Part of the
exhibition

In the Presence of Absence proposals for the museum collection

5 Sep 2020 until 31 Jan 2021

Further reading — 2 Sep 2020 — Fadwa Naamna & Britte Sloothaak

This reading list with introductions and excerpts brings together the writings of authors, artists, academics, curators, historians and philosophers that engage with topics explored in the exhibition In the Presence of Absence: Proposals for the Museum Collection. These publications cover subjects such as archiving, storytelling, history writing, cultural memory, knowledge production, and methods of collection, selection, and categorization. 

Mahmoud DARWISH, IN THE PRESENCE OF ABSENCE (2011)

In the last book by Mahmoud Darwish to be published before his death in 2008, the author uses poetry and prose to ponder life and death, home and exile, longing, family, love, and memory. Darwish’s book inspired the title of the Proposals for the Municipal Art Acquisitions 2020 exhibition. 

More info

RODNEY CARTER, “OF THINGS SAID AND UNSAID: POWER, ARCHIVAL SILENCES, AND POWER IN SILENCE” (2006)

“This article examines the dynamics of silence in archives. It argues that silences are, in part, the manifestation of the actions of the powerful in denying the marginal access to archives and that this has a significant impact on the ability of the marginal groups to form social memory and history. Archivists and researchers can read archives ‘against the grain’ and begin to highlight these silences and give voice to the silenced. This, however, may be a difficult and contentious activity and one that should not be entered into lightly. The article then examines how silence can be a method used by the marginalized to deny the archives their records as a way to exercise their power over the powerful.”

Read article

Cover of the Arabic edition of Mahmoud Darwish, “In the Presence of Absence” (Beirut: Riad Al Rayes of Books and Publishing, 2006).
Cover of the Arabic edition of Mahmoud Darwish, “In the Presence of Absence” (Beirut: Riad Al Rayes of Books and Publishing, 2006).
Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, “The Danger of a Single Story,” video recording of TEDGlobal 2009.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, “The Danger of a Single Story,” video recording of TEDGlobal 2009.

CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHE: “THE DANGER OF A SINGLE STORY”

In her 2009 TED Talk, Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie discussed the consequences and dangers of reducing a story to a single dominant narrative. She draws examples from her own experiences both at home and abroad, while traveling for work or research.

Watch TED Talk

IRIT ROGOFF, “LOOKING AWAY: PARTICIPATIONS IN VISUAL CULTURE” IN AFTER CRITICISM: NEW RESPONSES TO ART AND PERFORMANCE (2005)

“It seems to me that within the space of a relatively short period we have been able to move from criticism to critique to criticality - from finding fault, to examining the underlying assumptions that might allow something to appear as a convincing logic (as in the case of all the aforementioned work on and in museums), to operating from an uncertain ground which, while building on critique, wants nevertheless to inhabit culture in a relation other than one of critical analysis; other than one of illuminating flaws, locating elisions, allocating blames.”

More info

HANNAH ARENDT, THE HUMAN CONDITION (1958)

“A life spent entirely in public, in the presence of others, becomes, as we would say, shallow. While it retains its visibility, it loses the quality of rising into sight from some darker ground which must remain hidden if it is not to lose its depth in a very real, non-subjective sense.”

More info

ARIELLA AÏSHA AZOULAY, POTENTIAL HISTORY: UNLEARNING IMPERIALISM (2019)

“In this theoretical tour-de-force, renowned scholar Ariella Aïsha Azoulay calls on us to recognize the imperial foundations of knowledge and to refuse its strictures and its many violences. Azoulay argues that the institutions that make our world, from archives and museums to ideas of sovereignty and human rights to history itself, are all dependent on imperial modes of thinking. Imperialism has segmented populations into differentially governed groups, continually emphasized the possibility of progress while it tries to destroy what came before, and voraciously seeks out the new by sealing the past away in dusty archival boxes and the glass vitrines of museums.”

More info

INTERVIEW WITH ARIELLA AÏSHA AZOULAY

Azoulay explains how, through her practice, “She refuses the role of the scholar who, as the expert, assigns meaning and ‘discovers’ new knowledge. In practice, this involves tracing, cropping, cutting, juxtaposing, annotating, and erasing the texts from history’s totalizing narratives.”

