The exhibition “Sea of Stories: Voyages of the Palestinian Archives” was presented at Dar El-Nimer for Arts and Culture, Beirut, Lebanon (5 October – 15 November 2016), as part of the Qalandia International (Qi)’s third edition, “This Sea is Mine.”
Curators: Ahmad Barclay & Hana Sleiman
Concept Design: The Council
Production made possible with the support of Dar El-Nimer for Arts & Culture, Culture Resource’s Production Awards Program, Taawon (Welfare Association).
The following discussion was spurred by the exhibition “Sea of Stories: Voyages of the Palestinian Archives,” originally presented at Dar El-Nimer for Arts and Culture in Beirut from October to November 2016, as part of the Qalandia International (Qi)’s third edition “This Sea is Mine.” Samar Kanafani converses with curators Ahmad Barclay and Hana Sleiman, posing questions about the meanings of the archive and the processes of narrative building.
The story of the archives of the Palestinian national movement reveals a narrative of exile and fragmentation that reflects the Palestinian experience itself. Building on archival and ethnographic research, the exhibition reconstructs the journeys of these archives across the Mediterranean, connecting locations including Beirut, Haifa, Algeria, Cyprus, and Italy. The project explores how much of these archives have been lost, why the remaining fragments are yet to be repatriated, and the ramifications of an archival absence on Palestinian narratives of the past, present, and future.
[Video excerpt from exhibition. Captions over footage from film The Fifth War, courtesy of Monica Maurer, Archivio Audiovisivo del Movimento Operaio e Democratico (AAMOD), Rome.]
Central to the exhibition is a “control room” space, presenting the stories of three of the most significant archives of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) during its revolutionary period—namely those of the Research Center, the Palestine Cinema Institute, and Wafa News Agency. Viewers can select the story of one archive, which is then narrated in the form of animated maps, texts, and images. Viewers retrace the story of the archive from its creation up until 1993, navigating through its key episodes and the route it travelled across the Mediterranean. In addition to the time-space narratives, the stories contain collected fragments of the content that is likely to have existed within each archive, including films, photographs and printed documents.
After 1993, and corresponding to the signing of the Oslo Accords and a decisive shift in the official historiography of the Palestinian national movement, After the control room, the audience is offered the choice to enter one of two rooms representing two possible endings: to forget or to remember. This part of the exhibit picks up from 1993, corresponding to the signing of the Oslo Accords and a decisive shift in the official historiography of the Palestinian national movement. Remembering is represented by the stories of the archives after 1993, their official loss or neglect, and various efforts by individuals to piece together fragments of their former contents. The choice of forgetting brings the audience into a large empty meeting room, representing the Palestine National Archives—a Palestinian Authority institution founded under the motto “Memory of the Nation and State.”
[Film montage of control room space in exhibition, courtesy of The Council.]
Samar Kanafani (SK): I saw your piece as telling the story of the archive as a means of telling the story of a political struggle. I would describe it as a narrative about the materials that either constitute narratives or were produced to furnish the making of other narratives. In either case, these materials might tell the story of Palestinian dispossession and resistance, within a sea of dominant histories that were blind to this. You do a sort of mapping of that material: where it is, its silences, and its interruptions. In your presentation transcripts you write, "This exhibition tells the story of one possible history among many." What is that one story that the exhibition is telling? And what are examples of other stories that you imagine as possible that it does not tell?
Ahmad Barclay (AB): On one level, what we are trying to tell is something of a meta-story. Our main interest is not so much in the content of this archive, although we are trying to give a glimpse of that. It is more what the archives represented, and how they came to be dispersed, silenced, or altogether lost. The core idea is that the PLO was intentionally trying to write its own history from the beginning. The Research Center was central to this story, because it had the role of being the official archive of PLO. The Research Center was also central in interpreting the events in this history as it unfolded. The Nakba did not just dispossess Palestinians of their land and possessions, but also of their archive and the tools to write their own history. This makes the Palestinian national movement somewhat distinct from many other revolutionary struggles, in the fact that Palestinians saw the Research Center as very much central from the beginning.
