Middle East Studies

Ariella Aïsha Azoulay

Professor of Comparative Literature and Modern Culture and Media

Ariella Azoulay (born 1962), Professor of Modern Culture and Media and the Department of Comparative Literature, Brown University.

Her books include: Potential History – Unlearning Imperialism (Verso, 2019); Civil Imagination: The Political Ontology of Photography (Verso, 2012); The Civil Contract of Photography (Zone Books, 2008); Aïm Deüelle Lüski and Horizontal Photography, Leuven University Press and Cornell University Press, 2013; From Palestine to Israel: A Photographic Record of Destruction and State Formation, 1947-1950, (Pluto Press, 2011); co-author with Adi Ophir. The One State Condition: Occupation and Democracy between the Sea and the River. Stanford University Press, 2012.

Among her potential histories, archives and curatorial work were shown in different places. Among her films: Errata (Tapiès Foundation, 2019, HKW, Berlin, 2020), Enough! The Natural Violence of New World Order, (F/Stop photography festival, Leipzig, 2016), Act of State 1967-2007, (Centre Pompidou, 2016, Arquivo Municipal de Lisboa Fotografico, 2020); Enough! The Natural Violence of the New World Order (F/Stop festival, Leipzig, 2016); "The Natural History of Rape" (Pembroke Hall, Brown University, 2015); The Body Politic [in Really Useful Knowledge, curated by What, How & for Whom / WHW], Reina Sofia, Madrid; When The Body Politic Ceases To Be An Idea, Exhibition Room - Manifesta Journal Around Curatorial Practices No 16 Potential History (2012, Stuk / Artefact, Louven), Untaken Photographs (2010, Igor Zabel Award, The Moderna galerija, Lubliana; Zochrot, Tel Aviv), Architecture of Destruction (Zochrot, Tel Aviv), Everything Could Be Seen (Um El Fahem Gallery of Art).

Among her film essays: Un-documented: Undoing Imperial Plunder (2019); Civil Alliances, Palestine, 47-48 (2012); I Also Dwell Among Your Own People: Conversations with Azmi Bishara (2004) & The Food Chain (2004).

Celebrating Independence, Awaiting Decolonization

The celebration of independence took place in the same site where the French exercised their first onto-epistemological violence and started to destroy the existing world and replace it with theirs. Not surprisingly, the new place was a clear bright square on which the military and the colonial state could perform their powers. Performing a seemingly poetic justice, the end of the colonial era was proclaimed at the site where it began. What was celebrated at that moment, however, was not the end of colonization but the conclusion of the Algerian revolution or war with a cease fire, and of two years of diplomatic negotiations with a bounding accord between “two sides.” two sovereign states.

The negotiations compelled the Algerian side to “subscribe unreservedly” to the secular principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The long negotiations were like a long rehearsal where the Algerians had to make theirs this French revolutionary language, which had sparked the French Revolutionaries wars. At the morrow of their 1789 Revolution, the French were convinced that their conception of freedom, rights and membership in the political community is the best, and were ready to implement them wherever they could. The result was the destruction of other cultures, the replacement of their centuries old formations with those of the French, and the extraction of much of their resources to finance their newly gained French territories and empire. Thus started the destruction of the Middle East and North Africa, notably Algeria.

One hundred thirty-two years of brutal colonization did not end in decolonization but rather in the handing over of power over the colonial state to the Algerian elites. The Evian negotiations imposed the foundation of a secular democratic state, in which and by which many are not included or protected. French statesmen and the soon-to-become Algerian statesmen had not necessarily agreed on the composition of the body politic of such a state, but rather on its malleable nature according to sovereign power’s interests, and on the sovereign’s right to determine who belongs where and who should be displaced.

The Jews were among the immediate victims of this transfer of power. Before 1830, there was no question that the Jews were part of the Muslim nation and are under its protection, sheltered within the category of dhima according to the Islamic law. With independence, Jews no longer had a place in the Algerian secular state and the Jewish Muslim life in Algeria, as old as Islam itself, was brought to its end.  The decolonization of Algeria was not completed and is still to be achieved. How to celebrate the independence and yet see in its images the signs of what still awaits decolonization? Kouaci’s photographs, juxtaposed with earlier depictions of this same site of celebration, will be the point of departure.