Revisiting Archive in the Aftermath of Revolution

This article is part of the TRAFO series “Emerging Topics. Insights from ‘Behind the Scenes’”. Today, we put the spotlight on the symposium, Revisiting Archive in the Aftermath of Revolution, which will take place at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW)  in Berlin from 26th to 28th October 2018. The symposium is curated by Khaled Saghieh (Beirut / EUME Fellow 2016/17) and presented by the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture (AFAC) in the framework of its Arab European Creative Platform (AECP) in cooperation with the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW) and Europe in the Middle East—The Middle East in Europ (EUME).

You can find the full program of the conference here.

Yto Barrada, Hand-Me-Downs (2011, Film still)

Our interview partner is Khaled Saghieh, convener of the symposium, Revisiting Archive in the Aftermath of Revolution. Khaled Saghieh began his career as a journalist in 1998 at the Lebanese daily al-Safir. Until 2011, he was the deputy editor-in-chief of the daily al-Akhbar. Between 2012 and 2015, Saghieh worked as editor-in-chief of the news department at the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International (LBCI). He also earned an MA in Economics from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Khaled Saghieh was a research fellow of Europe in the Middle East—The Middle East in Europe (EUME) in 2016/2017.


Khaled, you are the convener of the upcoming forum “Revisiting Archive in the Aftermath of Revolution”. According to the forum announcement, the interest in archives acquired a new resonance in the Arab world after the uprisings in the so-called “Arab Revolutions”. Why do you think this the case?

Uprisings and political upheavals trigger an interest in archives. In the Arab world, the phenomenon is not new. Following the end of the Civil War, for instance, the Lebanese contemporary art scene relied heavily on archival practices while remaining critical of the fossilization of memory. This critical position returns to us following the 2011 moment.

In the aftermath of Arab revolutions, we have seen how political change has stumbled and turned into tragedy. And yet, a Pandora’s box has been opened. Writers, artists, and activists have documented extraordinary events and critiqued archiving methods against the backdrop of hegemonic practices of repression and erasure. In so doing, they disturbed monolithic narratives of the past as they face an uncertain future.

Artists and writers have also reverted to the archive as a means to excavate a past buried under several layers of political repression. There, in the archives, they have interrogated pre-revolutionary cultural and media practices, and their ideological ties. And so, they rediscovered repressed voices that ultimately led to forgotten or forbidden narratives that inform our vision of the future in times of uprisings and loss.

On the other hand, the archives also provide us with a refuge, a space where we can take shelter in times of difficult questions as we wait for the storm to pass, until we gather enough strength to move forward.

The upcoming forum is part of a series of events referring to the theme of archives and archival practices. Which perspectives can “Revisiting Archive in the Aftermath of Revolution” add to this ongoing debate?

If revolutions allow us to begin conceiving of a future, archival and excavation practices can make this endeavor possible. This forum explores the artistic and intellectual practices that fall within this framework, inviting academics, writers, artists and filmmakers to share visions from their respective fields about how such possibility has been imagined. The Egyptian historian, Khaled Fahmi, initiates the discussion with a keynote address titled “Archiving the Revolution”, which intersects with several panelists’ work on the archive as a form of resistance.

Crucial to the process of archiving revolutions is the question of documenting horror and the formal choices that writers and artists make as they capture political violence: How can we read images that emerge from wars? And how do our bodies become our own archive of trauma? How can we make sense of what seems like never-ending loss?

The forum also explores practices of excavations that have flourished in the aftermath of revolutions. Speakers will address processes of excavating traditions such the Arab-Enlightenment era, feminism, and political commitment. But they also turn to the excavation of the self through the biographies of others. They will scrutinize the emerging interest in reading Intellectual History and social change by examining the meaning of the circulation and the demise of books and libraries, newspapers and magazines.

The forum ultimately looks into processes of reverting to the past as a means to revive utopian imaginaries that had been lost but continue to be desired.

The symposium has a strong focus on the Middle East. Do you think that the arguments and the questions referring to the Arab Revolutions might be relevant to other regional contexts, like the so-called “Color Revolutions” in former soviet countries?

In the work leading to her film, “Today Is 11th June 1993”, featured in the forum, Clarissa Thieme investigates a collection of amateur videos in which residents of Sarajevo documented their lives during the siege of the city. One of these videos turned out to be science fiction, where the past speaks to us in these words: “Today is 11th June 1993. The war has been going on for a very long time. I’ve tried everything to get out, to save myself, nothing worked. The only thing left is to make this video tape that I will give to my son, he to his, and so on, until a time machine is invented and someone watching this will come and get me out of this.” In many ways, we’re all waiting for this time machine.

Questions: Moritz Buchner


Citation: Revisiting Archive in the Aftermath of Revolution – Interview with  Khaled Saghieh, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 26.10.2018, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/14379



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