"Mobilizing Memory: Women Witnessing" Exhibition

Friday, September 5, 2014

"Mobilizing Memory: Women Witnessing" Exhibition
September 5, 2014 - October 3, 2014
Public Roundtables on September 17, 2014
DEPO Gallery, Istanbul, Turkey

What is the role of witnessing in practices of resistance: resistance to enforced silence and forgetting, to state power, and to inaction?  What role do the arts play in combatting the erasure of past violence from current memory and in creating new visions and new histories for future generations?  In particular, what unique strategies have women devised to reveal and redress the violence directed at woman and at other disempowered social groups? 

The feminist art work displayed in this exhibit imagines memory as part of a larger  politics of resistance.  It mobilizes memories of past and present violence precisely to create the conditions and the motivations for social change. Bringing together women artists many of whom are themselves direct witnesses to oppression and terror, the exhibit also reveals moments of resilience, resistance, and creative survival. The artists gathered here use memory in innovative ways.  They foreground unofficial acts of witness and forms of commemoration--embodied practices, performances, photography, testimony, street actions—that provide alternative histories and different political imaginaries than do official archives, memorials, museums, and state commemorations.  They make visible not only violent crimes and their gendered dimensions, but also the intimate texture of lives and communities that have survived or are fighting to survive immense destruction.  In honoring those lives and bringing them out of oblivion, the artists also reclaim women’s practices—dance, song, embroidery, for example—and show their political resonances.  As a group, these artists resist monumentality in favor of intimacy, featuring individual stories of the quotidian.  They use official archives to document and contextualize those lives, but they also create new archives and alternative interpretations, reframing how we understand the past and pointing to what has been excluded from authoritative histories. They thus imagine alternative social and political trajectories and more open and progressive futures.

This exhibit occurs in the context of a five-day workshop on “Mobilizing Memory for Action” that brings together an international group of scholars, artists, and activists to analyze the activist work memory practices can enable. The art works comprising this exhibit and the broadly comparative panels and roundtables on September 17 invite us to ask how our acts of witness can motivate social change. What do images and accounts of past and present violence demand of spectators, listeners, and readers? How can we modulate proximity with distance, empathy with solidarity? Indeed feminist practices of witness have fostered solidarity that demands not only collaboration and commitment, but also a respect for what is historically specific to particular acts of violence and oppression. In bringing diverse events of state violence—the Holocaust, the dictatorships in Latin American, American slavery—to the Armenian genocide, the persecution of Kurdish and Palestinian communities, and the oppressive acts of authoritarian power featured in this exhibit, the “Women Mobilizing Memory” workshop invites participants both to see where connections lie and also to recognize what cannot be generalized or translated across linguistic, national, or religious borders.  In resisting silence, forgetting and erasure, progressive acts of memory also resist easy understanding, appropriation and straightforward comparison.

The collaborations among the participants in the working group, and between the artists and their subjects, aim to create a space of solidarity and connection.  We invite you to enter into this larger collaborative project of responding to the memories recorded here, and to join us in the work of shaping memories for more hopeful futures.

“Mobilizing Memory: Women Witnessing” Exhibition Participating Artists

  • Aylin Tekiner
  • Gülçin Aksoy
  • Gülsün Karamustafa
  • Gülşin Ketenci
  • Hera Buyuktascian
  • Lorie Novak
  • Özlem Kaya, Memory Center
  • Serpil Polat
  • Serra Akcan
  • Emine Sevim Gözde
  • Silvina der Meguerditchian
  • Susan Meiselas
  • Işın Önol (part of the curatorial team)

“Coming to Terms” with Gendered Memories of Genocide, War, and Political Repression
Public Roundtables with simultaneous translations, DEPO Gallery
September 17, 2014, 1:00-7:00pm


1:00pm-2:30pm - Creating Alternative Archives
Moderator: Şemsa Özar (Boğaziçi University and Diyarbakır Institute for Social and Political Research)
Leyla Neyzi (Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Sabancı University) - “Young people Speak Out: The Contribution of Oral History to Facing the Past, Reconciliation and Democratization in Turkey” Project www.gencleranlatiyor.org
Özlem Kaya (Truth Justice Memory Center, Turkey) Creating an Alternative Archive through Video Testimonies
Susan Meiselas (Photographer, Magnum Photos, USA ) – Kurdistan
Silvina Der Meguerditchian (Artist, Argentina/Germany) – Nereye? / Where to?

3:00pm-4:30pm - Art, Performance and Memory
Moderator: Ayşe Öncü (Sociology, Sabancı University, Turkey)
Andreas Huyssen (German and Comparative Literature, Columbia University, USA) - The Metamorphosis of the Museum: From Exhibitionary to Experiential Complex
Alisa Solomon (School of Journalism, Columbia University, USA) - Shoe Fetish
Carol Becker (School of the Arts, Columbia University, USA) - The Memory of Sugar
Diana Taylor (Performance Studies, Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics, NYU, USA) - Is Performing Testimony, Testimony?
Maria José Contreras (School of Theatre, Catholic University, Chile) – The (Im)possible Performance of Forgetfulness  

5:00pm-6:30pm - Gender, Memory, Activism
Moderator: Yeşim Arat (Political Science and International Relations, Boğaziçi University, Turkey)
Marita Sturken (Media, Culture, and Communication, NYU, USA) - Architectures of Memory, Architectures of Torture, Architectures of Conflict
Marianne Hirsch (Gender Studies and Comparative Literature, Columbia University, USA) – Mobile Memories
Nükhet Sirman (Sociology, Boğaziçi University, Turkey) – How to Gender Memories of Violence?
Meltem Ahıska (Sociology, Boğaziçi University, Turkey) - Counter-movement, space, and politics:  How the Saturday Mothers of Turkey make the enforced disappearances visible
Nancy Kricorian (Author and Activist USA) - Place Names and Objects: Pilgrimage as/or Resistance


This series of roundtables occurs in the context of a five-day workshop on “Mobilizing Memory for Action” that brings together an international group of scholars, artists, and activists to analyze the activist work memory practices can enable. The workshop is part of Columbia University’s “Women Creating Change” initiative led by the Center for the Study of Social Difference and organized in collaboration with the Columbia Global Centers. “Mobilizing Memory for Action” began in December 2013 with a workshop at the Columbia Global Centers in Chile and continues in September 2014 with activities in Istanbul hosted by Columbia Global Centers | Turkey, Sabancı University Gender and Women’s Studies Forum and DEPO Istanbul. Support has also been provided by the Blinken European Institute, Sabancı University, Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics, the Truth Justice Memory Center and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Turkey Office. The Istanbul program consists of a workshop with 35 leading scholars, artists and activists from Turkey, the United States, Chile and other contexts; an art exhibition and catalogue; documentary screenings; theater performances and post-performance discussions; and a series of public roundtables.

Exhibition Catalogue

Some images from the exhibition include the following:

Gülçin Aksoy

Gülsün Karamustafa

Lorie Novak

Emine Sevim Gözde

Susan Meiselas

Hera Buyuktascian