Counter Memory Activism is an interdisciplinary research-creation project between artists, museologists, curators, and scholars of genocide and memory studies, exploring the current questions and historical context of memory activism, as well as broader themes such as collective memory and the commemoration of heritage and difficult histories.
The project is a partnership between the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and the University of King's College in Kjipuktuk (Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada).
Kjipuktuk is part of Mi’kma’ki, the unceded ancestral territory of the Mi’kmaq. This territory is covered by the Treaties of Peace and Friendship which Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqiyik peoples first signed with the British Crown in 1725. These treaties established the rules for what was to be an ongoing relationship between nations, and guide the continued connections with the past, present and future in our ongoing relationships with all the people of Mi’kam’ki.
Counter Memory Activism
Committed to an inclusive and more radically popular approach to visualizing and spatializing the public memory of non-sites of memory, we aim to develop a broader research-creation pedagogical framework that can be expanded across disciplines and contexts. Our website includes a robust interdisciplinary critical discourse that draws on Memory/Genocide Studies, Critical Curation, and research-creation methodologies.
Further outputs include a colloquium, curated shows, scholarly articles and the development of an interdisciplinary curriculum for studio arts and contemporary studies that integrates reflexive, and hands-on experiential learning with critical reflection on theories of collective memory and memorialization.
Our goal is to contribute to the advancement of knowledge by: exploring the intersection between monuments, public space and collective memory; integrating our research into interdisciplinary, inter-university course curricula; experimenting with collective authorship through locative media technologies and collaborative research-creation methodologies; and investigating how cross-disciplinary artistic practice and research can be strengthened and informed by sustained collaboration.
Jordan Beaulieu is a settler from Epekwitk/PEI and an artist and coordinator based in Charlottetown. Working between a variety of popular media including zines, blogs, amateur video, and household textiles, their interdisciplinary approach is informed by the intentional amateurism of DIY tactics in combination with the provisionality of rural life. They are a current board member of this town is small, PEI’s artist-run centre, and have coordinated for festivals including Art in the Open, Charlottetown, and Art Matters, Montreal. Jordan has a BFA from Concordia University and is now an MFA candidate at NSCAD University, where they also work as a Teaching and Research Assistant.
How can critical-curation and research-creation activities foster performative pedagogies?
How do co-creators become memory activists, creating work that unsettles our relationship to difficult heritage?
How might this activism engage with the presentation of archival materials through sculpture and other forms of data visualization?
Might the binaries of presence and absence be reinterpreted through collaborative processes that encourage and illustrate the active processes of memory and memorialization?
If local ecosystems are the source of knowledge, evidence and data about past violence against people and nature, how can we make them visible through experimental cartography and other forms of studio research?
Might new technologies accessed through mobile media devices offer opportunities for the public to participate in the creation and engagement of virtual counter-memorials?
What methodologies can be developed for collaborative processes between artists, scholars, curators, and the public?
Solomon Nagler is a filmmaker and installation artist working with 16mm celluloid to engage with experimental architecture in galleries and in public space. His research projects include the Situated Cinema Project ( 2011-2015) and Speculative Cartographies (2019), a research-creation project which was exhibited at Biennale Warszawa in collaboration with Angela Henderson, Alexander Schwarz and Aleksandra Janus. He has also collaborated with Henderson on genizah (2017) presented in Berlin at Institut für Alles Mögliche, and in Winnipeg genizah; hulls (2018) at Poolside Gallery. These series of works document the light and deteriorating materials stored in the Chevra Nosim genizah; a book graveyard that is hidden in the only surviving synagogue in Lublin, Poland. He co-edited Sculpting Cinema (2018), a book which examines the evolution of the cinematic language of expanded cinema as conceptualized through architecture, gallery spaces and public art projects. He is also co-editor of the forthcoming Landscape of Moving Image; Prairie Artists Cinema (2020), documenting artists’ practices and independent film histories from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Nagler’s previous SSHRC funded research project “Tracing The City: Art and the Public” (2011 -2015) was focused on Interventions of Art in Public Space