Hana Sleiman (HS): Our starting point was that the archive is not merely a site where historians excavate the primary sources and write history “as it happened.” Archives are read for both the stories they tell, and for other stories silenced by archival omissions. Both readings are impossible in the case of the PLO as the entire archive is inaccessible. The aim of the exhibit is to tell the story of this absence. We begin with the statement "This exhibition tells the story of one possible history among many" in an attempt to apply the same critique to ourselves. By telling one story we are necessarily omitting others. The statement is an attempt to highlight the possibility of alternative interpretations and narratives to be told using the same documents. Also, all the archives we discuss are those of the official narrative of the PLO, and not of other stories in the Palestinian community in Lebanon: the narrative of women in struggle, the narrative of Palestinians not engaged with the PLO, the narrative of class struggle, etc. There are all of these other stories and histories that could be told but are absent from the PLO archive.
AB: On another level, the idea of “one history among many” also acts as a disclaimer. Essentially when we are talking about it in the case of Palestinian revolutionary struggle, or Palestinian national movement; it was very fragmented from the start. Our story was focused solely on those archives of the PLO as an institution, and particularly during the time it was based in Beirut. So there are many stories missing, in the sense that there are Palestinians in the 1948 and the 1967 territories, also even in other countries in the diaspora, where the PLO operated.
[Video excerpt from exhibition, contents of the main screen on the PLO Research Center.]
SK: There are a number of ways of identifying what archives are, and what effect they have on culture and politics. Some established ideas about the archive (most notably following Foucault), contend that archiving is essentially a totalizing and authoritative form of amassing and ordering knowledge, and one that has been closely associated with colonisation. Following Western Enlightenment ideals of universalism (and even utopia), such archiving was capable of developing the technology to put this institution to the service of violent domination. Other voices, most notably in postcolonial and cultural studies, have recognized in the archiving attempts of subaltern and oppressed groups a successful or adequate gesture of appropriation and subversion of this domination and its historical discourses (the “living” institutions Stuart Hall, Walter Mignolo). For Foucault for instance, the archive is not the files or material, but the practice, which determines what is filed: the rule about what can or cannot be said. For Ann Stoler, however, the archive becomes an ethnographic subject that can be read. Where do you stand relative to these--or perhaps other--formulations of the archive?
AB: There is an interesting academic question that comes out of that. Given that this archiving was an effort in the past, it would surely be possible to go back and look at the kind of influence the PLO’s efforts to create its own historical narrative had on wider or “mainstream” discourses of the time. For example, at the height of the activity of the Research Center, can we see their analyses and vocabulary reflected to a significant degree in international political, academic and media discourses?
SK: I realize this was a question about your views on archives, rather than necessarily the artistic intervention itself. I am coming to that. But I was just interested to know where you position yourselves as to the potential of an archive, fragmented as it may be. Beyond identifying what an archive is, what does this showpiece propose the archive does or can do?
HS: We conceive of the archive as a space for the production and organization of historical truth, controlled by centers of power. Although we are calling for the retrieval of the archive, we are conscious of what narratives of state and nationhood they advance. Our practice is informed by Ann Laura Stoler’s work. She explains how students of colonialism tend to read the archive against its grain, to analyze omissions and silences and tell stories that were kept out of the archive, thus subverting agendas of power. Stoler encourages us to read the archive along its grain as a way to understand the agenda of power: to see what the national monumental archive constructs as the dominant narrative, and what other narratives it omits.
AB: It is both a deconstruction and reconstruction. It is constructing a narrative, but in reference to another very specific (Zionist) narrative. One thing that crosses my mind here is that, when we are talking about Foucault and the idea of the adequate gesture of subaltern and oppressed groups, this is similar to the idea of adopting the tools of the oppressor. When we start talking about an archive as an institutional thing, and as an approach to the legitimization of particular historical narrative.
