SUMMARY:Wire fences, security checkpoints, waterscapes turned borderscapes, and towering walls are some of the enduring material symbols of the division of the Levant imposed by British, French, and Zionist colonialism. So too are passports, national constitutions, and state archives, which contribute to both the production and prescription of identities and histories, notably the forced absence of the Palestinian as a national subject and the obscuring of the figure of the Arab Jew. More recently, Levantine borders have been undone by the decade-long war in Syria, which has made nearly 6 million Syrians into refugees, most of whom now live in Turkey, Lebanon, or Jordan.
This panel will examine photographs, films, and archives produced by artists and activists from Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine/Israel that enable us to imagine localities of the Levant beyond their present colonial and state-imposed demarcations. These include the Syrian Archive, which compiles visual media documenting war crimes to imagine a future of accountability and justice in Syria from a position of exile, near Berlin; two documentary films that explore hybridized identity, once-fluid borders, and their intertwinement; and a series of photographs and documents that posit Palestinian “bodies of water” as hydrocommons refusing settler-colonial enclosure. We examine these media as indices of alternative commons, which point to ways in which borders may be demilitarized, Palestinians and Syrians may return to transformed homelands, and natural resources may be restored. The “commons” that we posit is not utopian in nature, nor does it emerge only in a distant future after the nation-state. Rather, this panel envisions the possibility of more collaborative and just futures by building on shared experiences of imperial violence-as-commons and retrieving diverse regional histories that have been foreclosed (Azoulay 2019).
We will ask questions about how documentary visual media—photographs, videos, and films, whether produced as immediate records of violence to be circulated on YouTube or as visual narratives displayed in film theaters and art spaces—contribute to a shared political imagination. What are the potentialities embedded in documentary images that enable viewers to envision alternative futures? Do such images hold potential because they persuasively convey suppressed histories? Because they are forensic tools that can be used in legal forums? Because of the circulation enabled by popular digital platforms, such as YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter? Who accesses the political imaginaries generated by such media, and who, then, is invited to partake in the commons they evoke?