BOOK | Potential History is a passionately urgent call for all of us to unlearn imperialism and repair the violent world we share. In this theoretical tour-de-force, renowned scholar of photography and politics, Ariella Aïsha Azoulay calls on us to recognize the imperial foundations of knowledge and to refuse its strictures and its violence. Azoulay argues that the institutions that make our world, from archives and museums to ideas of sovereignty, human rights, and history itself, are all imperial modes of ordering time, space, and politics. Like a camera’s shutter slicing moments into photographs that can be catalogued and hung on museum walls, imperialism has segmented populations into differentially governed groups, celebrated the new while seeking to destroy what came before, and carefully sealed away protest in dusty archival boxes and glass museum cases. By practising what she calls potential history, Azoulay argues that we can still refuse the original imperial violence that shattered communities and worlds, from people enslaved and sent to the Americas to Palestinians exiled in 1948. Including over one hundred photographs and tracings, Potential History argues that it is by shifting our ways of seeing and knowing and caring in common for our shared world that we can make the potential for freedom visible and make the repair of torn worlds the substance of politics.
BIO | Ariella Aïsha Azoulay
Professor of Modern Culture and Media and Comparative Literature, film essayist and curator of archives and exhibitions. Her books include: Potential History – Unlearning Imperialism (Verso, 2019); Civil Imagination: The Political Ontology of Photography (Verso, 2012); The Civil Contract of Photography (Zone Books, 2008); From Palestine to Israel: A Photographic Record of Destruction and State Formation, 1947-1950, (Pluto Press, 2011). Her potential histories, archives and curatorial work were shown in different places: Errata (Tapiès Foundation, 2019, HKW, Berlin, 2020), Enough! The Natural Violence of New World Order, (F/Stop photography festival, Leipzig, 2016), Act of State 1967-2007, (Centre Pompidou, 2016, Arquivo Municipal de Lisboa Fotografico, 2020); "The Natural History of Rape" (Pembroke Hall, Brown University, 2015); The Body Politic [in Really Useful Knowledge, curated by What, How & for Whom / WHW], Reina Sofia, Madrid; When The Body Politic Ceases To Be An Idea, Exhibition Room - Manifesta Journal Around Curatorial Practices No 16 Potential History (2012, Stuk / Artefact, Louven), Untaken Photographs (2010, Igor Zabel Award, The Moderna galerija, Lubliana; Zochrot, Tel Aviv), Architecture of Destruction (Zochrot, Tel Aviv), Everything Could Be Seen (Um El Fahem Gallery of Art). Among her film-essays: Un-documented: Undoing Imperial Plunder (2019); Civil Alliances, Palestine, 47-48 (2012); I Also Dwell Among Your Own People: Conversations with Azmi Bishara (2004) & The Food Chain (2004).