ON SILENCED ARCHIVES AND DISSENTING VIEWS
A series of workshops, educational programmes, discursive formats, and hybrid activities
August 2020–September 2021
In Berlin, Istanbul, Milan, and Paris
Collaboration A SAVVY Contemporary (Berlin) project in collaboration with R22 Tout-Monde (mit Atelier Medicis in Clichy/Montfermeil, Un Lieu Pour Respirer in Les Lilas, Rester. Etranger in Saint-Denis), After the Archive? (Istanbul), and Archive (Milan)
The technology of science
The rituals, the etiquette
the blurring of terms
silence not absence
of words or music or even
Silence can be a plan
the blueprint to a life
It is a presence
it has a history a form
Do not confuse it
with any kind of absence
In 2019, an important act was carried out by a group of Kashmiri communities, in Kashmir and around the world: in the aftermath of the recent Indian abrogation of Article 370 of its constitution, the Kashmir communities shared a Google drive folder online under the hashtag #TheKashmirSyllabus. It is a kind of archival list of sources to learn about Kashmir outside of the hegemonic statist perspectives of both India and Pakistan. One of their objectives was to suggest paths for decolonial, transnational and anti-occupation solidarities among movements for freedom and emancipation through a close study of the region.
This archiving form of syllabus found itself among others, like the #BlackLivesMatterSyllabus, #BaltimoreSyllabus, or #FergusonSyllabus. All are compiled in the aftermath of dramatic and violent racist events. It is an attempt to shed light, and organize a loud voice around silenced histories and malevolent acts – such as the erasure of relevant and dissenting memories and experiences. An attempt to act against the denial of a past in order to create an accurate image of the present. Against the manipulation of the future.
Indeed, one of the biggest challenges for marginalized or oppressed communities and small organizations is their archive: the elements that have built their continuous history and identity. Fragile and under threat, most of their experiences, memories and histories are not archived, not recorded, not featured into narratives of the future. Moving beyond the now relatively fetishized celebration of impermanence and lack of durability as a form of resistance to commodification, we want to highlight the implications that disappearance and impermanence have (and have had). In the way history is written, and hence its major influence on how we may perform the present and imagine the future.
We know that hegemonic powers have the capacity, the size, the means, the supremacy to historicize themselves and write their own ideas into history – archives being a fundamental tool for providing forensic evidence of their narratives and ideologies. Hence, to strengthen the fragile, vulnerable and silenced archives means to believe and care for the need of a more complex, just and accurate writing and understanding of our past. Which means gaining power and agency over both our present and future.
This also brings us back to the need for thinking about who retains the power over vulnerable archives and hence what type of tools can be developed that could allow for their self-management; self-determination; and conservation. As we know, many fragile and vulnerable archives have been erased, appropriated, manipulated, incorporated and/or dislocated to other geographical locations, or to larger and dominant institutions – from governments to museums. Furthermore, the fragility of the infrastructure that holds those more vulnerable archives together, no matter the size and the accuracy, is often in a state of relative danger, in most cases surviving thanks to one or few more individuals.
Hence, these archives remain intricately and intimately attached to the individuals, the people, the communities, who will decide to take on their survival. This has historically meant that in many cases archives got erased, lost, rotten, divided, fragmented or even inadvertently destroyed – including for reasons related to forced or natural deterioration and the lack of an infrastructure that could appropriately conserve them.
Acts of Silencing
What are the words you do not yet have? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence?
Archives – the fragile, vulnerable, independent ones we are addressing here – are not silent per se. They do have a voice, but one that can be silenced, by intentional acts of preventing or prohibiting their speeches. They have a voice that is not unable to speak, but whose potent airing might fail to be listened to. As Seloua Luste Boulbina said, it is not about whether or not the subaltern is able to speak, but whether or not anybody is listening. Power plays a role here as “archival power is, in part, the power to allow voices to be heard.”
If we were to agree with historian Pierre Nora, then we would believe that memory, understood in its modern sense, is predominantly archival. This is because archives can act as recollections of oral traditions imbued in growing and transforming societies, they act as “keepers of a society’s collective record of the past.”
As Rodney G.S. Carter argues, “in order to transcend the limits of time, space, and the fragile nature of human memory, societies depend on archives.” The process by which memory and information is selected and kept into narratives of the future plays a paramount role here. Facts have shown that precisely the most vulnerable segments of society and oppressed communities, that precisely “those who are denied speech cannot make their experience known and thus cannot influence the course of their lives or of history.” 
Hence: if that which comes to be archived is already a small selected portion of an extremely complex past, it is primarily to support, strengthen, and create a space for listening to silenced and vulnerable archives, in order to make possible a sense of collective identity at all. Without a memory to be anchored to, it is hard to form a group’s knowledge of themselves, let alone act upon their rights. Furthermore, not all cultures root themselves in written history, hence again it is of utmost importance to consider archival structures through which oral, corporeal, performed knowledge transmission is possible at all.
