(P044)
Revealing Histories of Violence: The Representational Politics of Trace
Location SOAS Main Building - Khalili Lecture Theatre
Date and Start Time 01 Jun, 2018 at 11:30
Sessions 3

Convenors

  • Aimee Joyce (St Andrews University) email
  • Zahira Araguete-Toribio (University of Geneva) email
  • Magdalena Buchczyk (University of Bristol) email

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Short abstract

For anthropologists working with histories of violence & erasure, the trace is an important methodological & analytical tool. This panel asks if the trace can be made to speak & should it? How can we represent traces of slavery, conflict, & ethnic cleansing, & their affective & political power?

Long abstract

For anthropologists working with histories of violence and erasure, the trace has become an important methodological and analytical tool. Material environments, from objects, landscapes, buildings, and bodies, are haunted by traces of other histories and social worlds. Traces are spacio-temporal events that reveal the affective relationship between the individual, the social world and the environment. They hold, manifest and transmit memories and lingering histories otherwise unspoken. For Napolitano (2015), they are knots of histories at the margins, situated in the social fields of marginalization, auratic presence, repression and forgetting. This way they speak of both the limits of representation and the anthropological sublime.

Anthropologists dealing with traces of violent histories, therefore, have to ask not only if the trace can be made to speak, but should it? What was once a purely academic problem has become one of the key conflicts in recent debates on historical memory - can we find a way to embrace the traces of alternate histories that haunt our places? What do we do with the traces of slavery, conflict, and ethnic cleansing that stalk small communities? How can we account for these traces? How do we represent their affective and political dimensions?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Ruins Before Victims: The primacy of the object in reconstructing the city

Author: Rana Abughannam (Carleton University) email

Short abstract

The paper analyzes two manuscripts that documented and provided a recovery strategy for Gaza post-attacks. The paper uncovers the texts fascination with physical traces as forensic evidence and argues that this fetishization pushes the victim to the background, limiting any possibility for recovery.

Long abstract

The recent shift in the investigation of crimes from subjective human testimony to tactile objective evidence has produced new scientific models and forensic methodologies. With modern conflicts becoming more urbanized, forensics has acquired a new architectural dimension which uses rubble left by war to illustrate humanitarian violations. After the 2008-2009 attack on Gaza, thousands of destroyed and damaged buildings were documented through images and tables in "A Verification of Building-Destruction Resulting from Attacks by the Israeli Occupation". While these images were suggestive of the suffering civilians who once lived in those destructed houses, the emphasis on the physical ruins now stood in for human witnesses since the former could be studied dispassionately and forensically for the humanitarian present. Similarly, post-2014 attacks on Gaza, the National Consensus Government of Palestine produced a comprehensive assessment of the damage, economic loss and human impact of the war in a manuscript titled "Detailed Needs Assessment (DNA) and Recovery Framework for Gaza Reconstruction" in an attempt to produce a recovery strategy. Throughout the 305 pages document, tables, maps, and images were introduced as what seemed to be evidence of violence rather than an attempt to reconstruct the city. Through the analysis of the two previously mentioned documents, this paper uncovers the fascination with physical traces as evidence of conflict. It concludes that focusing purely on the physical ruin limits the process of reconstructing and recovery by demoting the human victim to the background of the process.

Can the trace speak? Counter-forensics and the material legacies of Bloody Sunday (1972)

Author: Garikoitz Alfaro (University of Brighton) email

Short abstract

This paper explores the way in which material traces are mobilised as counter-witness in order to disrupt attempts to stabilise and patrimonialise the legacy of Bloody Sunday in Derry/L'Derry, Northern Ireland.

Long abstract

In postconflict societies, traces of the past (and particularly past futures) have the potential to unsettle the linearity underpinning discourses that aim to draw a line between past and present. This is certainly the case in Northern Ireland where material legacies become subject to a complex articulation of contested regimes of visibility, readership and belonging. In Northern Ireland, a number of geographers have looked at the role of commemorative geographies in the continuation of sectarian violence and identity politics (McDowell and Shirlow 2011). More recently, contemporary archaeologists (McAtackney, 2014) have started to look at the temporal and spatial porosity, that is the 'gravitational power' (Gordillo 2013) of certain spaces and objects in order to write biographies of heritage landscapes.

