Syrian Images Beyond the Archive

The research project Archiving the Future: Recollections of Syria in War and Peace (hosted by the Center for Comparative Culture Studies, ToRS, University of Copenhagen) and the Syrian artist Khaled Barakeh have, during the past two years, been engaged in a shared exploration of Syrian pasts, presents and futures as they take shape in the aftermath of the Syrian uprising in 2011. This conversation culminates in three events titled "Syrian Images Beyond the Archive," which bridge academic research and artistic expression. The hope is to foster a conversation beyond traditional research avenues that engages the Danish public in discussions on topics such as loss, exile, and accountability in a Syrian context.

How to forge a future out of a ruined past and present?

This collaboration explores the questions of how to forge a future out of a ruined past and present. It does so by transcending disciplinary boundaries and experimenting with combining intellectual knowledge and artistic creativity. Furthermore, it is an insistence on keeping Syria's persistent challenges on the public agenda through a collaborative unfolding of Syrian images and, by that, an examination of past losses, the present state of exile and future hopes for accountability. The series of public events will bring together Syrian intellectuals, artists, and cultural producers to reflect on the themes of the past, present, and future. These conversations will further unfold the complexity of the Syrian situation just as they will ensure a pluralistic representation of Syrian voices.

A threefold public conversation

The conversation is divided into three chapters that will take place within one week. Chapter 1 zooms in on the past and explores the theme of loss. Chapter 2 engages with the present state of exile. Chapter 3 looks towards the future to engage with the discussion of the potential for accountability. This threefold division explores how different temporal perspectives allow for – or even necessitate – engagement with different topics. In a context of crisis, the progression of past, present, and future are at risk of collapsing. This is not least the case for many Syrians. Soon after the initial uprising in Syria in the early spring of 2011 until today, most Syrians have lived (and still are living) through a state of crisis as the peaceful public call for political change was met with ever-growing violence and oppression by the state-leading the country into a proxy-civil-war.

While the level of violence has decreased, the situation is far from stable; Bashar al-Assad is still in power, and most Syrians are struggling economically to survive. However, the temporal distance to the initial uprising and – for the many Syrians living in exile – the geographical distance to the homeland makes it possible to reflect upon how to reestablish temporal order. Through the three chapters, we explore how the losses of the past, by being honoured and acknowledged, can allow Syrians living in exile also to engage with their new lives. Likewise, we wish to explore the exile of the present, and what challenges and possibilities the context of exile offers when trying to rebuild life. Finally, looking ahead, the question of potential accountability in the future is unavoidable.


Chapter 1: The losses of the past

In Chapter 1, we engage with the theme of loss – loss of human life, loss of life as we know it, or loss of dreams and hopes for the future

When: Tuesday 14 May (20:00-21:30). Drinks and snacks in the café from 19:00

Where: LiteraturHaus, Møllegade 7, Copenhagen N

Participants: Odai Al Zoubi, Rosa Yassin Hassan, June Dahy, Khaled al-Barakeh

Moderator: Naja Bjørnsson

Art presented:

In The Untitled Images, Barakeh has cut and peeled away the photographic skin of children who have died as victims in the war in Syria. This both provokes us to think about how we represent victims and how the victim could have been any of us. Inks on My Hands is a series of paintings that tries to present and transmit victims’ pain without presenting them in a painful situation. Afterimages is a video installation that presents memories of personal and collective identities that are no longer there.

Chapter 2: The exile of the present

In Chapter 2, we engage with the present life of many Syrians in exile, either in neighboring countries or in Europe.

When: Friday 17 May (13:00-15:30). A light meal, drinks, and snacks will be served at the end

Where: Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, Karen Blixens Plads 8. Bygning 10-3-28, Copenhagen S

Participants: Lilas Hatahet, Khaled al-Barakeh

Moderator: Anders Hastrup

Art presented:

Screening of Afraa Batous’ documentary All roads leads to more and presentation of On the Ropes is a three-channel video installation of furniture hanging 15 cm above the ground, which further investigates how being displaced can create a state of anxiety and instability. I Haven't Slept for Centuries is an artwork showing how an original identity becomes so obscured after crossing many borders and countries. Exit plays on the well-known sign for exit while making a pun on the phonetic as well as semantic similarity of the two words exit and exile. In Self Portrait as a Power Structure, the artist tries to reclaim the power that was applied to his and other people’s freedom of movement.

Chapter 3: The accountability of the future

In Chapter 3, we engage with attempts to envision a future, more particularly the possibility for future accountability.

When: Thursday 16 May (14:30-16:00). Drinks and snacks after the event

Where: Etnografisk Eksploratorium, Øster Farimagsgade 5, Copenhagen K

Participants: Dima Saber (online), Abdul Rahman al-Jaloud, Stefan Tarnowski (online), Khaled al-Barakeh

Moderator: Andreas Bandak, Nina Grønlykke Mollerup, Christine Crone

Art presented:

MUTE is an adaptable, site-specific public art installation in the form of a demonstration that moves across political and geographical intersectional contexts, erected for the first time outside the Higher Court in Koblenz, Germany, during a historic trial, which was the first time any Syrian regime official was held accountable for war crimes and crimes against humanity. A curfew was still in effect back then because of the Covid pandemic. VOCAL is both a reflection and a continuation of MUTE in the form of theatrical play.


The events are sponsored by The Independent Research Council Denmark, The Danish Institute in Damascus, and organized by Khaled Barakeh and the collective research project Archiving the Future: Re-Collections of Syria in War and Peace consisting of Andreas Bandak, Christine Aster Crone, and Nina Grønlykke Mollerup alongside Terese Lindegaard Andreasen. Furthermore, we thank the Department for Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, and the other venues at LitteraturHaus and Etnografisk Exploratorium for excellent cooperation.