Read the interview

Folded photograph of the expulsion of Palestinians from Ramle, 1948. From Ariella Aïsha Azoulay’s exhibition “Potential History,” 2012, various locations. Photo: Michael Paninski. Courtesy Ariella Aïsha Azoulay.
Folded photograph of the expulsion of Palestinians from Ramle, 1948. From Ariella Aïsha Azoulay’s exhibition “Potential History,” 2012, various locations. Photo: Michael Paninski. Courtesy Ariella Aïsha Azoulay.

BERNADETTE ROCA, “NARRATING THE COLLECTIVE: MEMORY, POWER, AND ARCHIVAL SPACE” (2009)

“Archives as sites of memory production permit and silence various narrative strands in the collective social fabric, and archivists must recognize their role in shaping the archival record. This essay therefore seeks to analyze the current literature on archives and its relation to memory, power and narrative.”

Read article

MARGARET TALI, ABSENCE AND DIFFICULT KNOWLEDGE IN CONTEMPORARY ART MUSEUMS (2017)

“This book analyzes practices of collecting in European art museums from 1989 to the present, arguing that museums actualize absence both consciously and unconsciously, while misrepresentation is an outcome of the absent perspectives and voices of minority community members which are rarely considered in relation to contemporary art. Difficult knowledge is proposed as a way of dealing with absence productively.”

More info

Ariella Aïsha Azoulay, “The Potential History of Palestine,” 2013. Photo: Leevetamar. Courtesy Ariella Aïsha Azoulay.
Ariella Aïsha Azoulay, “The Potential History of Palestine,” 2013. Photo: Leevetamar. Courtesy Ariella Aïsha Azoulay.

EDWARD SAID, “INVENTION, MEMORY, AND PLACE” (2000)

“Memory and its representations touch very significantly upon questions of identity, of nationalism, of power and authority. Far from being a neutral exercise in facts and basic truths, the study of history, which of course is the underpinning of memory, both in school and university, is to some considerable extent a nationalist effort premised on the need to construct a desirable loyalty to and insider’s understanding of one’s country, tradition, and faith.”

Read article

JUDITH BUTLER, “BODIES AND POWER, REVISITED” IN FEMINISM AND THE FINAL FOUCAULT (2004)

In her investigation of Foucault’s approach to the question of bodies and power through his analysis of discipline and punishment, Butler attempts to disentangle the complex ways in which power acts upon the body, and ultimately crafts and forms the body.

More info

WALTER BENJAMIN, “IBIZAN SEQUENCE” (1932)

“He who seeks to approach his own buried past must conduct himself like a man digging. Above all, he must not be afraid to return again and again to the same matter; to scatter it as one scatters earth, to turn it over as one turns over soil.”

More info

DIETER ROELSTRAETE, “THE WAY OF THE SHOVEL: ON THE ARCHEOLOGICAL IMAGINARY IN ART” (2009)

“[A]rt has doubtlessly come to the rescue, if not of history itself, then surely of its telling: it is there to ‘remember’ when all else urges us to ‘forget’ and simply look forward—primarily to new products and consumerist fantasies—or, worse still, inward. Indeed, this new mode of discursive art production boasts an imposing critical pedigree, a long history of resistance and refusal: the eminent hallmarks, as we know, of true vanguardism.”

Read article

“KNOWLEDGE AS PRODUCTION: A DIALOGUE WITH LIAM GILLICK” (2017)

Liam Gillick and Lucy Cotter sketch out a topography of artistic research relating to issues of art production, knowledge work and labor.

Read article

CLÉMENTINE DELISS, “COLLECTING LIFE’S UNKNOWN” (2015)

“The earlier assumption of epistemological authority does not extend comfortably within the post-colonial situation. One can no longer be content to use earlier examples of material culture for the purpose of depicting cultures, ethnic groups, thereby reasserting the logos of ethnos or an existing range of outdated anthropological themes.”

Read article

GLORIA WEKKER, WHITE INNOCENCE: PARADOXES OF COLONIALISM AND RACE (2016)

An examination of a central paradox in Dutch culture: the passion and aggression that race evokes while the very existence of race and racism is denied.

More info

BORIS GROYS, “TOWARDS A NEW UNIVERSALISM” (2017)

“The anti-immigration politics of contemporary New Right parties is an effect of what can be characterized as the territorialization of identity politics. The main presupposition of the ideology of these parties is this: every cultural identity has to have its own territory on which it can and should flourish—undisturbed by influences from other cultural identities. The world is diverse and should be diverse. But the world’s diversity can be guaranteed only by territorial diversity.”

