Speak, Memory

Speak, Memory. On Archives and Other Strategies of (re)activation of cultural memory took place at Townhouse Gallery’s Rawabet Theater from October 28–30, 2010. The symposium was conceived and curated by Laura Carderera and project managed by Alexandra Stock.

There were over 100 international and 150 local guests, among them Kaelen Wilson-Goldie who wrote about the symposium for Artforum and The National. Lisa Kreutzer designed the visual identity of the project, including the follow-up publication featuring contributions by Wilson-Goldie, Hussein Omar, Rasha Salti and Kristine Khouri, Miguel A. López, Claire Hsu, the Editors of Bidoun, Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin, Jesús Carrillo, and Mai Elwakil. The book was edited by Laura Carderera and can be accessed online.


Text by Laura Carderera: (and her follow-up thoughts after the symposium here)

Borrowing from the title of Vladimir Nabokov’s classic autobiography, Speak, memory was a three-day event structured around presentations, panel discussions, screenings, and artist talks exploring the rich array of methodologies that can be adopted to unearth, revisit or reactivate past artistic practices.

Recently, the Middle East has seen the emergence of a series of archival and historiographic endeavors focused on a local and regional history of modern and contemporary art. In response to the scarce and scattered art historical documentation of the region’s most recent past, a growing number of researchers, curators and artists have begun collecting documents and recording the oral histories of artistic practices and exhibitions that have seemingly been forgotten, misinterpreted or dismissed.

As these research projects gain momentum, private collectors and newly created museums are also slowly acquiring artists’ archives, magazines and other remnants of the region’s 20th century cultural history. These developments are not unique to the Middle East. A similar phenomenon has been taking place in Latin America, where private collectors, foreign museums and universities have been buying and exporting privately held archives related to artistic production of the 60’s and 70’s.

The current situation calls for a critical discussion between institutions, collectors, artists, curators, and researchers interested in reactivating recent cultural memory in a way that enables the creation of a multiplicity of narratives and ready access to these histories. Speak, memory sought to instigate an informed debate on the challenges and strategies for the preservation of modern and contemporary art histories, focusing on those that have been scarcely documented or are underrepresented in dominant art historical narratives. In addition, the symposium presented archival initiatives that stand out for their successful organizational model, accessibility and discursive potential, as well as online platforms that are already providing possibilities for collaboration.

Rather than being a one-time event, the symposium aimed to create a network of archival initiatives and broader historiographic endeavors that can facilitate a series of ongoing conversations and collaborations.


Day 1: On cultural memory

Opening remarks by William WellsLaura Carderera
Keynote presentation by Susan Meiselas From the Field to the Archive
Presentation of different regional historio-graphic endeavors in the Middle East and beyond:
Kristine Khouri The History of Arab Modernities in the Visual Arts Study Group: The Beginning
Miguel López South-South Intersections: Southern Conceptualisms Network and the Political Possibilities of Local Histories
Negar Azimi and Yasmine Eid-Sabbagh, Arab Image Foundation
Artist Talk: Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin
Negar Azimi, Bidoun Library Project

Day 2: Rethinking the archive

Keynote presentation Activating the Archive by Claire Hsu, Asia Art Archive and Farah Wardani, Indonesian Visual Art Archive 
Barnaby Drabble The Archive as a Performance of Knowledge. Curating Degree Zero Archive 2003-2008
Vasif Kortun, Platform Garanti Archive
Heba Farid, Center for Documentation of Cultural and Natural Heritage (CultNat)
Hussein Omar and Lucie Ryzova Remembering Downtown: Making Memory History
Artist Talk: Celine CondorelliIl n’y a Plus Rien (There is Nothing Left)
Moderated Discussion, Hegemony and the Archive

Day 3: Processing the Archive. Towards a collaborative model of knowledge production?

Keynote presentation by Beatrice von Bismarck The Archive in Transformation
Sanjay Bhangar, Namita Malhotra, and Sebastian Lütgert of PAD.MA
Jesús Carrillo The “Universal Archive” and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia
Moderated Discussion, The Promise of the Archive

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Lucie Ryzova and Hussein Omar
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Miguel A. López, member of Red Conceptualismos del Sur (Southern Conceptualisms Network) and Kristine Khouri, founding member of The History of Arab Modernities in the Visual Arts Study Group
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Sean Dockray
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Vasif Kortun, Founding director of Platform Garanti
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Sebastian Lütgert, Sanjay Banghar and Namita Malhotra of PAD.MA
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Negar Azimi and Yasmine Eid-Sabbagh of the Arab Image Foundation
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Discussion session The Promise of the Archive, fltr Kristine Khouri (History of Arab Modernities in the Visual Arts Study Group), Monika Borgmann (UMAM), moderator Moukhtar Kocache, Sebastian Lütgert (PAD.MA) and Negar Azimi (Bidoun and Arab Image Foundation)