While many debates have revolved around the use of social media to mobilise and document protest with unrivalled immediacy, this event focuses on social media as archives that lend ongoing power and testimony to past occurrences and keep them alive in the present. For artists whose histories are contested or unevenly represented, the use of archives is a burgeoning aesthetic practice, capable of depicting the past, albeit precariously, through its partial fragments. Yet many of them draw on online archives without seeking permissions, raising ethical questions of consent, risk, objectification and agency in representation, especially given that some of the subjects may be dead or still living in conflict zones.
The featured film, Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait, is largely composed from anonymous footage shot on mobile phones and uploaded onto YouTube. The director Ossama Mohammed attributes its authorship to ‘1001 Syrians, Wiam Bedirxan and me’. Like a curator, the filmmaker collects and rearranges this online material, preserving the stories of this multitude. However, Silvered Water does not seek to explain what we are seeing, but rather endows artefacts with a haunting mystery.
Following the screening, Jo Glanville, Director of English Pen and former editor of Index on Censorship, will chair a panel discussion with Zaher Omareen, a Syrian documentarist and researcher on mobile phone documentary cinema, Dima Saber, an expert in Arab digital media and Amr Gharbeia, Egyptian blogger and human rights activist. The panel will consider social media archives as a means of both creative expression and state surveillance, and will explore the ethical issues involved.
Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait, Ossama Mohammed and Wiam Bedirxan | France, Syria | 2014 | 92 mins
This is the third and final event in the The Mosaic Rooms’ series Crisis and Creativity: A Season of Contemporary Films from and about the Arab World curated by Shohini Chaudhuri.
Shohini Chaudhuri is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Literature, Film and Theatre Studies at the University of Essex. Her publications include Cinema of the Dark Side: Atrocity and the Ethics of Film Spectatorship (2014) and Contemporary World Cinema: Europe, the Middle East, East Asia and South Asia (2005).
Please note: The film contains imagery that many viewers will find shocking, including images of torture and death.
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