Saturday, 12 April 2014

Radical Archives conference at NYU

I'm in New York City to attend the 'Radical Archives' conference presented by the Asian/Pacific/American Institute at NYU, curated by Mariam Ghani and Chitra Ganesh, and held on 11-12 April in the NYU Cantor Film Centre. As the first "archival" conference I have attended I was interested to see how its concerns intersected with my own approach to thinking about the DIY practices and processes of the institutions that are the focus of my research, particularly because the conference was focused on activist archives. 

Of course, on seeing the program it was immediately clear that this was a conference about capital R radicalism - with papers about archiving such things as the Egyptian uprising, the Portuguese dictatorship and revolution, Occupy Wall Street, the Palestinian National Movement, the National Alliance of Black Feminists and so on. The work being undertaken at DIY archives and museums of popular music, though no less important, seemed to quickly pale in that context. Yet there was still much to take away from the papers I saw on the first day. And as I posed on Twitter: 'Radical archives are not always DIY archives, but are DIY archives always radical?'

In particular I enjoyed the paper given by Professor Anne Gilliland (UCLA) on 'A Platform for Radical Archival Description'. As Gilliland noted "archives are responsible for how people are characterised in the public mind" and so a politics of the archive is critical. For Gilliland the principles that guide radical archives are "access, democracy, love, and solidarity". Community archives, including the DIY music archives in my own research, are characterised by "alternative epistemological and value systems". Gilliland presented a comprehensive list of archival ethics towards the end of her talk but my feeling is that the adoption of such a code of ethics is a long way off in authorised/official/national collecting institutions. During question time, pearls of wisdom continued to be delivered by Gilliland namely around the emphasis on a social justice mandate for researchers of archives.

I'm now looking forward to reading Gilliland's latest book Conceptualizing Twenty-first Century Archives (Chicago, IL: Society of American Archivists, 2014)

I live tweeted from the conference so for more thoughts on the Radical Archives conference check out my Twitter feed: @__sarahbaker__