Dorota Glowacka is the author of Po tamtej stronie: świadectwo, afekt, wyobraźnia [On the other side: testimony, affect, imagination (IWarsaw: Institute of Literary Studies PAN, 2017)] and Disappearing Traces: Holocaust Testimonials, Ethics, and Aesthetics (Washington UP, 2012). She coedited Imaginary Neighbors: Mediating Polish-Jewish Relations after the Holocaust (Nebraska UP, 2007) and Between Ethics and Aesthetics: Crossing the Boundaries (SYNU Press, 2002) and edited a special issue of Culture Machine (2006). Glowacka has published numerous book chapters, journal articles, reviews, and encyclopedia entries in the area of Holocaust studies and critical theory. Glowacka is currently working on two concurrent research projects. The first one focuses on rethinking the history and memory of the Holocaust through the lens of gender. Glowacka’s responsibility is grounding the project in theories of gender, memory and trauma, and focusing on visual representations of the Holocaust and practices of memorialization, the expertise that she will also extend to the project proposed in this application. Glowacka’s other project is examining the intersections of the Holocaust and settler colonial genocide, based on the premise that these different instances of genocidal violence are part of the same historical continuum of racialized colonial violence. Therefore, examining these two instances of genocidal violence together can bring to light the areas that would have not been recognized had they been studied in isolation. Our knowledge of the annihilation of European Jews is augmented when we look at it through the lens of colonialism, as well as consider the cultural destruction of Jewish culture and heritage as inseparable from physical destruction. Glowacka has already published a long study on the subject and has given a number of presentations in the area. Glowacka has worked with Indigenous scholars and knowledge holders, and she often presents together with Anishinaabe scholar Lorena Fontaine (University of Winnipeg). Under the auspices of the UCLA Shoah Foundation, they are currently organizing an international conference of settler colonial genocides in the Americas and Australia, to take place in October 2021. Glowacka is a member of the Academic Committee of the Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Research at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Glowacka’s previous SSHRC funded research project (2006 -2011) was focused on the history of Polish-Jewish relations after the Holocaust.
Sarah Clift has published and translated extensively in the areas of contemporary German and French philosophy, memory theory, and the history of ideas. Her current research project involves a comparative examination of justice initiatives in post-genocidal societies: combining archival research with theoretical writing on guilt, judgment, and the social impacts of judicial processes, Clift is developing a robust Arendtian framework to address the striking absence of questions involving perpetration in the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement (and, more broadly, in the cultural project of reconciliation). Clift has extensive experience in university outreach initiatives: she is co-founder and director of the on-going and highly-esteemed Humanities for Young People initiative (hyp.ukings.ca); section coordinator for Halifax Humanities; sole course facilitator for the Contemporary Studies Program’s first Study-Abroad course (Memory, Politics, Place: Berlin's Twentieth Century). In addition to her scholarly and community work, she has extensive involvement in university administration and project management. Publications and translations include Committing the Future to Memory: Experience, History, Trauma (Fordham UP, 2014); from French, Jean-Luc Nancy’s Excluding the Jew within Us (Polity Press, 2020); from German, Aleida Assmann’s Is Time Out of Joint? (Cornell UP, 2020); from French, Jean-Luc Nancy’s Portrait (Fordham UP, 2018); from German, Aleida Assmann’s Shadows of Trauma: Memory and the Politics of Postwar Identity (Fordham UP, 2016).
Angela Henderson is the PI of a SSHRC Partnership Engage Grant entitled Collaborative Design for Unstructured Play: Developing Local Economies through Innovation in Materials and Technology. This research brings together graduate students and elementary students in a collaborative design project that explores play as critical practice. She is also a co-applicant on a collaborative SSHRC New Frontiers in Research grant with Dalhousie University entitled, A Tactical Urbanism Approach to Assessing the Value of Accessible Spaces. (expected date of completion 2022). Exploring the intersections of public space and social justice issues, her recent pedagogical work explores urban space through experimental mapping, working with Masters of Design students in a course entitled, Mapping the Margins. This course engages students working across disciplines in design; graphic, industrial and UI/UX, to create counter-maps of abandoned public spaces in collaboration with community groups. Site Repair (2014 - 2017) is a counter monument that was funded by the Nova Sculpture Association. The work questions how a colonial figure can be represented in the public space of unceded Mi'kmaq territory by returning a defunct monument to street level by repurposing the existing materials.
