Given that truth commissions are heavily intertwined with the social politics of societal memory and the historical perception of events, the imagery surrounding these hearings therefore plays a role worth examining throughout this memorialization process. This essay investigates how imagery from South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) hearings has experienced an afterlife in the subsequent decades, and how this afterlife may differ from the images’ original values and purpose. This body of work examines the extended life of these images beyond that of straightforward media representation of the event—looking at how these archival elements have been reappropriated and incorporated into fine-art bodies of work by artists and documentarians working in photography, such as Sue Williamson, Jo Ratcliffe, Berni Searle, Penny Siopis, and others, in order to respond to the TRC by participating in and driving conversations surrounding the commission’s ambiguities, contradictions, and inadequacies. Through a semiotic analysis of the imagery itself, and analysis of the contextual placement and dissemination of the imagery in both its original and subsequent usages, this research therefore seeks to holistically understand the role of visual media in South Africa’s era of transitional justice and reckoning.
Madeleine Bazil is a multidisciplinary artist interested in memory, intimacy, and the ways we navigate worlds—real and imagined. Madeleine holds an MA Hons (First Class) in English literature from the University of St Andrews, Scotland. She is a master’s candidate of Documentary Arts at the University of Cape Town, where her current research and practice investigate the role of the archive in post-traumatic documentary film.
The following is an interview between editorial board member Madison Treeceand celebrated Chicana artist Amalia Mesa-Bains. Treece has worked as Mesa-Bains’s archivist since 2017. For this issue on “document/ary,” Treece asked Mesa-Bains about the function of the archive as document, its contributions to Chicanx art history, and its more personal implications. The interview took place on March 9, 2021, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
AMALIA MESA-BAINS is an educator, artist, and cultural critic. As an author and lecturer on Chicano art, her work has enhanced understanding of multiculturalism and reflected major cultural and demographic shifts in the United States. She has worked to define a Chicano and Latino aesthetic in the US and Latin America, and has pioneered the documentation and interpretation of long-standing Chicano traditions in Mexican American art. Her artworks have been exhibited and collected in both national and international venues. Mesa-Bains has served on the San Francisco Arts Commission and the Board of Directors for Galería de la Raza and Center for the Arts at Yerba Buena Gardens. She has received special achievement awards from the Association of American Cultures, the Association of Hispanic Artists, San Francisco State University Alumni, the Stanford University Ernesto Galarza Award, and the University of Texas at Austin Americo Paredes Award and is a recipient of a distinguished MacArthur Fellowship. She founded and developed the Visual and Public Art program at California State University at Monterey Bay and is currently Professor Emerita at the university.
MADISON TREECE (she/her) is a PhD candidate in visual studies in the History of Art and Visual Culture Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her work focuses on contemporary Chicanx art and visual culture with an emphasis on borderlands, landscape, and the politics of migration. Madison holds an MA in art history and museum studies from Tufts University and a BA in art history from the University of California, Santa Barbara.
This essay serves as brief insight into an ongoing art project, centered on the documentation of my grandparents’ house. The aim of the project is to formalize an art-based methodology to explore the histories of a familiar place that no longer exists in its original setting. The location, my grandparents’ house in the Sarntal Valley, in the province of South Tyrol in northern Italy, was accessed and documented through a collaborative recollection of memories linked to artifacts that characterized the physical site. In this work, drawing, mapmaking, and photography are used as tools to examine the relationships between place, object, and memory, and help reconstruct an image of a site now lost in time. The research I conducted for the investigation draws on the interdisciplinary approaches and themes present in the study of contemporary archaeology.
