Making sense: Affective research in postwar Lebanese art

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Sociology, Egyptology & Anthropology Department

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Research Article

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Critical Arts

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Based on long-term research with contemporary artists in Lebanon, who utilise documentary practices to advance experimental forms of evidence, this article explores the generative possibilities enabled by crossing disciplinary borders between anthropological and artistic modes of social inquiry. In the wake of an unresolved civil war in the country (1975-1990), a vibrant art movement emerged with a set of critical aesthetics aimed at identifying and working through a postwar crisis of representation. Although typically consigned to artistic engagements with the archive, the work of Jayce Salloum, Walid Raad and Akram Zaatari elucidates a motif of research curiously under-examined. Because they each have systematically grappled with the epistemological and methodological aspects of researching the war, their oeuvres provide a germane triptych for assessing alternative forms of evidence. By closely examining the way their work rethinks the taken-for-granted modes of knowledge production, this article argues that their experimental visual practices poignantly critique the politics of representation, redefine the codes of documentary evidence, and make sense of the war on an affective level. Although these artists express antagonism toward traditional anthropology, the article contends that their minority perspectives, research methodologies and practice-based accounts work as alternative ethnographies of Lebanon. Drawing upon recent anthropology, film and art theory, this article demonstrates how disciplinary differences serve as productive irritants (Schneider and Wright 2006b) and provides glimpses of different forms of knowledge. © 2013 Critical Arts Projects and Unisa Press.

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