SK: Do you see this exhibition then as an archival practice in itself, a sort of archive of an archive? Or a reading, a commentary, of an archival practice? If we take Foucault’s proposition about archives to be not just the material of the objects that constitute archives but the institution of what can and cannot be said.
HS: We see it as a history/historiographic project, more than an archival project. We are not collecting the archive of the archive, nor are we collecting a body of material that tells its story. We are using a body of material to tell a meta-history.
AB: We were not trying to tell people “this is what you should think” or “this is exactly what an archive is,” but trying to immerse them in the conditions under which this project of archiving and history writing occurred, the trajectory that it took, and then to bring them forward to the present day, and the traces left by this project. Looking at the “institutional forgetting” or silencing by Palestinian Authority institutions, versus the idea of collective or individual efforts towards recovering or preserving these archives and these narratives that cannot be fully represented or understood in the absence of the archives.
[Image from exhibition, ceremony of signing the Declaration of Principles in Washington, DC, 1993.]
SK: So my next question is about that. At times in your exhibition there is a sense that the archive is a subject, as Stoler would argue, a person. Going through the show, it was as though we were getting a biography of a multi-limbed being who comes and goes, gets lost, is held hostage, is swapped, lost, and destroyed. It has a journey, as the title of the piece suggests. So how intentional was this depiction for you? And if intentional, who would the subject be? The fighter, the refugee, the filmmaker, the writer? All of these?
AB: I guess it is a part of a movement, and the movement has the same kind of definition. Essentially you cannot necessarily say "the movement is this!,” but it is somehow a collective set of ideas and people and institutions that move in a similar orbit. But I think there is one point where it really does have a personification, which is when the Research Center archive is looted by the Israelis in 1982, and returned in the 1983 prisoner exchange, there is an effort to personify the archive as a prisoner of war. And this was not just in a philosophical sense, or as a turn of phrase, but actually the International Committee of the Red Cross had to be convinced that the archive could be described as a “person” in a legal sense.
HS: It was intentional to treat the archive as both object and subject. It is to say the archive is not simply an object of state and actors that create it: once created, it gets a life of its own. We try to show the archive as a captive subject from the onset: it was at first captive to the narrative of the revolution. Once robbed, it fell captive to the Israeli narrative depicting the PLO as a rogue actor. Once returned and neglected, and after the PA was created, it fell captive to the narrative of the state building enterprise, as such it was silenced. It absolutely resembles a personified multi-limbed subject that navigates these different actors and narratives, and changes as it interacts with them.
[Excerpt from exhibition, Photographs taken for Wafa Palestinian News and Info Agency, Yusuf Qutb, (1973-82).]
SK: Other times in the exhibit, the personification of the archive is replaced, for me, by a knowing technological intervention, in two ways. On the one hand, there is the control panel, the surveillance setup, which gives the impression of the archive as complicit with violence and military action. On the other hand, the instances of filmmakers and photographers making multiple copies of the material they produced, such as reels and tapes, in anticipation of and as a measure of prevention against its own loss and destruction, which often ensued anyway. What sort of archival practice was generated by the constant need to grapple with—reconcile or be resilient to—the possibility of material loss?
AB: There are at least two points where this occurs in the story. First, where the Cinema Institution is making multiple copies and dispersing its film reels around the world, and at a certain point up to seventy film reels are being distributed of each film, as part of the Third Cinema movement. Then later, there is the Documentation Center, which is set up to create microfilms of PLO publications, which are distributed to at least five different institutions. This seems to speak of an explicit sense of the fragility of the archive. Whereas the story of the film reels was also about broadcasting and disseminating this historical narrative they were trying to create in the moment.
HS: Building on this distinction, we refer to the archive as everything that was produced in that period, whether intentionally as historic primary sources or unintentionally, for the sake of dissemination and mobilization. The Documentation Center and Research Center were building an archive with that awareness: collecting primary sources that will then be used to write history. This is quite different from the Cinema Institute and WAFA, which were mainly preoccupied with representing the cause in the present and not for posterity. We cannot assume that the producer of the archive is one; as the PLO itself is not a unitary actor. There were different motives at play with different institutions and their production. But we looked at the Archive with a capital A, as the combination of all of these products whether intentional or not.
