Exhibition: Ariella Aïsha Azoulay. Errata | Fundació Antoni Tàpies museum, Barcelona

Ariella Aïsha Azoulay. The Potential History of Palestine. 2013 © Photograph: Leevetamar, 2019.


Ariella Aïsha Azoulay. Errata
11.10.2019 – 12.01.2020

Opening: Thursday, October 10, 2019, at 7 p.m.

Fundació Antoni Tàpies museum
Carrer Aragó, 255, Barcelona, Catalonia

The eight projects displayed in Ariella Aïsha Azoulay’s exhibition Errata are part of an attempt to intervene in the imperial grammar of photographic archives, to interfere in imperial knowledge printed in books, to unlearn imperial structures such as nation states, borders or status of “undocumented” imposed as fait accompli and to foreground the imperial origins of numerous gestures inherited by scholars, artists, photographers and curators, and used in their practices. This exhibition consists of a series of ‘rehearsals’ in non-imperial modes of archival literacy and in repairing (printed) errors in the context of the ending of WWII, the destruction of Palestine and other colonial projects. Photography is being used here as part of a ‘potential history’, a way of unlearning the imperial habits and gestures through which citizens of differentially ruled body politics have been trained to inhabit the privileged position of experts – in photography, art, politics and human rights discourse – and explore the plight of others, congealed in objects, books and documents, while those others with whom they share the world are forced to endure secondary and subservient roles. Imperial archival literacy is predicated not simply on the ability to read but rather on knowing how to read “properly” and use legal, political and historical texts as compelling and authoritative documents—regardless of the degree of abuse and destruction their production has caused and their continuing uses entail.

This paper trail culture is premised on a certain sacredness of objects, which are sealed in the past and considered “historical,” relegating us to a role of external readers, viewers and interpreters. One of the projects entitled Errata, is an attempt to practice in negating this sacredness and amending some of the substantial or secondary errors inscribed in these papers. Books, documents, and images are not understood here as final, sealed objects that are open to multiple interpretations, only as long as they reaffirm the untouchable status of these objects as historical items that “ought to be preserved.” Instead, through textual and visual interventions, including erasure, replacement, juxtaposition, addition and subtraction, the untouchable status of objects of knowledge – books, documents, and art works – is herein called to question. Errata is premised on the right to intervene in and reverse imperial knowledge. Azoulay’s new film Un-documented: Undoing Imperial Plunder is an attempt to make coincide the two regimes imperialism seeks to keep separated – the treatment of objects (as “well documented”) and maltreatment of people (as “undocumented”). Focusing on plundered objects in European museums and listening to the call of asylum seekers to enter European countries, their former colonizing powers, the film defends the idea that their rights are inscribed in these objects, that were kept well documented all these years.

Ariella Aïsha Azoulay is a writer, video essay director film essayist, exhibition curator and one of the most innovative voices in the field of the history and theory of photography, as well as political theory. Since the publication of The Civil Contract of Photography (Zone Books, 2008), she has become an essential reference when considering the effects and political influence of photographic archives. One of the most influential ideas deriving from her work as a researcher has been that of potential history, as a result of her analysis of the impairment of Palestine and the on-going colonial enterprise to keep Palestinian in exile. According to the author, potential history should be understood as a set of unrealised possibilities in the course of history and as future possibilities not yet envisaged in the account of the events of the past. In short, this idea awakens the latent polyphony in civil relations, which in the case of Palestine, would have allowed a coexistence. 

Her most recent research deals with 500 years of imperialism and includes the study of gestures of enslavement, looting and destruction and their connection to institutions such as museums and archives, with a special focus on the appropriation of objects from Africa. The Natural History of Rape is an attempt to inscribe the mass rape of German women by the Allies in the photographic archive Enough! juxtaposes 63 plates from UNESCO kit (1950) illustrating the UDHR with 63 images in which people are claiming their rights; Books Not In Their Right Place and Masterpieces explores the continuity between looting and “legitimate” looting in the context of ending WWII; and The Potential History of Palestine, a reconstruction of the shared world of Arabs and Jews in Palestine prior to its destruction through the violent campaign of creating a Jewish nation-state.

Ariella Aïsha Azoulay. Errata is sponsored by 4 Cs - From Conflict to Conviviality through Creativity and Culture of the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union.