Sharjah Art Foundation

March Meeting 2023: The Postcolonial Constellation: Art, Culture, Politics after 1960

9 March — 12 March, 2023


John Tain speaking in panel discussion The Archive and Art History with Jihan El Tahri, Krista Thompson, Simon Soon Sien Yong and Elizabeth Harney at March Meeting. Sharjah Art Foundation, 2023


The archive, as we traditionally understand it, is a record of documents and artefacts that provide information and enable researchers to construct art historical narratives. It is assumed to be indispensable in preserving the past, recording our present and preserving knowledge for the future. Offering insights on artists, their lives and their artworks, alongside overall societal transformations and processes, the archive is presumably a repository of truth. Yet, the archive is always incomplete, marked as it is by the absence of voices of marginalised individuals and communities. Such voices are often non-existent or totally ignored due to lack of access or power, especially in the context of the Global South.

In his masterful book, Silencing the Past (1995), Michel-Rolph Trouillot has shown that there are episodes of historical documentation in which histories, truths and experiences are deliberately ‘silenced or persistently forgotten’. These silences have resulted in the exclusion of women, non-western and Indigenous artists, among other gendered or racialised minorities, from larger art historical narratives. To address these issues, theorists such as Saidiya Hartman have introduced the concept of ‘critical fabulation’, which involves combining historical and archival research with critical theory and fictional narratives to fill in the silences and erasures in historical records. The archive, when recontextualised, may facilitate the reanimation of history by combining existing records with critical fabulations and other methodologies to address such gaps. The panelists will discuss the archive within this critical framework and in relation to knowledge-making, control, access and potential.

Watch the video here