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The Light and Shadow of Historical Trauma


The Light and Shadow of Historical Trauma: Art as Visual Conscience of Society

The aim of this lecture is to show how the arts can expand the circle of connection with others to create zones of empathy at this time when human dignity and reverence for life are imperiled.

In the lecture, I will explore the aesthetics of trauma testimony through the lens of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and consider culturally specific moments through which traumatic memory was enacted at TRC hearings. By engaging a dialogue between the arts and the aesthetics of traumatic memory in the archive of the public hearings of the TRC, the lecture offers a conceptual framework for how the arts – with a focus on performance and visual arts – are a viable mechanism through which the unspeakable, traumatic past may be represented. Using video clips and audio recordings from the TRC, the lecture will show how a focus on the aesthetic of the TRC archive makes possible the translation of TRC testimony into the language of the arts. The final part of the lecture will explore how the encounter with art in witnessing trauma can become a site for fostering connection and solidarity across difference.