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Traces of war and injustice often disappear from physical sites of conflict, lingering only in the fragmented memories of witnesses and those who have lived through the atrocities committed and indirect violence experienced, despite the silence and repression imposed. These contested sites may not readily reveal the traumas and fractures hidden beneath their surface, while witness testimony and archival records of untold events that took place there may remain repressed, inaccessible or intentionally obfuscated.

Under these conditions, how can the body reactivate and transform suppressed or disputed memories? What role does movement, music and poetry play to viscerally make sense of invisible histories in neglected sites of conflict? How does capturing these interventions through media reveal new meaning within the empty silence of these contested spaces?

Zona Intervenida: Still from documentary film (work-in-progress).

My recent essay “Zona Intervenida: Performance as Memory, Transforming Contested Spaces” will be published as a chapter in the book Rethinking Peace: Discourse, Memory, Translation, and Dialogue, edited by Jeremiah Alberg, Alex Hinton and Giorgio Shani, Rowman & Littlefield International (being released by Amazon.com on March 4, 2019). The essay is based on my ongoing research and documentary film project based in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala since 2013.

In this introspective visual essay, I explore such questions through a performance-based cinematic inquiry conducted over a three-year period at a contested urban site in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala with a collective of local and international artists residing there. Decades of civil war, forced disappearances and military repression has induced many Guatemalans into a sense of fear and silence about atrocities committed in the past, while human rights investigations (when permitted by authorities) only deepen fissures in a divided society. Approaching such sites challenges the role of mediators (including peace activists, journalists and filmmakers) demanding greater ethical responsibility and sensitivity in the process of engaging diverse voices, intervening in undesignated sites of memory, and seeking non-confrontational, subversive or artistic modes of expression.

More about the project: http://www.ZonaIntervenida.org

Can Documentaries Create Sensory Experiences?
November 2, 2016

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  1. Pingback: Book Chapter on Rethinking Peace | Nitin Sawhney

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