Carla Taunton is a white-settler scholar and curator who advances arts-based critiques of settler colonialism. She explores Indigenous focused collaborative research projects to advance decolonizing and social justice initiatives and to build ethical critical settler methodologies for the research creation and curatorial practice. Her areas of expertise include theories of decolonization, anti-colonialism and settler responsibility. Taunton has many national collaborative research partnerships including curatorial and research projects with her GLAM Collective members Dr. Heather Igloliorte and Dr. Julie Nagam, such as SSHRC Partnership Development Grant, The Space Between Us: Co(lab)orations within Indigenous, Circumpolar and Pacific Places Through Digital Media and Design led by Nagam (2020), and SSHRC Talent Partnership Grant, The Pilimmaksarniq/ Pijariuqsarniq Project: Inuit Futures in Arts Leadership led by Igloliorte (2018). She is also a co-applicant on the SSHRC PG The Archive/Counter-Archive: Activating Canada's Moving Image Heritage project led by Dr. Janine Marchessault and the Unsettling the Settler Artist: Reframing the Canadian Visual Arts project led by Dr. Erin Morton. Her article with Dr. Sarah E.K. Smith in the Journal of Canadian Studies “Unsettling Canadian Heritage: Decolonial Aesthetics in Canadian Video and Performance Art” was recently awarded the Best Peer-Reviewed Article Award by the Canadian Studies Network. She co-edited PUBLIC 54: Indigenous Art, the first special issue on global Indigenous new media and digital arts, and RACAR: Continuities Between Eras: Indigenous Arts (2017). She is an independent curator and was a curatorial team member of Abadakone at the National Gallery of Canada (2019). Taunton is currently working with Dr. Leah Decter on several collaborative publications on decolonial and critical settler methodologies for the cultural sector, including PUBLIC 63: Beyond Unsettling: Creative responses towards decolonizing futures. She is also working to lead a new collaborative research project, Curatorial Activism: Decolonizing Methodologies that aims to create new methodologies for galleries and museums that are grounded in principles of social justice, accountability, stewardship, and care through curatorial incubators.
Karin Cope is a Nova Scotia based settler poet, professor, activist and photographer who has logged months at sea with her partner, Marike Finlay, in remote coastal communities in Central America, Maritime Canada, British Columbia, the Arctic and the Baja California, while conducting collaborative research and developing poetic, scholarly and socially engaged bodies of work. Cope frequently works collaboratively, and has co-created numerous research, activist and artistic collectives and projects, including the Wild Art Shore Project, the Dimensional Poetry Project, the Rural Coastal Communities Project and the Art + Activism Collective, an interdisciplinary group designed to explore and develop relationships between art practice, scholarship, activism and social justice. Making use of the materials and media of installation, performance and photography, much of Cope’s work uses critical decolonial and environmental lenses to explore liminal states and the frayed and permeable boundaries between self and other, human and non-human, madness and sanity. She considers the question, for example, what does it mean to look at the world from the perspective of water? Cope’s publications include several collaborative volumes and blogs as well as the following solo projects: Passionate Collaborations: Learning to Live with Gertrude Stein (University of Victoria, 2005), a poetry collection entitled What We're Doing to Stay Afloat (Pottersfield, 2015), and, since 2009, a photo/poetry blog entitled Visible Poetry: Aesthetic Acts in Progress. Currently serving as both Chair of Art History and Contemporary Culture and the Director of the MFA Program at NSCAD, Cope is completing an archivally informed poetry, image and performance-based trilogy about seafaring, globalization and ruptured relationships entitled Ex votos for a broken world. One component of that counter memorial trilogy is an illustrated volume of poetry that explores complex, exploitative and sometimes shattered natural and human relations at the fringes of Mexico’s Baja California coastlines: Ghost boat of my heart sail for me.
