News via the War & Media Network of an important collection of essays edited by Donatella Della Ratta, Kay Dickinson and Sune Haugbolle, The Arab Archive: Mediated Memories and Digital Flows. It’s available as a free pdf or e-book download here.
As the revolutions across the Arab world that came to a head in 2011 devolved into civil war and military coup, representation and history acquired a renewed and contested urgency. The capacities of the internet have enabled sharing and archiving in an unprecedented fashion. Yet, at the same time, these facilities institute a globally dispersed reinforcement and recalibration of power, turning memory and knowledge into commodified and copyrighted goods. In The Arab Archive: Mediated Memories and Digital Flows, activists, artists, filmmakers, producers, and scholars examine which images of struggle have been created, bought, sold, repurposed, denounced, and expunged. As a whole, these cultural productions constitute an archive whose formats are as diverse as digital repositories looked after by activists, found footage art documentaries, Facebook archive pages, art exhibits, doctoral research projects, and ‘controversial’ or ‘violent’ protest videos that are abruptly removed from YouTube at the click of a mouse by sub-contracted employees thousands of kilometers from where they were uploaded. The Arab Archive investigates the local, regional, and international forces that determine what materials, and therefore which pasts, we can access and remember, and, conversely, which pasts get erased and forgotten.
It includes several vital, thoughtful and thought-provoking essays that address the political and ethical questions surrounding the use, abuse and circulation of images from the Syrian war. I particularly recommend Mohammad Ali Atassi, ‘The digital Syrian archive between videos and documentary cinema’ – which en route draws on Judith Butler‘s critical reading of Susan Sontag, and on Stefan Tarnowski‘s ‘What Have We Been Watching? What Have We Been Watching?’ (which makes important distinctions between poetic images, forensic images and commodity images from Syria) – Enrico de Angelis, ‘The controversial archive: negotiating horror images in Syria’, Hadi al Khatib, ‘Corporations erasing history: the case of the Syrian Archive‘, and Donatella Della Ratta, ‘Why the Syrian archive is no longer (only) about Syria.’