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Wednesday, 25 April 2018

The Defaced Portrait

One of the most interesting things about archives for me is how the marks on an image tell as much of a story as the image itself.  

You can see it in political and religious contexts, you can see it in personal albums where former lovers violate the image of their ex. 

Possibly the most powerful erasure (and there is a whole sub-genre of erasure studies which I wrote about a while back. I do think it's fascinating) is in this image of 'Mrs Baqari' 

Mrs Baqari had her picture taken at Hashen el-Madani's Studio Shehrazade in Saida, Lebanon. But it was against her husband's wishes. When he found out, he ran to the studio in fury and had the negatives defaced by scratching. Years later, after Mrs Baqari had burnt herself to death (the subtext being that she killed herself to escape the misery of being married to either an abusive husband or a religious fanatic - or both. Or perhaps she hadn't burnt herself.  

The husband came back to the studio heartbroken. The only thing that could console him, that could help him remember his beloved wife who he had treated so badly (we presume) were the images that he had had destroyed years before. 

And so he had enlargements made and took the images home. Yet there, on the surface were the scratches he had made, an indexical mark of how he had treated his wife. Or how we imagine he had treated his wife. 

It's an image of violence then, but also one filled with a complex emotional power. One of heartbreak, of jealousy, of guilt? We simply don't know - or should I say I simply don't know. 

One of the speakers at the Activating the Archive symposium will be Charbel Saad from the Arab Image Foundation in Beirut who will be talking about this image, this collection, and much much more. 

There is a similar defacing of this passport photo from Amak Mahmoodian's Shenasnameh project. A shenasnameh is an Iranian passport picture that must be renewed every ten years. And for the document to be renewed, a passport photo must be submitted. If the passport does not meet official approval, then it will be returned, mutilated by pen strokes, rendered blind, or dumb, a woman turned into a hairless being with no eyes to see with, no lips to speak with. 

Here there is little emotion, just stone-cold misogyny that is addressed through the violence of these pen strokes. 

Charbel Saad and Amak Mahmoodian will be talking about all this and much more on Saturday 5th May at the Arnolfini in Bristol in this brilliant symposium on the archive with speakers including  Maja Daniels, Francesca Seravalle, Charbel Saad, Thomas Sauvin, Kensuke Koike, and Amak Mahmoodian.

It's a series of talks that looks both to the past but also to the future, seeing how archival works can be deconstructed, reconstructed and recontextualised with reference both to the past as well as the future. 

It's a serious bargain at £25 for the day and takes place in the wonderful waterfront location of the Arnolfini, with fantastic food, drink and cake all available within a few minutes walk.

Buy your tickets for ICVL's Activating the Archive here.

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