“This is the problem of history. We cannot know that which we were not there to see and hear and experience for ourselves. We must rely upon the words of others. Those who were there in the olden days, they told stories to the children so that the children would know, so that the children could tell stories to their children. And so on, and so on.”
― Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing
We tend to turn to archives, when looking into histories. Archives are the constructed and designated place of storage of memories. Archives accumulate knowledge, but also engage in the production of knowledge. Instead of being mere collections of memories, or simply stories that are passed on from generation to generation, an archive is conceived with purpose. A fundamental question is: who is in charge and establishes the conditions of access and presence; and thereby determines the outcomes of what eventually ends up in an archive? As Sven Spieker notes: “The archive – thus public space – is first and foremost a testimony to the power of those who own it.” And so we align our thinking to that of anthropologist and historian Michel Rolph-Trouillot when we ask not what history is, but instead ask how history works. Then, the archive becomes no longer a collection of inert traces of past activities, but rather an active space for production.
who is silenced
who is excluded
to whom it alludes
Glaring at the world through the rear view, new horizons arise
Relating to the politics of representation, Gayatri Spivak stretched the double translatory-meaning of the term 'representation' in German. In this language both Vertretung (political representation) and Darstellung (depiction) are being used. While Tina Campt looks beyond what one usually sees and proposes to listen to images instead: attuning the senses to the other affective frequencies through which these photographs register and conceive a form of intimacy. Campt claims that if you listen well, you'll see more. The senses tell stories beyond the construction of that which is considered knowledge. Or as Fred Moten stretches: “Beyond the hegemony of the visual and ocularcentrism, we can hear complex music of the photograph”. As an antipode to the death matter of documents, the sonic implies a lively essence, with the personal voices and emphases in a specific accent, tembre, pitch and rhythm. Voices painting a picture more vivid than the described scene itself.
In these registers, one is able to register everyday practices of refusal. Within this medium that is intended to dehumanize, police, and restrict its subjects, we hear something else: photographs [and archives] convey the softly buzzing tension of colonialism, the low hum of resistance and subversion, and the anticipation and performance of a future that has yet to come. Including the contemporary commodity that speaks.
Sounding critique and “remembering that the object resists, the commodity shrieks, the audience participates.” We have got to cut the ongoing “reduction of the phonic substance,” whose origin is untraceable but is at least as old as philosophy. It concerns “a radically exterior aurality that disrupts and resists”. These are the sub narratives – and dub narratives – that some know, some feel or some will find. As some people live it, some people talk it, some people sing it, some people walk it. It is the sum of Knowledge. Beyond the hegemony of the visual and ocularcentrism. Beyond the documentary realm, we carry archives with(in) us. Textiles, garments, and clothing. Memories, myths, and narratives. Seeds and food, for digestion and thought. Even if we migrate or when we feel displaced. We sample and remix. New occupations, old ways. We exchange, at round tables and in our own homes. Writing to our younger selves, talking to old friends, having new insights, finding new allies.
In his essay ‘Memory and the Morphology of Difference’, John Akomfrah speaks about the novel An Absence of Ruins (1967) by Orlando Patterson. The book suggests that all diasporas from outside of the West suffer from an absence; an absence of ruins, as the ruin here is understood as the marker of an antecedent civilisation, a civilisation migrants are not part of. The ruin is as much a political, as a civilisational trace, an evidential confirmation of an uninterrupted lineage of a cohesive culture. Monuments adorn the capitals and towns and attest to the passing of former rule and rulers. They signify a history (amongst many histories) and are the manner in which Western societies remain physically connected to their legacy, where archives work as sites of standardized legacy making.
Here, today, we alter the archive, understand its foundations and with this acquired knowledge, find new entries, perspectives and principles in order to come up with new outlooks on the recent past. Basically, using existing footage that has been covered by the absence of proper tags and descriptions in order to create narratives that were not supposed to be told. Turning the archive onto itself. Utilizing the unheard and overlooked. Giving it a purpose it was never meant to have. Certain content had to remain unseen. Not to be found in the databases that were constructed to obscure its content. Here we readdress the construct and “accommodate a differentiation of the universal” as Fred Moten poses, giving way to stories that were not planned to enter history. Giving the archive itself a purpose it was never meant to have. Letting the so-called outside in. Taking into account possibilities of narratives outside a regime of truth; we stand on the shoulders of our predecessors, we know their myths, embody their knowledge. We hear the echoes. We are the living proof.