Sobaz Benjamin, Founder and Executive Director of In My Own Voice (iMOVe) Arts Association, is a film-director, as well as community worker, advocate, mentor, program facilitator and educator. In 2009, he partnered with the Nova Scotia Justice Department to deliver his Life Story course the (Kintsugi Monologues: KM) at the Nova Scotia Youth Facility and in 2016 at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility. The KM has also been delivered at The Nova Scotia Community College. He was honored in 2014 by the Provincial Justice Department with a Minister’s Award for Individual Leadership in Crime Prevention. He has delivered workshops, seminars, presented and taught at a number of public schools and postsecondary institutions, as well as facilitating community-based projects around and beyond the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM). Sobaz has also received a Humans Rights Award for his work with youth, a Crime Prevention Award from the Province of Nova Scotia and film directing awards from the National Film Board of Canada and the Canadian Academy of Cinema and Television.
Aleksander Schwarz - member of the Rabbinical Commission for Cemeteries (Office of the Chief Rabbi of Poland), where he works as an expert on Jewish law (Halacha) specializing in cemeteries and burials. Responsible for defining historical boundaries of cemeteries and their burial zones and identifying mass graves of Jewish victims of the Holocaust, using forensic analysis and non-invasive methods such as GPR (ground penetrating radar), LIDAR analysis, aerial photos interpretation and synchronization of archival maps. He is a co-founder of Zapomniane Foundation dedicated to commemorating unmarked graves and killing sites related to the so-called ‘Holocaust by bullets’ - a process of mass killings happening outside the infrastructure of the camps, in the villages of Eastern Europe. In cooperation with the Matzevah Foundation (USA) in September 2017 he carried out a ‘practice as research’ project called ‘30 matzevot’, making experimental interventions in 30 unmarked sites of the Holocaust.
Aleksandra Janus - ethnographer and museologist, PhD candidate at the Faculty of History (Jagiellonian University in Cracow, Poland), researcher and activist. In her research she focuses on the politics of heritage, commemorative strategies related to traumatic historical events, social and cultural memory related to ‘difficult heritage’ (S. MacDonald) and local, vernacular memory practices. She is a head of Open Culture Studio at Centrum Cyfrowe - a think&do tank based in Warsaw, curator of ‘Laboratorium muzeum’ (Museum Lab) - educational programme for heritage professionals, member of Research Center for Memory Cultures at Jagiellonian University in Cracow, lecturer at the SWPS University in Warsaw, Faculty of Artes Liberales at the University of Warsaw and the Polish-Japanese Academy of Information Technology in Warsaw. Her research examines ‘non-sites of memory’ as material witnesses and the effect that uncommemorated places of violence have on the process of identity-building in local communities.
Aggrey Nyabang’a Mosinto bw’Agwata; n’Omogusii o’Bogirango rogoro who is conversant with Swahili among other contemporary Bantu sensibilities, an identity suppressed and unwelcome by dominant cultures and spaces in Kenya and outside. English is his third language, and the only colonial language he speaks but his existence is formed by Bantu ways of knowing and being. He describes his work as an audio-visual articulation of decolonization within neo-colonial contexts; a contribution to an ongoing body of work that resists the steady growth of those contexts into monocultural neoconservative spaces by highlighting direct translation of western cultures and concepts into neo-colonial contexts; the ongoing normalization of various forms of othering among other violent processes in post colonial Africa; and the challenges of representing multiple,- sometimes conflicting viewpoints from different communities in modern day East African art work and spaces. His work necessarily involves considering modern Academia and History as narrative constructs born out of the myths of western rationality and supremacy as embodied by North America.
Nathan Ferguson is an upper-year student at the University of King’s college, pursuing a Combined Honours degree in Contemporary Studies and Classics. His research interests include the aesthetics and politics of counter-memory, the history of psychiatry and the concept of traumatic stress, and the narrative structures of the Platonic dialogues. Outside of his studies, Nathan is a member of the Almon Street Dreams and Visions Interpreters’ Collective, and a volunteer at St. Georges’ YouthNet in Halifax.
Katie Lawrence is a fourth-year student at the University of King’s College and Dalhousie University pursuing an Honours degree in European Studies. Her undergraduate thesis examines the role intimacy plays in survival, as disclosed in testimonies by individuals in hiding and in the concentration camps during the Holocaust. Outside of her academics, Katie is an active participant in the Halifax film and theatre community, an English and German tutor at Dalhousie, and a volunteer at St. Georges’ YouthNet.
