Universität KonstanzExzellenzcluster: Kulturelle Grundlagen von Integration

Art Matters – Artistic Engagements with Cultural Memory in the Maghreb

Dr. Sarah Dornhof

Abstract

This project examines contemporary art projects which interrogate marginalized, suppressed and overwritten aspects of cultural histories in the Maghreb. The aim is to establish an approach to cultural memories of this transcultural constellation by engaging in an interdisciplinary manner with the gaps, silences and fragmented traces that result from ideological and postcolonial forms of history writing in and about this region.

Inquiry into cultural memory has recently become a pervasive matter in contemporary artistic practice in the Maghreb, nevertheless it has not yet received adequate scholarly attention. The project therefore proposes to focus on ways in which artists interrogate the Maghreb’s past and how art’s specific knowledge contributes to new historical and cultural analysis of postcolonial constellations. By interrelating artistic research, cultural theory, and memory studies, the project aims at both methodological innovations for contemporary art theory and new empirical approaches to cultural histories across local, regional and global contemporary dynamics.

Central to the project are the ways in which artists engage with complexities of the past which tend to be co-opted, marginalized or suppressed by hegemonic forms of history writing. It will build on approaches to memory and forgetting by interrogating the specificities of memory politics in the Maghreb, where forgetting is an effect of invisibilities, lack of documentation and archives, imposed silence and political opportunism rather than of an oversaturation with historical information. In this situation, where memory is largely a matter of creative production and imagination, artists play an important role in unleashing recollections of past social relations and practices, traditions, narratives and events. To a certain degree, art can therefore be assumed to publicly circulate memories as a challenge to ideologically imposed forms of forgetting.

The project examines contemporary art projects which interrogate marginalized, suppressed and overwritten aspects of cultural histories in the Maghreb region. Such aspects of history might be inscribed in objects, architecture, landscape or archives; in iconic and narrative repertoires; as well as in documented or embodied, collective or individual memories. Such memories also form part of Europe’s imperial and colonial history as well as its postcolonial contemporaneity, affecting politics, economics, social life and subjectivity on both sides of the Mediterranean. The aim is to establish an approach to cultural memories of this transcultural constellation by involving artistic, historical, and cultural research, engaging in an interdisciplinary manner with the gaps, silences and fragmented traces that result from ideological and postcolonial forms of history writing in and about this region. 

From a methodological point of view, the project aims to develop an analytical framework that connects artistic, philosophical and theoretical inquiries into the contemporary transcultural configuration of the Maghreb region. It will, in particular, examine and evaluate the contribution of art’s specific knowledge, research practices, use of media and forms of presentation to academic research in the fields of memory studies and ‘global’ history. 

Based on empirically grounded examination of artistic research practices that engage with cultural memories in Morocco and its European diasporas, the project will provide original forms of knowledge of and about contemporary art as well as an interdisciplinary methodology that can contribute to ongoing critical debate within and across different academic disciplines. The central objective lies in developing an analytical vocabulary that can link artistic research practices and scientific methodologies, and thereby establish alternative schemes of historical knowledge that counter Eurocentric and culturalist models of history writing. The research will be orientated around four fields of interrogation – 1) resistance & transformation; 2) origins & heritage; 3) orientations & disorientations; and 4) intimacy & publicness. The examination of these terms through artistic research and theoretical analysis will assemble narratives, microhistories, fragmented memories and historical (re)imaginations which are able to revise, reformulate and re-address central political terms such as identity, culture, history, patrimony, tradition, or modernity.

Global entanglements create a need to recognize and account for heterogeneous, agonistic and often antagonistic memories which shape our historical present. The examination of artistic inquiry into the past of the Maghreb will therefore have a larger impact beyond the study of arts, culture and history in this particular region.