Panel 3

Subversive Art: Embodying and Narrating Revolutionary Legacies

(All informations below are from the website of the Scuola Normale Superiore)

Date and time: Wednesday 30th November 2022 | 15:00 – 16:30 PM

Room: Simone del Pollaiolo

1.) Discussant: Anna Serlenga – Milano Mediterranean | Università Iuav, Venezia

“Feeling Backwards: Militant Cinema and the Political Uncanny”

Sophie Chamas – Centre for Gender Studies, SOAS, University of London

This paper analyses the documentary film A Feeling Greater than Love, by Mary Jirmanus Saba, which explores two forgotten strikes from Lebanon’s past. Engaging with the content of the film and the filmmaker’s own commentary on it, I attempt to think through the affective labour this cinematic text is carrying out, and its potential effects on Lebanese and MiddleEastern viewers in a present moment felt by many to be devoid of revolutionary potential. I ask what Saba’s return to forgotten moments of transformative possibility is productive of. I argue that rather than attempting to get us to think with and contemplate the present efficacy of strategies and tactics from a bygone pre-civil war moment, her film attempts to provoke an affective response. This response is not imagined to be a melancholic or nostalgic one. Rather, I argue that the film attempts to provoke the uncanny – a sense of the past in the present and the present in the past, and time as a loop. I think with the potentiality of this feeling of discomforting identification with the past for those attempting to organise politically in the present, of documentary as mirror effect, of feeling the past not so much as ghost but a shadow. I argue that the film inspires a sense of indebtedness to the forgotten revolutionaries and unfinished revolts of the past, and I think through the potentiality of debt and indebtedness to the social reproduction of political and social movements in the region.

2.) ” Embodying Memories of Protest in the MUTE Installation: Collaboration and Translation.”

Anne-Marie McManus – Forum Transregionale Studien

Khaled Barakeh – activist-artist

This presentation reflects on an ongoing collaboration between Khaled Barakeh, an activist-artist from Syria who is based in Berlin, and Anne-Marie McManus, a literary scholar based in Berlin, around the following projects: n Barakeh’s MUTE installation, which was first exhibited outside the Koblenz Higher Court in summer 2020; n Design of Necessity, Barakeh’s installation on siege and survival in Syria in Copenhagen, Denmark, on which McManus curated readings of contemporary prison narratives in June 2022. MUTE comprises the faceless figures of 49 anonymous protestors, dressed in the clothing of ordinary Syrians living in the diaspora. Barakeh’s installation sought to embody the memory of 2011’s peaceful protests in a new context: the German state’s historic trial of Syrian regime officials for crimes against humanity.

In the past two years, MUTE has had multiple lives, becoming an artistic platform linked to Design of Necessity, World Refugee Day in Denmark, and Roskilde Music Festival. McManus came to the project in early 2022, first co-authoring with Barakeh a theatrical-academic text on MUTE in an edited volume on the trial and its meanings, and subsequently collaborating on the Design of Necessity exhibition.

Our work also continually negotiates the framing of MUTE and its unfolding meanings (e.g., through press releases and explanatory texts). These negotiations often reveal tensions between lived memories of protest in Syrian communities and European institutional understandings of Syrians’ status as refugees. The presentation introduces the layered, pluralistic memory of everyday protest that MUTE enlivens in the aftermath of 2011. In the European diaspora, this memory takes on new valences, with Barakeh’s work opening platforms for Syrian activists and individuals to come together and express not only a sense of their past, but to enact its potential meanings in the present: demanding justice from a German court that did not translate its proceedings into Arabic, for example, or summoning experiences of incarceration and siege to denounce Syria as an unsafe place for forced repatriation. Finally, the presentation reflects on the necessities, possibilities, and ethics of collaborations across the academic, artistic, and activist spheres in relation to Syria and its contemporary diaspora.


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