Between the 29th April and the 1st June, Alan Cristea Gallery presented the group show ‘Conflicted Memories’. The exhibition brought together a group of eight international women artists whose works engage with the memory of conflict, nationalism, apartheid and social and political change.

The artists featured were: Christiane Baumgartner, Miriam De Búrca, Rita Donagh, Ninar Esber, Ruth Goddard, Adela Jušić, Nadia Kaabi-Linke, K. Yoland. The exhibition was curated by Dr. Gwendolyn Sasse, Professorial Fellow in Politics at Nuffield College, University of Oxford and Helen Waters, Director at Alan Cristea Gallery.

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Erased Histories and the Conflict of Memory.

Post by Elisa Adami

Working across a wide range of different media, including drawing, painting, print, photography, video and installation, the artists presented in the show engage critically with the concept of ‘memory’ related to situations of conflict and violence. Some of them are inspired by personal and family memories, others by their encounters with memories inscribed in history books, a particular landscape or landmark, national symbols or media images. In both cases, artists approach historical events in a personal and contemplative manner, carving “an alternative space for reflection, imagination and discussion beyond the entrenched fault lines”1.

The artworks reflect upon the construction of memories and reveal the related processes of recalling, rewriting, commemorating and forgetting. Instead of clear cut explanations, they present the co-existence of different narratives and multiple possible perspectives on the same event or experience. In this way, they are able to put forward a more nuanced and plausible version of the past than the discourses of ‘truth’ and ‘reconciliation’ elaborated in the aftermath of the conflict in media reports, historiography and academic analysis. Where these disciplines make use of abstract categories and artificial representations, the artists prefer to mess up with the messy reality in order to reveal the spaces in-between categories, the grey areas and the blurry lines.

It is interesting to notice that, to a greater or lesser degree, all the works on show use techniques of manipulation of images which favour effects of distortion. By blurring, layering or erasing an image, these works make something visible that was undisclosed in the well-defined picture. In the overlapping of different pictures, in the image out of focus or in the erased pages of an history book, we can see the blackouts of trauma, the falsifications of the new regimes of power, the blind spots of dominant historiographies and, in last instance, the instability of the process of memory itself.

The title of the exhibition ‘Conflicted Memories’ refers not only to the straightforward notion of memories of conflict, but it also points to the conflict of memory. “Memory – or the social act of remembering – is an inherently conflictual process, not only when it deals with the experience of actual political conflict. Memories are interpretations of the past rooted into the present” and, as such, they are consciously or sub-consciously reconfigured over time as part of both neurological processes and social interactions. The images of memory are not stable and crystallized, but they oscillate, fade or change proportions at every different act of recollection.

The deliberate manipulation of images, far from presenting a deceptive and counterfeit version of the past, offers a more honest and authentic account of what we remember – or don’t remember. The artist transcend the documentary function of the images to reveal the multiple and subjective truths hidden beyond the univocal and compact surface of the facts.

1 Gwendolyn Sasse, Conflicted Memories, Exhibition Brochure, 2013

On Monday 29th April 2013, the Conflict Research Group at the London School of Economics in association with Alan Cristea Gallery hosted a panel discussion with Jonathan Watkins, Director of Ikon Gallery Birmingham and Curator of the 2013 Iraq Pavillion for the Venice Biennale and Miriam Búrca, Ruth Goddard and Adela Jušić three of the artist included in the exhibition. They reflected upon their work and the link between art and conflict. The discussion was moderated by one of the curators of the show Dr Gwendolyn Sasse, Professorial Fellow in Politics at Nuffield College, University of Oxford.

You can listen to the recording of the discussion here.

Find the press release of the show with a description of the single artworks here.

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