In this paper I want to contribute to this conversation by examining traces that remain from the 70's in the Bogside, an iconic neighbourhood of Derry/Londonderry where the infamous events known as 'Bloody Sunday' (1972) took place. During the last years, attempts at patrimonialising Bloody Sunday have clashed with the opposition of diverse small local groups. The paper will look at how their counter-narratives draw on and gravitate around particular traces (a jacket with bullet holes, a staircase, etc.) in order to highlight how their story matters. My paper is an attempt at making sense of the affective/political implications of the different understandings of trace at stake in a contested changing landscape where certain objects go from reserved, quiet onlookers to compromising witnesses in a history of violence.

A Trace That was Never Meant to be: Performance, Ephemerality and the Representation of Political Violence in a Museum Collection

Author: Lee Douglas (Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía) email

Short abstract

Art has long been concerned with making evident acts of violence otherwise unseen. But what happens when artistic practices leave no material trace? I consider how a Spanish Museum grapples with the representational politics of narrating violence through material absence and geographies of distance.

Long abstract

In the 1970s and 1980s, Chilean artists developed innovative strategies for making visible the traces of political violence experienced under Pinochet's dictatorship. Mobilizing a rich repertoire of conceptual art practices that reframed the relationship between artists and institutions, members of the avant-garde focused their attention away from the production of objects and towards forms of public action. By performatively activating the details of everyday life, cultural producers brought into being new body-centered forms of artistic language that could evidence not only the bodily absences invoked by the regime's use of forced disappearance, but also those other forms of violent erasure central to the mechanics of dictatorial control. In these art actions, the ephemerality of the artistic trace was key to the political messages of resistance that artists sought to produce.

Drawing on archival and ethnographic research at a national museum in Spain, this paper considers how one art institution grapples with how to represent artistic practices that have left little or no material trace. Unpacking how museum curators describe collection practices, I examine how a European institution's desire to narrate violent pasts and to safeguard forms of cultural memory conflict with the ephemerality of performative artworks that sought to make visible the violence exercised on and through Chilean bodies during the regime. Tracking the curatorial labor of acquisition and display, I analyze how different forms of documentation are activated to piece together memories of artistic resistance and the politics implicit in narrating histories of violence across geographic and temporal distance.

Nowhere by here. Deconstructing the traces of conflict and war with artist Baptist Coelho's works.

Authors: Cathrine Bublatzky (Heidelberg University) email
Baptist Coelho email

Short abstract

In this conversation anthropologist Cathrine Bublatzky and artist Baptist Coelho address the artist's work. They will deal with the artistic practice of deconstructing (Derrida 1976) inexpressible traces of war and conflict like the Siachen Glacier, a conflict zone between India and Pakistan.

Long abstract

What can be the role of artists and art to reveal, recalibrate, trace, and give a voice to the everyday of war which is otherwise unspoken? How do artists position and strategize their research and practice to critique in context and in contrast to public visions of histories and sites of conflict, of cruelty, of the inexpressible? In which sense does art provide anthropologists crucial insights and access to a silenced everyday of violence and atrocity? In this conversation-based presentation, artist Baptist Coelho (Mumbai) and anthropologist Cathrine Bublatzky (Heidelberg) will talk about artistic engagement with the material culture of precarious lifeworlds (Butler 2004). The conversation addresses the artist's projects on the Siachen Glacier Conflict (India, 2006-2018) as well as Traces of War (London, 2016) in order to discuss Coelho's artistic practice that enables him to excavate and capture with found objects the material traces and 'accessories' that permeates and somehow transforms the temporality of war and conflict (Bourne-Farrell/Jabri 2016, 10). The overall aim is to engage with the deconstruction (Derrida 1976) of often invisible and untouchable traces of war as conceptualized in art, and its significance for anthropologists who study art in its political, interventional, and mediating social role in times of crisis. Thinking of parallels between artistic and ethnographic research practices, this conversation about traces of conflicts and war wishes to initiate a productive interaction where we not only ask how can the inexpressible be represented, but also what can such artistic initiatives do to the people?