SK: The question was whether Palestinian archival practices of that period became somehow by definition resilient to or reconciled with material loss because of the conditions that defined not just knowledge and cultural production but that dominated the lives of Palestinians more generally?
HS: One question we asked our interviewees was: Did you not know that the Israelis would one day come? How was an inventory of the archive not kept separately? How is it that no precautionary measures were taken? Almost all answers said that although in retrospect precarity seems self-evident, the aftermath of the 1982 invasion of Beirut rendered the saving of documents an afterthought compared to the scale of destruction and loss.
AB: I guess also the narrative of the time was "Revolution until Victory" rather than “we'll probably be defeated so we had better take precautions.”
[Excerpt from exhibition, sample pages from inventory of Research Center library and archive in Algeria.]
SK: Filmmaker and producer Mohanad Yaqubi also made that point in his talk on Palestinian militant cinema, which featured within this edition of Qalandiya International. He mentioned another detail I found interesting that I want to run by you. Yaqubi said that at some point, as the Palestinian Film Unit was filming in Jordan in the early 1970s (during Black September specifically), their on-the-spot recordings ceased to be an act of filmmaking according to their training, and became an act of witnessing for which they could not have prepared. The films remaining from that time attest to this very immediate, real time quality in their image.
HS: This was Godard's intervention [in his film Ici et Ailleurs]: an act of witnessing as opposed to an act of producing a propaganda piece.
AB: Essentially, he is describing that this is a turn at a certain point in time, when they realized that the precarity of the situation became clear and that the most valuable thing they could do was simply to witness.
SK: Yes, and this made that material an example of how the Revolution was being filmed as it unfolded, as opposed to being reconstructed in retrospect, Yaqubi said. The simultaneity of it all was visible in the rushes and in the fact that tons of rushes were present but ultimately unedited.
AB: There is another example that also points towards this “simultaneity,” at least in the case of the PCI. The film Tall Al-Zaatar, which aside from the interviews after the event of the massacre, was made out of whatever footage they could smuggle to Rome to produce the film. As I understand, much of footage was simply witnessing the first two years of Lebanese civil war and the Palestinian situation within it, and was filmed without necessarily having a particular preset narrative. So I guess it does suggest already this turn quite early in the history of the PCI. If you measure its history from 1967 to 1982, you are half only way through that in 1975.
[Video excerpt from exhibition. Title sequences from Palestine Cinema Institute films.]
SK: In the work, I recognized a clear concern with silence and deliberate silencing of this history, of the PLO’s and the Palestinian struggle’s history, as made manifest through attention to what happened to the material of the archive. As we already discussed, this included scattering, looting, destruction, swapping, and abandonment. This silencing is also evident in the interruption of the various archival agencies’ operations and so it signals not just the destruction of existing material but the interruption of the production of new material. This concern becomes very evident in the second half of the show, where the last iPad display is missing under a label “Political Divide, Archives Neglected.” Can you talk a little bit about the status of these forms of silence in your piece? What are you inviting viewers to consider by foregrounding them?
AB: Yes, this describes the segment that we called “Remembering,” where we are trying to show the state of those parts of the archive that are still somehow accessible, or where people have been trying to relocate or reconstruct archives. But there is also a narrative of neglect that runs through all of this. So there are these elements, like the second Research Center archive that was based in Cyprus and traveled after the Oslo Agreement to Ashdod. It stayed there because they had not set up an institution, and they did not have a clear idea of what they were going to do with the material, and after two years they dispersed it to different locations across Gaza. As a collection it is basically lost. There is some of this narrative that goes on through this segment, which is not necessarily an active silencing but at a minimum it is a neglect by official Palestinian institutions. So by the end, alongside these stories--for example of the PCI films that have been preserved and collected by various individuals--we have these archives that were, let us say, repatriated to Palestine or PLO patronage but essentially neglected afterward. Whether it is the WAFA News Agency archive, or the first Research Center archive that did not come back to Palestine but remains somehow under the patronage of the PLO, yet still in Algeria. So at the end of a series of iPad screens full of archive materials, we felt it was fitting to leave an empty space representing a larger absence.
