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Platform for discussion004

With the benefit of hindsight, what role does new media play in artistic practices, activism, and as an agent for social change in the Middle East and North Africa today?

Marko Stamenkovic
2 November 2012

Shining a spotlight on something in order to 'make it visible' is a task indeed. It does not only entail personal and professional risk but also demands courage and responsibility. The ethics of monstration (on behalf of those whose intention is precisely that - to make sense of vision, to give sense to the invisible) comes from a 'monstrous' viewpoint: the viewpoint that designates each image in its form of monstrance (or pattern) and endows each image with quality and power of display.[1]


The following questions, in that regard, I find of significance to Ibraaz's Platform 004: firstly, in a revolutionary context, what kind of relationship do the image and the gaze have toward a people's movement for freedom? Secondly, what role can be taken by the gaze (be it optical or mechanical) and image (still and moving images) within socio-political conditions recognised as 'revolutionary movements'? And finally, regarding micro-processes of individuals' dissidence toward the social environment to which they belong, what kind of knowledge can be deduced by the image and gaze of a single person? Here, under the notion of the individual, I understand those singular subjects who – via unconventional modes of civil protest (among them most notably the private and public forms of self-sacrifice rituals) – act and take part in mass mobilisation, and who do so against political status quo while consciously or unconsciously contributing to changes of a higher level of meaning (collective, national, regional, and transnational).


I had no idea of the torture-culture in Algeria during the liberation war until the first printed material around the subject of such atrocities came to my hands last year (Quand la France torturait en Algérie, edited by Algerian historian and journalist Hamid Bousselham).[2] In front of insulting scenes of torture exercised by French soldiers over the Algerian population during the Independence War (1954-1962), I am trying to understand the attempts by a war photographer to negotiate, in the contested field of vision, at least two significant points: (1) a set of personal and political circumstances under which resistance takes place through the production of visuality (where the war among images is being waged simultaneously with military operations on the battlefield), and (2) a kind of singular/individual mode of resistance taking place in-between the photographer's eye/camera-lens, on the one hand, and his/her desire to look at what is supposed to remain hidden and forbidden from public view.


We shall, I believe, pay particular attention in future to the following: the role that human vision has played in previous revolutionary events and what role it is still able to play – via image recording – in the context of the Algerian war of independence as a mode of thinking about revolutionary gaze in our own times. Fifty years ago, the photographic apparatus was a means to claim the right to look - to look at modes of living under colonial domination but also, and even more importantly, at human suffering and humiliation in occupied territories across North Africa (as well as in the Middle East today). If there is one thing, regarding the humiliation and torturing of a population by a colonising power, to be stressed at this point, it shall be this: I believe that the gaze itself, recorded by technological apparatus, becomes one of the crucial features pointing out the conditions under which an open secret finds a channel of symbolic (and also potentially real) revelation. Photography opens up the viewing frame (otherwise limited by an unbearable relationship of domination) and turns silenced injustice of dependence into a call for action, through a public display of images brought to light by the agency of a photographer's gaze.

[1] Nancy, Jean-Luc, 'Image and Violence', in The Ground of the Image, Jeff Fort (trans.), New York: Fordham University Press (2005), p. 22.
[2] Bousselham, Hamid, Quand la France torturait en Algérie [French edition], Algiers: Editions Rahma (2001).
Marko Stamenkovic

is an art historian, critic and curator, born 1977 in Vranje (Serbia), and now based in Ghent (Belgium). He is a member of IKT – International Association of Curators of Contemporary Art (Lichtenstein). Stamenkovic holds a BA in Art History from the University of Belgrade - Faculty of Philosophy, History of Modern Art Department (BA Thesis: 'Theory of Gaze and Reading of the Image', 2003; an MA in Cultural Policy and Cultural Management (UNESCO), from the University of Arts in Belgrade – Interdisciplinary Studies accredited by the University Lyon 2 (MA Thesis: 'Status of Curatorial Practices in Post-socialist Conditions', 2005), and since 2011, a  PhD from the University of Ghent – Faculty of Arts and Philosophy, Department of Philosophy and Moral Sciences, Center for Ethics and Value Inquiry (Doctoral Thesis: 'Suicide Cultures. Theories and Practices of Radical Withdrawal – A Transnational Cultural and Media Paradigm [2001-2011']).

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