SILVIA DE GIORGI is an Italian photographer and artist who lives and works between Oslo and Bolzano, Italy. She graduated from the University of the Arts London with an MA in visual arts (Camberwell College of Arts, 2017), and an MA in drawing (Wimbledon College of Arts, 2019). In her projects, she interrogates the varied relationships between people, places, and landscapes. Her work is concerned with notions of time and memory and is frequently influenced by archaeological research practices. She was among the winners of the Passepartout Photo Prize 2021, the Feature Shoot Emerging Photography Awards 2020, and the LensCulture Emerging Talent Awards 2019. She can be found online at: http://www.silvia-degiorgi.com/ https://www.facebook.com/silviajdegiorgi https://www.instagram.com/silvia.de.giorgi/
Within existing literature, scholars have most often examined Denis Diderot’s Salons in the contexts of art exhibitions and discourse. While the art world is an apt place to examine his works, this essay intends to broaden the scope of historical inquiry by situating his writing in the context of natural disasters. By approaching his Salons from outside the artistic milieu, I do not intend to imply that the circumstances of the eighteenth-century Parisian art world did not play a major role in Diderot’s work. It did, perhaps first and foremost. I am merely offering the idea that art criticism in France—and especially Diderot’s Salons—developed alongside a cultural consciousness of material durability. Writing about art offered a supplementary type of sustainability. It could conserve not only a literary description of the artwork but also the author’s distinctive experience of it. Diderot’s Salons make for an interesting case study, because his descriptions of art on display at the salon exhibitions are lengthier than any other art critical text written at the time and may lend insight, more broadly, into the power of writing as a tool for art conservation.
DELANIE LINDEN is a PhD candidate in art history at MIT. She researches the history of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century French art and has long been fascinated by the historical intersections of art, science, and colonialism. Her dissertation, “Other Colors: Chroma, Chemistry, and the Orient,” examines the relationship between imported colorant technologies and textiles and French Orientalist painting techniques during a period of French innovations in colorant chemistry between c. 1770 to 1858. She argues that the broader world of color—from colorant chemistry and global trade to textile production and color theory—permits a more expansive view of color’s meaning and reception in early nineteenth-century French painting. Linden holds a BA in art history and neuroscience from the University of Michigan and an MA in art history from SMU. She has worked as a curatorial intern at the University of Michigan Museum of Art and the DeGolyer Library, and has spent many years training and teaching oil painting and portraiture. She intends to become a professor of art history.
The historical reappraisal of the German past is a continuous process. The concept of Vergangenheitsbewältigung is an integral part of the society, especially considering the political climate drifting slowly but steadily toward right-wing belief. However, there is a noticeable difference in approaching the past on the collective level or the individual level. While the collective is constituted and established in the public sphere, the individual is operating within the private realm. The work depicts the process of uncovering unexpected facts within the family. The three-channel audio-visual installation conceptualizes the revelation of an uncomfortable truth inside a family in two separate conversations, held between the wife and granddaughter, and the daughter and granddaughter of the deceased family member. Both conversations are captured in alternating audio tracks over the same visual.
MARLA ELISABETH HEID is a PhD candidate at the University of Fine Arts in Vienna, working in curation and production. She is also enrolled in the post-master’s course Of Public Interest at the Royal Institute of Arts, Stockholm, where she critically engages with artistic value in public spaces. She received an MA in Art and Politics from Goldsmiths, University of London, after studying art theory in Berlin and Beijing. She is cofounder of the exhibition project Kunstbüro Hohmann und Heid in Berlin.
“The Somatic and Textural Language of Patricia Belli: Recrafting Social and Political Bodies in 1990s Nicaragua” looks at early textile assemblages by the contemporary Nicaraguan artist Patricia Belli. Opening with the seminal exhibition MESóTICA II: Centroamérica/re-generación—which took place in Costa Rica in 1996—the essay positions Belli as part of an emerging generation of experimental artists who were working in the aftermath of the Central American Crisis. Contextualized within this period, I argue that Belli’s textile assemblages from the early 1990s emerge as affective containers of personal and collective memories endured by the region. By reworking secondhand clothes imported from the United States, Belli recrafts garments into visceral containers that evoke disfigured and mutilated bodies. Thinking beyond normative constructions of the body—and in particular, feminized bodies—Belli’s textile assemblages emerge as subversive constructions that privilege unruly and undisciplined bodies. Through these textile inquiries, I explore how the artist forges a system of sensitive communication that emerges as a medium for healing—evidenced through the recurrent appearance of lesions, scars, and fractures. Looking at her work alongside other feminist practices taking place regionally, this essay also explores emerging feminist artist networks that are rooted in somatic languages that challenge normative modes of knowledge-production and communication.