HS: We wanted to make the statement that whether silencing is intentional or unintentional, it happened. Our exhibit sheds some light on the silences and reflects on the meaning of absences. What does this mean to our self-understanding today, and to programs that are being built for the future? On the one hand, we are trying to show that there are things that can be done, like retrieve the Research Center archive, and that is important. And on the other hand we are trying to provoke collective thinking on what these losses mean.
AB: This is to speak to what the absence of these archives means, for the ability to even write history of that period.
HS: The ability to write history and even the ability to practice a form of self-critique of archiving practices.
[Video Excerpt from exhibition. Raw film footage from 1970s-80s, digitized for Shooting Revolution (ongoing film project), courtesy of Monica Maurer, Archivio Audiovisivo del Movimento Operaio e Democratico (AAMOD), Rome.]
SK: The components of your exhibit rely on various technological and artistic set-ups. In the first room, you relied on interactive technology, in the second more on passive viewing, and in the third, by situating the viewer inside a room, approaches a performative set-up. Can you tell us how you came up with these forms for the exhibit and what role the various technologies and spaces played in the show’s conceptualisation (i.e. in either research or representation of research)?
HS: Our point of departure was the theme for Qalandia International III, “This Sea is Mine”. We conceived of the exhibition as a retracing of the archives’ journeys through sea. We initially considered setting up in a small submarine-like room, where viewers navigate the Mediterranean in search of submerged archives. However, quite early in the process we partnered up with The Council to help drive the artistic direction of the project. After a few rounds of brainstorming, the team at The Council suggested the “control room”. The idea was that viewers step into a seemingly abandoned mission, and are faced with analog-looking control board that is at once antiquated and futuristic. The users then decide to activate the mission and navigate through the story of an archive, a matter which gives them the illusion of control over the archive/narrative, only to find out that none of the stories reach a real conclusion. The archive is beyond our control.
The rest of the exhibition was conceptualized around the control room: before entering viewers watch a short video compilation that sets the stage for archiving in revolution, and frames the story we’re telling as one among many. We then decided to end the stories of the control room in 1993 because we wanted to physically represent the abrupt disjointing that the Oslo accords produced, and its foregoing of a Palestine that had been thus far imagined. The Oslo room contains a screening, in a slow-motion, of the infamous handshake between Arafat and Rabin. Like Mahdi Fleifel says in his film A World Not Ours, there is no sight more painful to Palestinians than the Arafat-Rabin handshake on repeat. It is an imagery of disappointment par excellence – I guess that was the effect we were going for. After the Oslo room, viewers are offered the choice to forget or to remember.
SK: I experienced the show as having two distinct parts: the first being the control panel, and the second being the two rooms with the first, titled “Remembering” (containing samples of remaining film archives) and the second titled “Forgetting” (replicating a PNA meeting on the national archive). These were divided by a projection on the wall depicting the day Arafat signed the Oslo Accords. Remembering and forgetting are in this way divided by the Oslo Accords.
I also saw this transition through the Oslo Accords projection as coinciding with a global historical transformation, namely from a pre-revolutionary to a post-revolutionary era, as a transition from pre-1989 to post-1989. But the remembering-forgetting setup for me, suggested two things: a) that you are proposing that forgetting is somehow antithetical to remembering in narrating the past, and that b) the failure of the national archival project is equivalent to forgetting. Within the context of the whole show, there is an obvious message about the need to reconstitute the Palestinian archival project, and that its dispersal is emblematic of the decline of the political struggle that it sought to capture. What are your thoughts about that? And is this exhibit a gesture toward reconstituting or resuscitating the Palestinian archival project? I realize that what we already discussed may already have answered the second question…
HS: It is not either forget or remember. We see those two processes as ongoing simultaneously and in parallel. Oslo represents a major shift in the national program from liberation to statehood, from historic Palestine to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, from armed struggle to negotiations. When that happens, two archival processes ensue: one is to suppress that revolutionary period and its archive; and the other is to try and collect its parts. They are not mutually exclusive. I think the dramatization of the separation was to make a point that, as you say, the Palestinian archival project is in need of reconstitution, or in need of rethinking and action.
