Ariella Aïsha Azoulay in Conversation with Laurie Monahan, with Moderator Sylvester Okwunodu Ogbechie


In her 2019 book, Potential History – Unlearning Imperialism, Professor Ariella Aïsha Azoulay argues that the institutions that make our world, from archives and museums to ideas of sovereignty and human rights to history itself, are all dependent on imperial modes of thinking. Imperialism has segmented populations into differentially governed groups, continually emphasized the possibility of progress while it tries to destroy what came before, and voraciously seeks out the new by sealing the past away in dusty archival boxes and the glass vitrines of museums.

By practicing what she calls potential history, Dr. Azoulay argues that we can still refuse the original imperial violence that shattered communities, lives, and worlds, from native peoples in the Americas at the moment of conquest to the Congo ruled by Belgium's brutal King Léopold II, from dispossessed Palestinians in 1948 to displaced refugees in our own day. In Potential History, Azoulay travels alongside historical companions—an old Palestinian man who refused to leave his village in 1948, an anonymous woman in war-ravaged Berlin, looted objects and documents torn from their worlds and now housed in archives and museums—to chart the ways imperialism has sought to order time, space, and politics.

Dr. Ariella Aïsha Azoulay is Professor of Modern Culture and Media, and of Comparative Literature at Brown University, as well as a curator and filmmaker. Her other books include: Civil Imagination: The Political Ontology of Photography (2012); From Palestine to Israel: A Photographic Record of Destruction and State Formation, 1947-1950 (2011); and The Civil Contract of Photography (2008). She is the curator of the exhibitions Errata (Tapiès Foundation, 2019, HKW, Berlin, 2020), Enough! The Natural Violence of New World Order, (F/Stop photography festival, Leipzig, 2016), Act of State 1967-2007, (Centre Pompidou, 2016, Arquivo Municipal de Lisboa Fotografico, 2020); and, Enough! The Natural Violence of the New World Order (F/Stop festival, Leipzig, 2016). Her recent documentary films include Un-documented: Undoing Imperial Plunder (2019) and Civil Alliances, Palestine, 47-48 (2012).

Part of the Winter 2021 History of Art & Architecture Discussion Series - Unlearning: Race, Space, Art.

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