Ruination and Restoration: pilgrimage sites as traces of conflictual temporalities

Author: Evgenia Mesaritou (University of Toronto, University of Cyprus) email

Short abstract

The paper sees how places become traces of various temporalities and concerns that afford diverse forms of action, the implications of restoring traces of conflict in conditions of division, and how anthropology may trace histories of violence without destroying the social relationships it depicts.

Long abstract

Ruins are not solely produced through motivated acts of destruction but can register various modalities of violence, ruination and agency, including (deliberate) neglect or lack of care. They may therefore become indexes of wider issues raised by conflict, but also sources of affect (Navaro-Yashin 2009). Combining work on ruins (Pétursdóttir and Olsen 2014) with discussions of heritage and conflict (Sorensen and Viejo Rose 2015), this paper examines a Christian-Orthodox monastery which is visited by Greek-Cypriots (G/C) and, to a lesser extent, by Turkish-Cypriots (T/C). A popular pilgrimage destination before being rendered largely inaccessible to the G/C after the island's division (1974), the monastery was reinstated when the opening of the checkpoints allowed the G/C and the T/C, respectively residing in the south and north, to cross the dividing line. Following years of concerns over the monastery's decaying state, restoration began in 2014 with the involvement of both communities. This paper will look at concerns that were articulated over the monastery's ruination, the public debate that ensued over past restoration plans and the current, ongoing restoration, to explore: (a) how places, in their various states of ruination or restoration, may become traces of different temporalities and concerns which can afford different forms of action, and (b) the socio-political, cultural and affective implications of the heritagization and restoration of traces of conflict in conditions of ongoing division. The paper will also ask how anthropologists might trace the histories of violence that accumulate in material remains without destroying the social relationships they depict.

Troubling contingencies: Ethnographic challenges of politics and photographic traces

Author: Jill Reese (University College London) email

Short abstract

This paper contrasts two photographic traces of political deaths, their dissemination and their communities to consider not only whether an anthropologist should help to facilitate these and similar photographs to 'speak', but also the extents and means through which this could, or should, be done.

Long abstract

This paper begins with a common ethnographic context—that of a researcher sitting with a family to review and discuss their photo albums. Then, a seemingly innocuous photograph of a smiling man elicits a moment of rupture in which a trace, "a tiny spark of contingency" (Benjamin 1985 [1931]), reveals their connection to a man's traumatic death for political ends. The paper contrasts this event with another in which a political party pastes posters across the streets of a city in south India containing newly surfaced war trophy photographs of bullet-ridden bodies. The aesthetics and profilmic contents of the photographs, the contexts in which they were shared, and the desires of the communities with whom the researcher worked, will be examined to consider not only whether the anthropologist should help to facilitate these and similar photographs to 'speak', but also the extents and means through which this could, or should, be done. Does an open secret about a political murder permit a researcher to share pertinent images and stories? Should the requests of the community disseminating a photograph be heeded when the image is from a civil war in another country? What impacts should potential personal, political and affective consequences of circulating such traces be considered by a researcher when the dead can no longer directly speak for themselves, the circumstances of their deaths or the representations of their bodies? When and how do such photographs speak for themselves?

Remaking Familial Identity through Contested Archival Traces in Post-Franco Spain

Author: Zahira Araguete-Toribio (University of Geneva) email

Short abstract

The impossibility of finding some of the corpses of left-wing Republicans killed during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) has prompted forms of information gathering that aim to grasp complex histories of disappearance through the affective and epistemic quality of particular archival traces.