AB: Yeah, I guess we present it as a choice, but essentially there are two parallel paths that interact with one another.
HS: In the exhibit, the Palestinian National Archive, which proclaims to be the memory of the nation and of the state, does not have a significant portion of the archive representing the Palestinian experience. That is found in the room next door, both physically and metaphorically. The separation makes these parallel collection processes coexist and the archive can be reconstituted. This is not to say that the PA must collect everything, or that there needs to be a central archive. There's a lot of dangers to the centrality of the archive with the state. It is just to show that these things are happening as a result certain choices and actions.
[Excerpt from exhibition. Minutes from a fictional meeting of the Palestinian National Archives.]
SK: I think formally that part of the exhibit did not communicate the degree of complexity that you are expressing here. For me that second part of the exhibit really sets up these two rooms and the labels of forgetting and remembering as a dichotomy. This resonates with a lament over the loss of the archive, rather than relaying your very strong critique about the dangers of archival practice or the need to think about how the role that a quest for the archive plays in any political struggle. I find interesting what you say about making material available by archiving in order then to critique the legacy of such archiving. Can you explain more the mock minutes sheet that we find in the second room on forgetting, and what it contains? Are there things there that we need to decode as viewers to understand your stance towards the Palestinian Authority and its failure to do what it is expected to do vis-a-vis the archive? I experienced that room as the site where the PA is being held responsible for but failing to amass, recollect or gather the national archive? Meanwhile, from your present critique, do we even want that? Of course you have already signaled that we might not.
HS: We tried to make the PA Archive room as ridiculous as possible, to question the grand claim they are making to themselves as the memory of nation and state, and to question the degree to which they uphold it. We are trying to demystify what the PA Archive defines as its vocation: it is not to collect national archives, but it is to redefine what the nation and the state is. By claiming that they are the archive of the nation and the state they set the parameters of what those are: Palestine is territorialized in the West Bank (and to a certain extent Gaza), and the Palestinians are the residents of the occupied territories. This is a process of redefining the Palestine, for posterity, through archival curation. Concurrently, other things are happening that make a [different] claim to what the Palestinian nation is/was, and what the national project was trying to do.
AB: I think it is worth saying at this point that the exhibition is not critiquing in any way the archive and the work of the Palestinian Revolution, although obviously there is much to critique. So I guess it can easily be read as a kind of nostalgia, lament, the way you were framing it there. I think that is fair definitely on the surface level because, as we were saying earlier on, we are presenting the archiving efforts in their own terms, to a large degree because it would be very difficult to critique them on the basis of what actually remains of them. And I think the reason that the PA is particularly relevant and why it features prominently at the end of the exhibition is because they are an institution. Not necessarily the right institution to be the guardians of the Palestinian history or the history of the Palestinian national movement. But they are an institution that is actually in a position to recover some of these materials. So I guess in relation to the story of a lost archive, this is what is more relevant in a way.
SK: How did the form and content inform each other? Were there any considerations you struggled with; how did you resolve them? Were there self-evident choices, or avenues that you abandoned?
AB: We were very keen to make the exhibit accessible and “consumable” within a typical visit of no more than twenty to thirty minutes, so we were pretty rigorous in cutting the narrative content down into bite sized chunks that could be read in a fairly linear fashion. One thing that we would have loved to explore and unpack on a more general level is the relationship between political power, the creation/control of archives, and the writing of history. Another would have been to problematise the role of the PLO in sidelining silencing other possible contemporaneous archives and histories of the Palestinian liberation movement, both in the diaspora and within Palestine itself.
