Patterns of Civil Imagination: drawing the Unshowable Photographs

Boyd, Jean ORCID: 0000-0002-9343-6692 (2019) Patterns of Civil Imagination: drawing the Unshowable Photographs. Drawing: Research, Theory, Practice, 4 (1). pp. 145-157. doi:10.1386/drtp.4.1.145_1

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Seeking out the patterns of constituent violence, in order that these patterns might be understood and reordered, lies at the heart of Ariella Azoulay’s discursive project, the ‘Unshowable Photographs: Different Ways Not to Say Deportation’ (2012). The photographs in question capture scenes from the mass movement of Palestinians after the establishment of the state of Israel. In response to archival restrictions, she enacts an apparently simple gesture, that of making drawings of these ‘unshowable’ photographs. The resulting works operate to reposition the viewer as an active interpreter, suggesting a practice that is both aesthetic and political. These terms are examined for their ability to cast light on Azoulay’s key concepts of civil imagination and the civic gaze. Her critique of the archive is also considered, particularly archival mechanisms for setting and repeating divisive, diachronic patterns whose impacts are not contained in the past but continue to work on the present. However the archive can also be a generative source of potential histories, occluded patterns of life and possibilities that were suppressed or overlooked. Azoulay approaches photography as an event that is ongoing and multiple, renewed in each encounter with a viewer. The drawings, as a form of graphic witnessing, intensify the ethical relation to the image. I will argue that the act of drawing seeks to bind rather than separate, bringing us in to a relation with the image that the photograph could not. From here it is possible to glimpse the emergence of a civil imaginary that resists familiar aesthetic and political categories, one that obliges viewers to reconsider their agency as citizens. Recognising this, new patterns of being-with others may become possible.

Item Type: Article
Article Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: archive Azoulay civil imagination dissensus drawing patterns photography politics potential history
Related URLs:
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR
T Technology > TR Photography
Research Priority Areas: Culture, Continuity, and Transformation
Creative Practice and Theory
Depositing User: Jean Boyd
Date Deposited: 11 Mar 2019 10:48
Last Modified: 04 Feb 2022 13:45

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