Archiving the present in Beirut’s southern suburb : memory, history, and power at Umam Documentation and Research
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Umam Documentation and Research, a private archive and non-governmental organization located in the Beirut’s southern suburb, states as its goal to “initiate collective reflection on the many different types of violence that plagued Lebanon’s past, weighs heavily on its present, and has [sic] the potential to influence its future as well.” This thesis seeks to interrogate the spaces and narratives that influence Umam D&R’s work as well as to analyze the forms and concepts in contemporary Lebanon that inform it. It begins with a description of the historic home, Villa Slim, in which the organization’s office and a large part of the archive are housed. From there, it shifts to focus on The Hangar and its relationship to the broader arts and culture milieu that emerged in Beirut following the Lebanese civil war (1975-91). Finally, it addresses questions of intention and authenticity in the production of history through a comparison between Umam D&R’s work and the art of Lebanese artist Walid Raad, which also focuses on constructing and archiving memories of Lebanese conflicts. Through these three spheres of Umam D&R’s work, I will explore the underlying currents of their project – to intervene in the dominant historical narrative through conceptual efforts grounded in the discourse of documents and facts. Just as specific spaces shape Umam D&R’s work, certain notions of “truth” and “history” effect the way they construct the past through their multifaceted projects, which engage the present by projecting images onto the future, attempting to spark possibilities.