Sociologist Arjun Appadurai considers independent non-governmental archive and documentation projects as social tools and interventions. What we want to focus on in this project is also what has been called an “absent presence”, meaning acknowledging the fact that we can try to understand our history precisely by looking into what is not present or remains unsaid. By strengthening archives which fill those holes. It is through this awareness that we might even begin to look. By reading archives against the grains, by actively listening to their silences, while consciously distinguishing between voluntary silence (a strategy used as a form of resistance to the so-called patriarchal archive) and forced silence (through the use of power, either overt or covert).
When the past and the present of a community are constantly being silenced by politics of exclusion that preclude such histories from being part of the “main” narrative, “memory becomes a site of struggle.” And the necessity of creating archival forensic evidence turns into an active resistance towards this process of erasure.
Starting from our own experience by dealing with silenced and fragile archives such as those we have founded and initiated like SAVVY Contemporary’s long-term projects and pillars Colonial Neighbours and SAVVY.doc, we aim to collaborate in a series of initiatives and activities with fragile, vulnerable, silenced, non-governmental archives and organizations in Berlin, Paris, Istanbul and Milan who operate and have experience in strategies of alternative history writing, dissent, mobilisation, self-organisation, participation in order to create a new space of discussion and a new layer of archive activation via structures of mutual support, exchange of know-how and practical solidarity. The aim is to create strategies of alliance and mutual support between one another, develop different tools that can strengthen strategies of speech and encourage spaces of listening outside of hegemonic institutions to secure their self-determination, find ways to develop new digital tools that can support their visibility and spread the knowledge contained in them. We aim to activate them in dialogue through a series of close interactions, discussions and public events.
Concept by Antonia Alampi
Participating ARCHIVES AND CO-CREATORS
BERLIN | SAVVY Contemporary Archives
Colonial Neighbours is a participatory archive and research project investigating the colonial history of Germany, including its ongoing impacts upon the present. The project aims to address dominant knowledge structures and historical narratives. The archive serves as a platform for discussion, exchange, and collaborations with actors from various fields. Following the concept of “history as entanglement” (Conrad & Randeria) the project aims at breaking historical dichotomies and drawing a more differentiated picture of current Lebenswelten in Berlin. Objects, everyday items, commercial products, or other traces of history – like words, songs, fragments of memory, or oral histories – serve as intermediary for the project, to narrate the entangled histories between Germany, the African continent, China, and the colonized areas in the Pacific outside of museological structures and via the actual memories and experiences of those involved.
SAVVY.doc is a space where archivists, artists, researchers and objects actively interact in a performative process of archiving, particularly focused on rare journals and philosophical texts from the non-West rarely featured within European educational settings or mainstream culture. Through its performative element the archive becomes a collaborative space and an act of reflection on our present and future, rather than a tool for categorization and removal.
Within this project, Colonial Neighbours and SAVVY.doc are engaging with archives that are dealing with issues of representation. We will work closely with communities who remember their culture’s colonial past as well as its continuity: in historical denial, racism, sexism, and further forms of institutional violence. With artists, further archives, and educational institutions, Colonial Neighbours and SAVVY.doc will bring the living archives to living spaces.
PARIS | R22 Tout-Monde (mit Atelier Medicis in Clichy/Montfermeil, Un Lieu Pour Respirer in Les Lilas, Rester. Etranger in Saint-Denis)
93 is known as the official administrative number for the Parisian department of Seine-Saint-Denis. Only a few years ago, its mere evocation was enough to make citizens from the four corners of the country tremble with fear. Because its urban culture, hip-hop and even more importantly its rap music raised the flag of the poorest and most culturally diverse mixed department in France. At a tabula rasa moment, the Seine-Saint-Denis is about to become the primary site of the 2024 Olympics, at the same time that it will be cleansed of its working class history, the whole area “secured” and rebuilt to welcome the middle-classes. Real-estate prices have soared, and an entire facet of a minority history of Paris is disappearing.
Reflecting on a way to assemble an archive at this precise moment of time is thus an urgent matter. Following Stuart Hall's idea that “we must, finally, think of the way these cultures have used the body – as if it was and it often was, the only cultural capital we had. We have worked on ourselves as canvases of representation”. We have adopted it as the starting point for this particular archive, the body and the singular way that it archives a history of minorities. We would like to try to give a form to what the body accumulates in terms of suffering and joy, like landscapes and matters, micro-histories in work, sport, and dance, three remarkable domains in the culture of minorities in France. The underlying idea of this archive is that insecurity, uprooting, and lives that have long been kept under the condition of silence have all contributed to the prohibition of accumulating capital anywhere except within the body itself, a site of refuge and secrecy which this project proposes to explore.
The project strives to collect stories from all across the Seine-Saint-Denis area. Author, curator and performer, Olivier Marboeuf was the artistic director of the Espace Khiasma in Les Lilas (93) from 2004 to 2018. Using as geographical bases the new cultural site that has replaced Khiasma — Un lieu pour respirer — and the Ateliers Médicis (in Clichy-Montfermeil), where he is in residence for 2019 and 2020, Marboeuf will accompany a long-term program, “Les Veillées” (The Wakes).
