Engendering the Archive

Power determines what is conserved and what is lost, which stories have been committed to collective memory and which ones have been erased.  Engendering the Archive brings this fundamental feminist insight to bear on the examination of archival practices in the arts, literature, history, social science and in the practice of everyday life.  An interdisciplinary research project that consists of working artists, documentarians, archivists, scholars, social analysts, and museum curators, Engendering the Archive explores the making of archives, specifically, the knowledge they afford and the question of what exceeds their grasp.  This project stands out from other work on the archive because of its rigorous focus on the role of power in producing the archive and in positioning social groups unevenly in relation to the production of knowledge and the authority to speak.

Engendering the Archive is a three-year interdisciplinary research project focusing on gender, sexuality, race, and archival practices. We will look at categories of social difference as inescapable aspects of differential power relations that determine what societies remember and what they forget. Focusing on key questions such as--What is an archive? Who or what authorizes its construction? How do archives contribute to the production of social and cultural difference? How does the development of new media radically change the way knowledge is classified, stored, and retrieved?—the project will seek answers by taking advantage of theories and methods developed by contemporary artists, activists, and scholars of race, gender, and sexuality.

"Engendering the Archive" investigates some of these fundamental questions from a global perspective that takes account of the role of racism and colonialism in the production of archives and of categories that make legible or erase particular events and experiences. Gender, along with race, sexuality, and class, are inescapable aspects of differential power relations that determine what societies remember and what they forget.

In the current first year of this three-year project, we have organized a series of preliminary events and planning sessions and have constituted a working group of scholars from Columbia and the New York region interested in this project. Year two will involve six meetings of this working group, each centered on a particular topic, with presentations by group members and lectures by visiting fellows.

In the third year the working group will narrow its focus to the in-depth study of a specific facet of the problem of the archive that is identified in year two as particularly pressing or important. The group will meet three times in year three in preparation for a major conference in spring of 2010. Members of the working group will take turns leading sessions or contributing work to be read and discussed. Publication of papers from the working group and the conference is intended. Possible distinguished fellows for one to two-week residencies include Isaac Julien, Clive Van den Berg, Edwidge Danticat, Fred Wilson, Susan Meiselas, Antoinette Burton, and Jane Taylor.

Participants include approximately 30 scholars, activists and cultural practitioners drawn from Columbia, from other colleges and universities in the greater New York area, and from abroad, as well as several Columbia graduate students.



December 6, 2011
Publications Party in celebration of the publication of Marianne Hirsch and Nancy K. Miller's Rights of Return and Alondra Nelson's Body & Soul and the launch of our NEW journal SocialDifference-Online.
October 14, 2011 to October 15, 2011
What are the effects of catastrophe on cities, their inhabitants, and the larger world? How can we address the politics of terror with which states react to their vulnerability? In a series of presentations and conversations, an international group of artists, writers, activists and individuals directly affected by urban inquiry will imagine creative modes of reinvention in response to urban disasters.

Problems and Productivities of Archival Silence

Internationally renowned artist Alfredo Jaar presented a selection of projects he has created in response to conflicts around the world. 

Followed by a conversation between Alfredo Jaar and Carol Becker, dean of the School of the Arts.  A question and answer session with the audience concluded the program.   

Clive van den Berg has designed and curated many of South Africa's most significant heritage installations: the Women's Gaol & Prison #4 at Constitution Hill, the Worker's Museum, the Kimberley Legislature, and Freedom Park. His studio art practice has similarly explored issues of memory and memorialization in the face of silence and forgetfulness. In this lecture, he presents his own work, and meditates on the possibility of giving form to what escapes the order and the authority of the page in a nation whose diverse histories have rarely been given voice.

This paper examines the affective circuits that animate images of disturbing events, looking in particular at the politics of pity and compassion. Focussing mainly on an image of famine in the Sudan, incorporated into a video installation by Alfredo Jaar, it analyses the complex of positive and negative affects aroused by the documentary image, and the way in which these are exposed and

From Gogol's short story of a body divided against itself, and the archive of Stalin's purges, comes William Kentridge's magical restaging of Shostakovich's opera, 'The Nose.' Kentridge, one of the world's foremost artists, is joined by opera scholar and dramaturgue David Levin to discuss his visual investigation of anarchism and anomie, power and its excesses.

Tina Campt on "Family Touches: Black Germans and the Sight and Sense of Race"

Renée Green, artist, filmmaker, writer and Dean of Graduate programs at San Francisco Art Institute, visited Columbia on 2/26 for a screening of her film "Endless Dreams and Water Between" at 4:30pm in 612 Schermerhorn.  A short reception was held at the conclusion of the film, from 5:30-6pm.  Green delivered a public lecture, followed by a conversation with Eduardo Cadava (Princeton University).

The archive is a living repository of knowledge about the past, present and future. It has also become a site for critical reflection on the ways different cultures and sub-cultures approach the transmission, revision and contestation of their heritage. "Archiving Women" will ask how the scholarship on gender, race and sexuality has transformed the ways we think about archival structures and practices.
A one-day conference that brought together scholars, artists and cultural institutions to explore the practical and conceptual challenges posed by 'live' practices and embodied repertoires to conventional understandings of the archive and archival practice. Invited participants included George Lewis, Tavia Nyong’o, Jean Howard, Elin Diamond, Diamela Eltit, Anna Deveare Smith, Lois Weaver (Split Britches), Reverend Billy, Ozzie Rodriguez (La MaMa E.T.C.), Mary Marshall Clark, Marvin Taylor