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  • Writing history under erasure: radical historiographical practices in Lebanese postwar art

Adami, Elisa, 2019, Thesis, Writing history under erasure: radical historiographical practices in Lebanese postwar art PhD thesis, Royal College of Art.

Abstract or Description:

This dissertation examines the artistic practices of Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, Rabih
Mroué, Walid Raad and Akram Zaatari, Lebanese artists of the so-called jil al-harb, or the war
generation, whose work is characterised by a conspicuous engagement with questions of history
writing, mostly, although not exclusively, in relation to the events and the continuing legacy of the
Lebanese civil wars (1975-1990). In this dissertation I consider how the works produced by this
group of artists attempt to critically problematise and deconstruct the structures and conventions
of dominant forms of historiography, and how the foregrounding of such epistemological concerns
in their works, rather than signalling an escape into postmodern relativism, is crucially connected
to a politics of truth. The dismantling of historicist and positivistic models of history writing by such
artists, as I argue, does not seek to destroy the truth-claims of history or the possibility of historical
knowledge as such, but to reconfigure the task of historical inquiry as a process of critical
reconstruction and interpretative disclosure. Accordingly, this dissertation considers how the
above artists’ “radical historiographical practices” attempt to articulate a dynamic understanding
of history and the archive as an incomplete and open-ended project, wherein our understanding of
the past is always made and re-made from the standpoint and urgencies of a specific historical
present. A primary point of focus is the way in which such practices interrogate and reassess
conceptions of the referential and testimonial power of the document, especially the photographic
image, analysing the technological forms and media through which the past is recorded and
accessed. The introduction provides a critical survey of the major debates on artists coming out of
post-civil war Beirut, addressing issues around the politics of memory in a society characterised by
“state-sponsored amnesia” and sectarian fragmentation; the problematisation of historical
representation and the re-invention of documentary forms; and the destabilisation of established
boundaries between “fact” and “fiction”. Chapter 1 looks at the production and unearthing of
photographic documentation in the aftermath of the civil wars. Examining Hadjithomas and
Joreige's Wonder Beirut (1997-2006) and Lasting Images (2002), and a number of selected files
from Raad's Atlas Group archive, I consider how these works attempt to re-conceptualise the
indexical referentiality of the photographic document in order to address the latent traumas and
violence that afflict the post-conflict reality of Beirut; specifically, the suspended ontological status
of the forcibly disappeared, and the violent processes of war and spatial abstraction that underlie
the reconstruction of Beirut city centre. Chapter 2 explores the place of the archive as a mobile
and living space from which, history – animated by the urgencies of the present – can be written
and re-written. Focusing on Zaatari's work with photographic and other archival material drawn
from the collections of the Arab Image Foundation, the chapter reflects on issues of preservation,
media transfer and the semantic instability of the photo-document, as well as Zaatari’s critical
relation to the AIF as an institution. Chapter 3 investigates the narrativity of historical knowledge in
the age of information, analysing Mroué's and Raad's performative re-invention of the seemingly
obsolete tradition of storytelling. In particular, I focus on the re-narrativization of the informational
forms of news media and the deconstruction of the chronicle as a form of history writing in
Mroué’s multi-media plays and non-academic lectures, and the emergence of a mode of analytical
storytelling in Raad's lecture-performances. Chapter 4 turns to the topic of art history as a
specialised field of historical research. Examining Raad’s multi-volume project Scratching on Things
I Could Disavow. A History of Art in the Arab World (2007 - ongoing), the chapter interrogates the
complex historiographic problems that have arisen as a result of the burgeoning retrospective
interest in art in the Arab world, as well as how these problems intersect with an emerging field of
global art history.

Qualification Name: PhD
Subjects: Other > Mass Communications and Documentation > P100 Information Services > P130 Curatorial studies > P132 Archive studies
Other > Historical and Philosophical studies > V300 History by topic > V350 History of Art
Other > Historical and Philosophical studies > V900 Others in Historical and Philosophical studies > V990 Historical and Philosophical studies not elsewhere classified
Creative Arts and Design > W100 Fine Art
Creative Arts and Design > W600 Cinematics and Photography > W640 Photography
School or Centre: School of Arts & Humanities
Funders: Arts and Humanities Research Council, TECHNE consortium
Date Deposited: 28 Jun 2019 11:00
Last Modified: 28 Jun 2019 11:00
URI: http://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/3965

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