Long abstract

The recent quest to find the corpses of left-wing Republicans killed in judicial and extrajudicial executions during and after the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) has returned their names and their life and death stories to the realm of the public - from which they once were estranged. Though the humanitarian forensic interventions conducted in the country since the year 2000 have succeeded in locating, analyzing, and exhuming and identifying hundreds of human remains through techno-scientific expertise, some campaigns have remained unsuccessful. The absence of the mass grave and the corpse has thrown some families into endless searches for other traces that confirm the actuality of the person, contest Francoist narratives about the killings and subvert the institutional regime of silence and neglect that exists, still today, in relation to war and postwar crimes. In this paper, I consider how families liaise with activists, archaeologists and historians to follow the trail of the dead from often-deceitful Francoist state records to intimate but scarce repositories of personal objects, documents and photographs in order to understand and navigate a complex history of disappearance. I posit that the absence of the corpse activates a process of information gathering and assemblage not only powered by affect and the need to re-establish a kinship bond, but also by the pressing desire to grasp a familial yet distant past. Analyzing this quest, I explore the trace as an affective yet also an epistemic trigger in the new historicity of post-Franco Spain.

Material and imagined traces of the dead : landscape and human remains in Guatemala's exhumations

Author: Clara Duterme (Musée du quai Branly ) email

Short abstract

Based on ethnographic fieldwork of the exhumations and reburials in the Ixil region in Guatemala, this paper focuses on the dual process of forgetting and remembering for indigenous victims' relatives, through representations associated with the human remains and landscapes where they were buried.

Long abstract

The internal conflict (1960-1996) in Guatemala has left few tangible traces, with the important exception of hundreds of dead bodies that were hastily buried, often close to towns. Most of the 200.000 victims were indigenous, killed by the Guatemalan army on suspicion of "subversion". In the 1990s, the peace process piloted by the UN both ended the conflict and also launched the long process of exhumation and reburial of the victims. The restitution of these remains to their families has been articulated by institutional actors as the key element to enable the grief process, through funeral rituals that are largely re-inventions. The process of individuals healing through their personal grief is presented as the way for the Guatemalan society to overcome the war trauma, as a form of "social grief".

Exhumations participate in a complex process of memory reactivation and transmission, of mourning and mourning closure. The reburial of the dead is supposed to bring closure to the relatives, but it can also be seen as a way to "lay to rest" the collective memory of these traumatic events. However, the landscape around them is full of reminiscences of the dead. In this paper, I analyse the strategies put in place by local actors to manage their relationship to memory and the stakes of its transmission. I focus on their interactions with two emblematic places: first, the cemetery where the bodies are newly reburied and second, the exhumation site, where the dead remained for many years before being exhumed.

Haunting absences: femicide and the spectrality of death in Highland Mexico

Author: Catherine Whittaker (University of Edinburgh) email

Short abstract

Starting from the case of a missing girl, this paper follows haunting as an embodied trace, characterised by absence and the agonistic encounter of multiple realities, such as in the context of fieldwork or colonialism, opening a window onto the current politics of gender and death in Mexico.

Long abstract

My fieldwork on the southern border of Mexico City was haunted by the case of Teresa, a girl who disappeared at the age of 17 without a trace. A terrible possibility haunting my friends' and my imagination was that Teresa could have been trafficked, as she fit the profile of so many other young disappeared women and indigenous people in Mexico. Haunting is an embodied trace, characterised by absence and the agonistic encounter of multiple realities, such as in the context of fieldwork or colonialism. In Teresa's case, it was a trace of the current politics of gender, death, and forced disappearance in Mexico. Yet for my friends, death is not the end of life, but a liminal state, or more precisely, the beginning of a journey: No longer human, the seres queridos, the beloved dead, retrace their steps by visiting all the places they have been to during life, and finally travel to the otherworld. They return on the Day of the Dead. Only social death marks the end of existence. Depending on one's viewpoint, Teresa could have been clinically dead but socially alive. A photograph resolved the mystery, yet the haunting did not end there. To become a "participant observer", I straddled being both self and other when distancing myself analytically whilst being fully immersed in "the field". As a result, I found myself always leaving something behind - both in "the field" and after. Eventually, I surrendered to "being affected" (Favret-Saada 2015), or rather, to being haunted.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.