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Organization, Regulations, and Courses 2022-23

ARTH 83.02 Contemporary Art: Disaster, War and the Ethics of Witnessing

This seminar focuses on the relationship between lens-based media and moments of catastrophe in order to think creatively about how both operate pictorally. What constitutes the category of catastrophe—as opposed to crisis, war, etc.—and how does that category structure but also exceed photographic representation? We will look at photographs and films that bear witness to massacres, genocides and terrorist attacks. Some of the case studies include Auschwitz, Hiroshima, Apartheid South Africa, the Vietnam War, the Palestinian Nakba, the Cambodian Genocide and the Lebanese Civil War. We will also look at the role images play in documenting more recent events such as the Gulf War, the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York, the 2011 earthquake in Fukushima, the Syrian Civil War and the European migrant crisis. Readings will take us through photographic history, critical theory, and art history. Our study will conclude in considering how artist themselves have theorized the place and purpose of photography and film in historical catastrophes.\\\\u2028Underlying the arc of our study are three interrelated categories of questions. These concern: 1) the relationship of aesthetics to ethics and politics; 2) the relationship of those models of visuality and visibility to subaltern ways of understanding history 3) the ways in which art relates to questions of alterity and agency, which is to say how art might speak to without speaking for the victims of catastrophy.

Degree Requirement Attributes


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