SK: I think aesthetically, formally that is, the first part of the exhibit works very well and is attuned to the tension within archiving that you speak of here, between the impulse to make material available precisely to engage with it critically. But I think the second half risks communicating something different to what you presently say, and prompts the misunderstanding that I had, about there being an intrinsic value to archiving. Yet, there was something else going on for me in the second part of the exhibit that I'm interested to hear you comment about. In the first room on remembering, much of the material displayed is recent, including current rushes. This brings us more to the present and ongoing production than to the archiving of a past, until it leads us to the last missing iPad.
AB: To a large degree, this room represented what materials we could access, and therefore the more recently digitized materials feature most prominently.
SK: Is there something to be said about a shift in the desire to organize knowledge and material in systematic ways, given the mass of images that are daily produced in non-institutional form, in very informal ways, through mobile phones and devices etc.? Does this new form of production (relative to the older material) have the capacity to displace or unsettle the archival impulse?
AB: Anyone can create a website, but will not have the same permanence of established institutions or archives. And I think people are realizing this more and more. In the exhibition, there are a couple of examples of attempts to reconstitute archives, or fragments of archives that kind of remained with individuals. One example is Monica Maurer, who shared a lot of material with us. She worked with the Palestinian Cinema Institution for a certain time, so some of her films were actually under the patronage of the PCA. But she was distinct in that all of her films were produced in Italy, as opposed to Lebanon, so she has the original reels of footage and other materials surrounding the films that she made, and she' in the process of digitizing these. So these form a concrete collection from that period. But even though many of her materials are deposited with the AAMOD archive in Rome, she still has the fear that their value could be lost, since they are separated from other materials, and few people know their whereabouts or possess the knowledge to connect them as artifacts in this wider narrative of a particular place in history. This idea was something very interesting to me, and I guess an example of the difference between a collection and an archive, where a collection does not possess the larger narrative and institutional structure of an archive.
HS: As for the other archival practices that are challenging the ubiquity of systematic production of knowledge: there is definitely a point there, but this is a much bigger question about the digital age and its implications on archiving. On the one hand, it did democratize the ability to upload and access information, but on the other hand it's not as simple as "scan and put up online and it would be democratically accessible to all.” And unfortunately there is fetishizing of the digital all over. People are scanning all their pictures and documents and putting them up online, in a way that is not necessarily sustainable or does not promote or guarantee access. This is why you see tens of Palestinian archival websites that go up and down quickly, and a lot of material is lost, and effort and time is lost along the way. Although beyond the confines of this project, it’s an important conversation: what does it mean to build a digital archive for Palestine all over? What to put up online, and how? How to organize knowledge beyond the confines of academic and archival institution. It is both a technical and an epistemological question.
SK: Did you elicit other people's input or assistance, for either artistic or technical aspects of the show? Who and how?
HS: The Council and Dar El-Nimer for Arts and Culture were essential partners in the production of the exhibit. As described above, The Council played a crucial role in the concept design as well as undertaking the production of the technical installation and animated content. It is through conversations with Nadim Chartouny, Ali Kays, and Nayla Mabsout, as well as their team, and through our collective reflections on the research, that the exhibit was conceptualized. In addition to their artistic contribution, their technical know-how helped us re-imagine the parameters of what can be done.
Rasha Salah and the team at Dar El-Nimer, in addition to commissioning the work and providing the venue, provided immense logistical and technical support that made the exhibit happen. The exhibit was also co-funded by the Culture Resource’s Production Awards Program and Taawon (Welfare Association).
We collaborated with a research team in Beirut and Ramallah for archival collection, digitization and conducting interviews in Palestine. Last but not least, we drew on the generosity and commitment of the librarians, photographers, filmmakers and researchers who have been chasing these archives and collecting their material for years. These people allowed us access to their material, contacts and stories, without which the exhibit would not have been possible.
[Handout from exhibition containing credits and list of sources. Click to download.]