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Documenting Disappearance: Algeria, state terrorism and the photographic image

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  • Speaker: Dr Anthony Downey, Nassera Dutour and Tom O Mara.
  • Chair: Tom O Mara
  • 15 May 2008
  • New Theatre, East Building, LSE

Taking as its starting point Omar D's book of photographs, Devoir de mémoire/A Biography of Disappearance, Algeria 1992 -, commissioned and edited by Autograph ABP, this event examined what happens when the apparatus of a state is turned on its own citizens. It asked how we can disseminate the truth about events that are officially denied or obfuscated by the legal system, how to lobby for the application of UN resolutions on forced disappearances and whether human rights organisations can overcome international post-colonial and economic interests. Can imagery be more potent than text in bringing human rights issues into public knowledge? Can we talk of politics of aesthetics in the context of subjects who have been stripped of their civil existence? How can the invisible be made visible?

With the participation of Dr Anthony Downey (Programme Director, MA in Contemporary Art, Sotheby's Institute of Art) and Nassera Dutour (spokesperson for the Collective of the Families of the Disappeared in Algeria). Chaired by Tom O Mara, Deputy Director of Autograph ABP, with an introduction by Professor Conor Gearty.

The event opened with a short film, based on the book, and directed by Omar D and the Chilean filmmaker, Felipe Canales.

This was a partnership event with Autograph ABP, an international photographic agency, based in London, that addresses issues of cultural identity and human rights.



Dr Anthony Downey is the Programme Director on the MA in Contemporary Art, Sotheby's Institute, London. He was recently appointed to the Editorial Board of Third Text. He is a London correspondent for Flash Art International and has published essays, criticism and interviews on contemporary art in Wasafiri, Next Level, BOMB Magazine (New York), New York Art Magazine, Art Review, Journal of Visual Culture, Pluk, Untitled, Bridge Magazine (Chicago), Contemporary, Circa, Art and Architecture Journal, Contemporary Visual Arts, Skylines, Wanderlust and Upstart. His current research interests include the politics of aesthetics, Giorgio Agamben, contemporary African cultural production, and emerging artists from the Middle East. He wrote the catalogue essay for Sotheby's first sale of contemporary Middle Eastern and Iranian Art (October 2007) and will guest edit an issue of Next Level magazine on the Middle East for launch at the Dubai Art Fair and Sharjah Biennial in
March 2009. He is currently researching a book on Aesthetics, Ethics and Politics (forthcoming 2009).

Nassera Dutour is the spokesperson for the CFDA (Collective of the Families of the Disappeared in Algeria), and Chair of the Euro-Mediterranean Federation on Forced Disappearances. Ever since her son was abducted in 1997, she has been campaigning to break the law of silence surrounding forced disappearances in Algeria and has devoted her life to seeking truth and justice for all the mothers of the disappeared. She has organised numerous discussion forums and seminars on forced disappearances and transitional justice, with many interventions in international conferences. In Algeria, she works directly with the families of the disappeared, informing them of their rights and helping them with their approaches to state institutions. She represents the CFDA, as well as the local committees SOS Disparus en Algérie, in their dealings with the Algerian authorities, as well as at European and international institutions such as the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

Tom O Mara is Deputy Director of Autograph ABP