Kayla Rudderham (she/her/nekm) is a Mi’kmaq and white-settler researcher, artist, and curator from Unama’kik (Cape Breton, NS). Their current work explores themes of reclamation and Indigenization, as well as the relationships between humans and their natural environment. Kayla has an interest in fostering engagement between the public and museum collections, as well as the preservation of cultural practices and historical community objects. Since graduating from NSCAD University with B.FA in 2014, and from MSVU with a B.Ed in 2016, she has worked at the Museum of Natural History in Kjipuktuk (Halifax, NS). Kayla is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Art Education in Museum and Curatorial Studies from NSCAD University.
Lisa Wanda Omwandho is a filmmaker based in Nairobi, Kenya. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Nairobi and is currently undertaking a degree in Literature at Kenyatta University with future plans to focus on vernacular literature in East Africa. She has a keen interest in documenting indigenous writing systems, spiritual and medical practice, food (cultivation, preparation and preservation), rituals surrounding milestones and the social structures that kept it all in perfect harmony. She believes there is a need to re-map Africa and use knowledge from the past to brighten the future. Since 2012, Lisa has lived, worked and travelled through East Africa pursuing all aspects of the region’s heritage
with an aim to create content that opens minds.
Nyanguthii Maina is a Kenyan filmmaker based in Kenya. She started out in Theatre, eventually making her way to film and art. She has worked as a stage manager, casting director, assistant producer, writer, and director in both local and international productions. She also works part time as an art gallery manager of Art Space Kenya where she works with visual artists to create exhibitions and artist talks on recurring issues like Kenyan culture and heritage, the effects of politics in our day today society and so on. It is here that her search for identity began, questioning how Africa is represented to the world, and how this is affecting how Africa, and the need to correct that narrative. To do that she found that she has to look within to understand with-out. Her current film project on the Mau Mau (Kenya’s freedom fights) is the beginning of this genesis.
Brody Weaver (they/them) is a white-settler writer, researcher, curator, and artist based in Kjipuktuk (Halifax, Nova Scotia). Their current work explores how queer and trans* lives, bodies and histories navigate institutional lines, with special attention to the complicites of queer liberation within settler colonialsim. They use methods of participation, collaborative practise, and research-creation to examine queer memory-keeping activities, this term referring to a spectrum of activities from DIY community-based engagements that resist documentation to the 21st century's institutional Queer Museum. Brody is currently pursuing a BA in Art History and Contemporary Culture and a BFA in Interdisciplinary Arts at NSCAD University, with graduate coursework in Art Education.
Sage Sidley is the digital design researcher on this project. She is a settler originally from Rossland, British Columbia, and a recent graduate from NSCAD's MFA program in fine and media arts situated in K'jipuktuk (Halifax), Nova Scotia. In 2016, she earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a major in visual arts and a minor in mathematics at the University of British Columbia Okanagan. Sidley works with ideas of place and technology, in the form of expanded drawing, to explore the fluctuant roles of the observer and observed. She has attended artist residencies in Berlin, Germany and Inverness, Canada. She has held solo and group exhibitions in numerous public galleries throughout Southwestern B.C. and select galleries in Nova Scotia. For six years Sidley has taught drawing to all ages privately and in public institutions. Currently is a contract Drawing instructor at NSCAD University.
Lucy Boyd is completing a degree in History and Early Modern Studies at the University of King’s College. She was born and raised on unceded Algonquin Anishinaabe territory (Ottawa), and brings her lifelong passion for history and social justice to the Difficult Histories Database. Lucy is grateful for all of the insights, conversations, and opportunities provided by the members of Counter-Memory Activism group, and welcomes the chance to further reflect on the stories, past and present, in her community.
Sydney Wreaks is an Interdisciplinary visual artist of Kanien’keháka and euro-settler decent, currently living as an uninvited guest in Mi’gma’gi. They graduated with a BFA from NSCAD University in 2020, and are a 2023 MAED candidate. Their art practice moves between working within beading, painting, field notes/archiving, text based works, and are currently taking on projects including curating & Community based practices. Presently they have been using art as a way to challenge colonial ways of understanding histories and relationship to place & community. They are currently working with Counter-Memory Activism, a part of the Difficult Histories Database.