LESDI CAROLINA GOUSSEN ROBLETO is a Ph.D. Candidate in the History of Art Department, at the University of California, Berkeley. Her research looks at contemporary feminist practices in Latin America and the Caribbean, with a focus on experimental, mixed-media practices in Central America. Her dissertation “(Un)mending Bodies: Patricia Belli and Feminist Artistic Praxis in Central America, 1986-2000s,” centers on the work of the contemporary Nicaraguan artist, Patricia Belli (b. 1964) against the backdrop of postwar Nicaragua. Tending to fiber and craft-based materialities in the artist’s oeuvre, the dissertation considers feminist re-articulations of media specificity that forge a dialogue around questions related to gender, sexuality, and the conditions of the body, at the nexus of social and political transition in the region.
This is an exhibition review of An-My Lê: On Contested Terrain, which took place at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, from May 14, 2020, to January 18, 2021. The exhibition was a comprehensive survey of the photographer An-My Lê’s work, which addressed the complexity and politicization of the American landscape and the people found within it. This review explores the difficulty of interpreting Lê’s work and the inability to come away with clear answers about the contradictions that the American landscape and its inhabitants embody.
The photographic series Tito/Tata and the accompanying essay examine the construction of the father figure in the public and private sphere in communist Yugoslavia. Through combined textual analysis of and artistic intervention on found documentary photographs of her own father as well as the country’s president, Josip Broz Tito, Paula Muhr explores the fictional potential of the purportedly neutral visual historical documents. She foregrounds the “optical unconscious” content of the documentary images, thus disclosing their role in the construction and the perpetuation of the country’s collective fantasy of the omnipotent yet benevolent patriarchal figure.
PAULA MUHR is a Serbian-born, Berlin-based visual artist and researcher. She studied visual arts with a focus on photography at the Academy of Fine Arts in Leipzig, Germany. In 2021, she completed her PhD at the Institute of Art and Visual History, Humboldt University in Berlin. Her PhD thesis is entitled “From Photography to fMRI: Epistemic Functions of Images in Medical Research on Hysteria.” The focus of her academic research, which is at the intersection of image studies, STS and history of science, is on examining knowledge-producing roles of various types of images in the context of natural sciences. In parallel, through her research-based artistic practice, Muhr examines socio-cultural strategies of constructing sexuality, gender, desire, and normality. Her work has been shown internationally, i.e. at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Rijeka (Croatia), Fotogalerie Wien, Kunsthalle Leipzig, Fotogalleriet Format Malmö, Museo Municipal de Bellas Artes Tenerife, Centre national de l’audiovisuel Luxembourg, MAMAC Liege (Belgium), Einstein Forum Potsdam, and Shenzhen Fine Art Institute (China).
This essay revisits the Moscow Canal and explores its waters as the matter that bears witness to the violence experienced by human and nonhuman actors during the waterway’s construction between 1932 and 1937. By attending to the canal’s flow, it argues that water can operate as an alternative archive, expands the limits of what is currently considered unarchivable, and contributes several artifacts to more conventional forms of documentation. Using the operative concept of material witness developed by the artist-researcher Susan Schuppli, the essay investigates the artificial flow and analyzes patterns of its organization and operation as processes that register, disclose, and preserve the residues of violence that remain present underwater yet missing from the Moscow Canal narrative, inviting renarration of the histories produced by the reductive archival structures.
NASTIA VOLYNOVA is an interdisciplinary researcher and writer, with a background in art history. Nastia explores narratives, water and (post)Soviet spaces. She holds a Postgraduate diploma in Curating and an MA in Contemporary Art Theory from Goldsmiths, University of London. Nastia is a member of the residues of wetness research collective which operates as a digital archive of watery imaginaries and their epistemologies. Currently based in Moscow, she is a resident at Garage Studios.
My short experimental film titled Jozi Rhapsody, which was created as the practical module for my master’s dissertation in film and television, is an audiovisual expression of movement as the carrier of multiple potentialities that drive transformation. I examine the ever mobile city of Johannesburg and the constant changes it has and continues to undergo, alongside those of the filmic medium through time. The aim is to fuse two idioms, those of the city and cinema, creating a “city film” that holds this unstable force of selfhood brought about by motion. The written work provided accompanies the short film in reflecting on a self in flux, and mobility as the central tenet to continual metamorphosis.
NCOMI NZIMANDE has a master’s degree in film from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, where she is based. Nzimande has worked in broadcast television and film for the past decade, initially as a video editor and now as managing director of Kriptych Films. Her interest is in merging classic cinema conventions with African griot culture, the poetry, movements, rhythms, mysticisms, folklore, and spiritual traditions of the continent.