April 11, 2014

Radical Archives and Index of the Disappeared

Chitra Ganesh and Mariam Ghani are artists, archivists, and activists. Both have been involved in immigration rights activism, especially after 9/11, and they created the shifting exhibition Index of the Disappeared, now in its 10th year, to address the insidious surveillance, false narratives, and criminalization of dissent perpetrated by the U.S. government.

I saw the “Secrets Told” version of the archive at New York University last month. During a tour of the exhibit, Ghani spoke about her and Ganesh’s idea of “exploding the archive” and putting the fragments elsewhere. The information they’ve collected is all in the public domain, but what their project does is make the connections of disparate data more visible.

(If you want to read more, a previous incarnation of Ganesh and Ghani’s work was the subject of the essay Warming up Records: Archives, Memory, Power and Index of the Disappeared. As Alice Royer puts it, “Their project makes visible that which has been rendered invisible, re-politicizes that which has been deemed natural, and names the government as the perpetrator.” [Emphasis in original.])

The Q&A at the “Secrets Told” tour brought up the question of the line between the activist and the archivist, which is something Ganesh and Ghani want us all to grapple with. Today is the start of the two-day Radical Archives conference at NYU. The hashtag is #radarcs—follow along!

redactions

“Reasonable Articulable Suspicion,” redactions, and Benjamin Franklin.

binder

One of the many binders of articles, government documents, court cases, and other materials collected and organized for researchers’ use.

files

Files arranged by topic, with connections drawn between them.

file

The pivotal 1979 Smith v. Maryland decision, which led to the legalization of personal metadata collected via (land) phone calls.

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