Media Market in Lahore

Author: Timothy Cooper (University College London) email

Short abstract

Workers in Lahore's media markets assert custodianship over the circulation and mobility of Pakistani films by cataloguing, retrieving, restoring, and ensuring continued access to domestically produced movies. This paper explores such non-archival contexts for accessing Pakistani visual culture.

Long abstract

In the absence of a national film archive urban shop clusters in Pakistan deal in the dissemination of mass-copied films, preserving them not by altering the quality but by bringing them into the marketplace for public consumption. By cataloguing, retrieving, restoring, and ensuring continued access to domestically produced Pakistani films, workers in Lahore's media markets have forged non-archival contexts for accessing Pakistani visual culture. Once a vibrant hub of "Lollywood" film production, the filmic architectonics of urban Lahore are now made up of specialised markets selling VCDs, DVDs, and films loaded onto USB sticks. These commodity zones took shape following the arrival of VHS, audiocassette technology, and their concomitant capacious media forms. The extent to which the survival of older Pakistani films depends on such dynamics reflects a wider sphere in which the agents and actants in of the bazaar, rather than of state repositories, have asserted custodianship over the circulation and mobility of moving images and images in movement

Building on immersive ethnographic fieldwork undertaken on a street in Lahore famous for its concentration of informal film distributors, this paper seeks to understand and locate instances of knowledge transfer in non-archival situations. The arguments aim to shift focus from the discursive sphere of intellectual property to notions of guardianship and custodianship in the study of informal distribution. Such instances of temporary guardianship and mobile custodianship reflect ways in which visual materials relating to the past are disseminated, circulated, and held in reserve in Pakistan.

Picturing the Disappeared: Of Resistance and Remembrance in Post-War Sri Lanka

Author: Vindhya Buthpitiya (UCL) email

Short abstract

The proposed paper seeks to examine the mobilisation of photographs of the missing as objects of memorialisation and resistance within the context of post-war Sri Lanka as a counter-narrative to the triumphalist discourse of the state and its construction of a complementary heritage regime.

Long abstract

Nearly a decade following the conclusion of the Sri Lankan civil war, families of the disappeared in Northern Sri Lanka have marked over 300 days of protest demanding a response from the state. Loved ones of the thousands who disappeared during and in the aftermath of conflict await redress. In Vavuniya and Kilinochchi, where the war-torn landscape has been rapidly transformed by modern infrastructure and grand victory monuments, protesters persevere in roadside dwellings accompanied by striking assemblages of photographic portraits. Still unaccounted for, these Technicolor ghosts of the Sri Lankan war endure.

A new political sociality founded around mourning and remembering persists in acts of resistance by families of the disappeared. Here, photographs, both personal and those required by the state for identity documents, serve as a form of memoralisation, and protest against the state's reluctance to acknowledge the disappeared. The premise of photography as an ideological tool of the state which wields power through documentation and surveillance is subverted by the mobilisation of these photographs as a means of making themselves visible to the state. Their collective gazes challenge the state's narrative, its erasures, and embellishments in the creation of a new post-war heritage regime. As such, where a dominant post-war visual narrative has been actively propagated by the state, everyday photographs have thus become a part of the counter aesthetic of protesting citizens. Drawing on Azoulay's notion of photographic citizenry, this paper seeks to explore how the use of photographs within these protests, and photography of the protests themselves seek to offer a compelling, collective enactment of citizenship.

"You shouldn't show that photograph!" - Reconsidering Domestic and Amateur Photography in India

Author: Mallika Leuzinger (UCL) email

Short abstract

This paper uses a case-study to discuss the politics of domestic and amateur photography in South Asia, which extends from the production of images in and of households in the twentieth century, to current artistic, institutional, digital and entrepreneurial investments in the 'intimate archive'.

Long abstract

In 1948, Haleema Hashim, a young woman in the south Indian port city of Cochin, began taking photographs. Over the next three decades, she produced thousands of warm and striking images of occasionality and the everyday in her joint-family household of Kutchi Memons, Sunni Muslim migrants who through marriage and business formed a close-knit community. In 2014, they were collected and digitized by her great-grandson, and appeared on the Indian Memory Project website and at the Kochi Muziris Biennale. Drawing appreciation for 'making visible' an 'intimate' history that especially foregrounds women's lives, but also objections amongst relatives concerned with the implications of such visibility, they emphasize the ambitions and anxieties at play in the ongoing historiographical, artistic and entrepreneurial turn to the 'intimate (photographic) archive'.

This paper argues that Haleema Hashim's oeuvre urges us to reflect on the politics of domestic and amateur photography in South Asia. Ariella Azoulay's conceptualization of the photographic encounter which takes place between the photographer, camera, photographed subject and spectator is thus directed towards the spaces and relations of the (post)colonial household and its archives. Rather than a 'civil' contract, I propose that the negotiation of this photography, from its production to its transmission, dispersal and/or appropriation, is an 'intimate' contract, where intimacy is the constant and contingent blurring of the 'public' and 'private', of the formal and the informal. The intimacy that courses through Haleema Hashim's photographs and structures their afterlives becomes a way of critically engaging with an otherwise elided photographic encounter.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.