ISTANBUL | After the Archive?
After the Archive? is an independent and itinerant initiative based in Istanbul that questions the role and function of archives in public memory. It organizes regular talks and workshops about the future and preservation of archives in Turkey and elsewhere. The primary concern of After the Archive? is to foster knowledge production around archives and build a network of institutions and practitioners who work in this field. Their research for the project is declinated into two parts.
The first part focuses on people of African descent living in Turkey. Apart from descendants of African slaves who were forcibly taken to the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century, there is also a growing African diaspora in the modern Turkish Republic. In recent years, there has been an increase in research for the former group, who are often referred to as Afro-Turks, while research on the latter group remains limited. After the Archive? proposes to re-activate certain archives on Afro-Turks which has recently fallen out of public reach, while promoting the study and archives of Turkey’s more recent African diaspora.
The second part of the research is on the Romani people living in Turkey who denominate themselves as Çingene (Gypsy). Their history in Anatolia dates back to the 15th century. Although documents about Gypsies in the Ottoman Empire, such as registrations and tax rolls are accessible, documents about Gypsies in the modern period are very limited. The research will tackle the problem of creating archives of Gypsies in today’s Turkey; something deemed inconceivable until now. With this research, After the Archive? proposes to strengthen connections and solidarity between other researchers and activists in Europe who work on the same topic.
MILAN | Archive
Archive is a non-profit organization, a publishing house, an art space, a library, and a journal. Archive chose its name as it carries an intrinsic complexity. Archives are not immune to the hegemonic, imperialist forces that built them, the power of coloniality is very much evident in the way archives are constituted and categorized, what is preserved and by whom, what is made accessible or inaccessible. Potentially archives are sites of production: production of new meanings. Not repositories of documents. But active spaces where undermined narratives can be found and exposed.
For 10 years, Archive has been conducting in Milan a course on publishing practices that reflects on archives. Not exclusively state archives or official archives but archives in a broader sense taking into consideration personal archives, living archives such as griots and their embodied knowledge. Archives are used as a site of research to tackle, amongst other effects, the relationship between colonialism and fascism challenging processes of programmatic erasure.
The work with the students contributes to the delineation of methods that will be deployed in the work with different communities oppressed through and by the power relations that have shaped present-day Italy and its role in the Mediterranean crisis. Italy can no longer ignore its demographic reconfiguration and the central role of immigration and emigration in this process. Archive delineated a project called Archive-as-Method together with cultural practitioners such as Dagmawi Yimer, Alessandra Ferrini, Mohamed Bâ, Angelica Pesarini and Lucrezia Cippitelli. Within the Vulnerable Archives joint long-term project, Archive will engage with the colonial past and continuity that have been silenced in the collective archive of Italy. Working closely with documentation centres, social groups and educational institutions.
ARTISTIC DIRECTION Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung
CURATION Arlette-Louise Ndakoze, Onur Çimen
CONCEPTION Elena Quintarelli, Lynhan Balatbat-Helbock
MANAGEMENT Lema Sikod
COMMUNICATIONS Anna Jäger
Graphic DESIGN Juan Pablo García Sossa
Funding The project is funded by and in cooperation with Allianz Kulturstiftung.
Project Partners In cooperation with Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW) in the framework of The Whole Life: An Archive Project, supported by the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media due to a ruling of the German Bundestag.
Rodney G.S. Carter. “Of Things Said and Unsaid: Power, Archival Silences, and Power in Silence”, in Archivaria 61: Special Section on Archives, Space and Power (Spring 2006).
M.T. Calanchi. “'Tenacious Letters': Archives and Memory in the Middle Ages”, Archivaria 11 (Winter 1980-81), p. 116, in Rodney G. S. Carter. “Of Things Said and Unsaid: Power, Archival Silences, and Power in Silence”, in Archivaria 61: Special Section on Archives, Space and Power (Spring 2006).
Rodney G.S. Carter, ibidem
Susan Gal, “Between Speech and Silence: The Problematics of Research on Language and Gender”, in Camille Roman, Suzanne Juhasz, and Cristanne Miller. The Women and Language Debate: A Sourcebook, (New Brunswick, NJ, 1994), 407
Rolando Vazquez. “Modernity, Coloniality and Visibility: The Politics of Time”, in Sociological Research Online 14 (4), 2012, 109-115.
Arjun Appadurai, “Archive and Aspiration”, in: Joke Brouwer and Arjen Mulder. Information is Alive, (Rotterdam: NAI Publishers, 2003), 14–25,
Stuart Hall. “What Is This ‘Black’ in Black Popular Culture?”, in Social JusticeVol. 20, No. 1/2 (51-52), Rethinking Race (Spring-Summer 1993), 104-114.