Centre for Photography and Visual Culture

Hermeneutic Suspicion: Digital Archiving, Conflict and Cultural Production in the Middle East

Anthony Downey

18.00-19.30, Tuesday 16 February
Arts A108, University of Sussex

Organised in collaboration with the Centre for Middle East and North African Studies and Sussex Art History

downeyThe representation of conflict and its effect on cultural production is a global concern. The increasingly digitised substance of such images, in terms of both dissemination and reception, has also given rise to a series of interpretive dilemmas: what precisely are we looking at in these images and how do we archive them?

These issues have come to define, albeit to varying degrees, significant elements in the work of artists as diverse as Akram Zaatari, Khalil Rabah, Wafaa Bilal,  Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, Ruanne Abou-Rahme and Basel Abbas, Lamia Joreige, Roy Samaha, and Jananne Al-Ani. Whilst not necessarily residing in the Middle East, these artists produce work that specifically engages with regionally-defined, historically localized conflicts and how they are produced as archival forms of knowledge, be they photographic, art historical, cultural, sociological, anthropological, textual, institutional, oral, or digital.


In an era defined by digital forms of reproduction, this talk will suggest that these modes of cultural engagement not only utilize and disrupt the function of the digital archive in relation to the representation of conflict but, in doing do, they simultaneously highlight a systemic and perhaps irrevocable crisis in institutional and state-ordained archiving across the region. 

Anthony Downey is an academic, editor and writer. Recent publications include Dissonant Archives: Cultural Production and Contested Narratives in the Middle East (2015); Art and Politics Now  (2014); Uncommon Grounds: New Media and Critical Practice in North Africa and the Middle East (2014); Mirrors for Princes: Both Sides of the Tongue (2015); and The Future of a Promise: Contemporary Art from the Arab World (2011).