Read article

RASHA SALTI, “AROUND THE POSTCOLONY AND THE MUSEUM” (2015)

“As the research and its transformation into the ‘Past Disquiet’ exhibition revisited a chapter in the history of artistic practice entrenched in the political engagement of the international anti-imperialist solidarity movement of the 1970s, it did not produce a linear and continuous narrative, but rather showcased speculative histories of a turbulent recent past, while overtly engaging with the issues of oral history, the trappings of memory and writing history in the absence of cogent archives.”

Read article

Page spread from Rasha Salti, “Around the Postcolony and the Museum,” in “Decolonising Museums” (L’Internationale Online, 2015), page 139.
Page spread from Rasha Salti, “Around the Postcolony and the Museum,” in “Decolonising Museums” (L’Internationale Online, 2015), page 139.

NAV HAQ, “THE INVISIBLE AND THE VISIBLE: IDENTITY POLITICS AND THE ECONOMY OF REPRODUCTION IN ART” (2015)

Haq takes as his starting point a question: “Where are we exactly when we consider the dynamics of power in the field of contemporary art?” He delves into art–power relations in 1960s and 70s institutional critique and the identity politics of socially and politically engaged art movements.

Read article

SARA UNSWORTH, CHRISTOPHER SEARS AND PENNY PEXMAN, “CULTURAL INFLUENCES ON CATEGORIZATION PROCESSES” (2005)

This article contains a social cognitive experiment about how categorization or classification is approached in different cultures. The research was conducted with two groups, one Chinese and the other Western. The researchers asked the participants from the two groups to sort a variety of items to gain an understanding of the logic underlying each categorization process. They found that the Western group based their categorization primarily on physical similarity, while the Chinese group’s method was based on inter-relationships as well as physical similarity. Consequently, the Chinese group’s selections were more hybrid than those of their Western counterparts.

More info

JELLE BOUWHUIS AND NANCY JOUWE, “ONTLEREN IN HET MUSEUM” (UNLEARNING IN THE MUSEUM) (2018)

“We moeten afstappen van de frames waarmee kunstcollecties in musea tot nu toe zijn beschreven en geïnterpreteerd. In plaats daarvan moet de kolonialiteit zichtbaar worden gemaakt, zodat we die stap voor stap kunnen ontmantelen en daar andere narratieven tegenover kunnen stellen om nieuwe, pluralistische uitgangspunten voor het heden te formuleren.”

Read article (NL)

ROOPIKA RISAM, “COLONIAL VIOLENCE AND THE POSTCOLONIAL DIGITAL ARCHIVE” (2019)

“Digital archives have been embraced for their promise of openness and access to knowledge, and they seem to offer possibilities for democratizing collections and expanding the digital cultural record. [….] [T]he promise of digital archives is far from guaranteed, since traces of colonial violence appear within them. In the context of the digital cultural record, digital archives hold both the risk of reaffirming colonial discourse and the promise of challenging it through the development of new archives and design practices.”

More info

GRETCHEN JENNINGS AND JOANNE JONES-RIZZI, “MUSEUMS, WHITE PRIVILEGE, AND DIVERSITY: A SYSTEMIC PERSPECTIVE” (2017) 

“Museums are microcosms of the world around us, ecosystems with their own governments, caste systems, policies, and practices that mirror much of our society at large. [...] [Museums] are, at best, human-centered places, where everyone can see their experiences reflected and can find relevance in the content and the way in which it is presented. [...] Museums at worst are reminders of power and privilege, tangible just moments after stepping into the lobby. Here we don’t see a multitude of human experiences represented, we don’t see people who look like us employed, and there is no context for thinking about the world beyond the doors of the museum.”

More info

LAURA MANDELL, “GENDER AND CULTURAL ANALYTICS: FINDING OR MAKING STEREOTYPES?” (2019)

“Quantitative analyses in sociology proceeded without feminist input at great cost, leaving the field susceptible to ‘bad science’ and ‘bad description.’ […] Writing on the subject of the visual effect of data visualizations more generally, Johanna Drucker argues that the ‘representational force’ of the image ‘conceals what the statistician knows very well—that no ‘data’ pre-exist their parameterization. Data are capta, taken not given, constructed as an interpretation of the phenomenal world, not inherent in it.’ Datasets are never random samples: they are gathered by humans according to parameters, however complex, hidden, unconscious, and subject to chance they may be.”

Read article