Women Mobilizing Memory

Women Mobilizing Memory

Project Directors: Marianne Hirsch, Jean Howard, Diana Taylor


Bringing together artists, writers, theater practitioners, museologists, legal scholars, social activists, and scholars of memory and memorialization, “Women Mobilizing Memory” focuses on the political stakes and consequences of witnessing and testimony as responses to socially imposed vulnerability and historical trauma. It probes how individual and collective testimony and performance can establish new forms of cultural memory and facilitate social repair. Using gender as an analytic lens, this project explicitly explores women's acts of witness and the gendered forms and consequences of political repression and persecution. It asks what strategies of memorialization and re-imagining are most effective in calling attention to past and present wrongs and in creating possibilities of redress.

The group studies literary texts, visual images, memorials, archives of oral history and performances in the broadest sense, including acts of protest and the work of activist groups.

Hosted by the Columbia Global Centers in Latin America: Santiago and Istanbul, Turkey, it brings together feminist artists, scholars and activists from Columbia and the New York area with colleagues from Chile and Turkey.


Workshop I:  Women Mobilizing Memory
December 15-19, 2013
Columbia Global Center Latin America, Santiago, Chile
Co-Directors: Marianne Hirsch, Jean Howard, Diana Taylor with Maria José Contreras, Soledad Falabella, Milena Grass

How are memories of historical violence passed down to later generations? During a five-day workshop, a transnational, interdisciplinary working group of feminist scholars, artists, theater practitioners, and activists will discuss this question in the specific context of Chile forty years after the coup and beyond. The working group will visit sites of atrocity, marked and unmarked, and will consider practices of memorialization and forgetting.  These visits will be supplemented by performances by Chilean theater groups and a public roundtable by Chilean and American artists discussing the memorial work of photography.  Through a series of short presentations and responses, the working group will analyze a number of interrelated questions: How do material sites transmit memory and history? Whose stories are included and whose excluded?  Specifically, what role do race, class, gender, and sexuality play in the construction of memory 40 years after the coup?  How do memory practices and aesthetics travel across the globe and how does the local intersect with the national and the global, the official with the unofficial?  Which are the more resistant memories that work as counter-powers to institutional and official discourses? If memory is embodied, how can it be transmitted to future generations? What aesthetic structures facilitate acts of memory transfer?  And what can the arts and the humanities offer policy makers who seek to build new democracies in the aftermath of historical violence?

In partnership with:

Workshop II:  Women Mobilizing Memory

June 21-28, 2014
Montreal, Canada
Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics Encuentro

The core working group met in a five-day series of discussions with scholars, artists and activists from throughout the Americas, to deepen its questions and theoretical frameworks in the context of the Hemispheric Institute’s Encuentro in Montreal. Guiding questions included:

From a feminist perspective and a consciousness of social difference, what forms of political efficacy does art enable/encourage/make possible? How might we think about the different temporalities of political activity and what do different media make possible? Does the circulation of affect alone cause social change? What are its uses?

In acts of scholarship and artistic creation what are the various uses of empathy, distance, identification, alienation, solidarity, accompagnante, witness? How are these different? What is the ethical relationship of the artist/activist/scholar to the pain of others?

How does one represent the slow violence of neoliberalism? Does the mobilization of memory enable us to see and respond to such violence?

Workshop III:  Mobilizing Memory for Action

September 15-20, 2014
Columbia Global Center Turkey, Istanbul, Turkey
Co-Directors: Marianne Hirsch, Jean Howard, Diana Taylor with Ayşe Gül Altınay

Building on the 2013 meeting in Santiago, “Women Creating Change: Mobilizing Memory for Action” explores the politics of memory in the aftermath of the atrocities of the twentieth century in comparative global perspective from the unique perspective of social difference. Focusing on the shaping role of gender in the structures of war, militarism and political violence, the working group analyzes the strategies by which women artists, scholars and activists have succeeded in mobilizing the memory of gender-based violence to promote redress, social justice, and a democratic future. Looking specifically at gendered memory politics in Turkey, and its Kurdish and Armenian communities, the group will analyze these in a broader comparative context.

At the same time, it will probe the limits of comparative and connective approaches to memory politics. It will also look closely at the political efficacy of various media of memory, ranging from visual art, literature, journalism and performance to museums, memorials, and street actions. What role do these various media play in combatting the erasure of past violence from current memory and in creating new visions and new histories for future generations? The collaborations among the participants in the working group aim to create a space of solidarity and connection and lay the groundwork for a more hopeful future.

The meeting will consist of an art exhibit and artist talks on “Mobilizing Memory: Women Witnessing” at DEPO Gallery in Istanbul; two theater performances and post-performance discussions; documentary film showings and discussions; and a series of working group and public roundtables over five days on memory, media, gender and activism.

The Istanbul workshop is sponsored by the Center for the Study of Social Difference; The Blinken European Institute; the Columbia Global Center | Turkey, Istanbul, Turkey; the DEPO Gallery, Istanbul; the Truth Justice Memory Center, Istanbul; Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Turkey; and the Gender Forum at Sabanci University.       

Workshop IV:  Collaboration and Co-Resistance

September 7-18, 2015
Columbia University and New York University, New York City
Co-Directors: Marianne Hirsch, Jean Howard, and Diana Taylor

The “Women Mobilizing Memory” working group brought together Chilean, Turkish, and U.S. scholars and graduate students, artists, writers, curators and journalists in Santiago and Istanbul and in September 2015 it will meet in New York bringing its questions to bear on memory politics, gender and social difference in the contemporary United States. 

The group will meet at Columbia and New York University to discuss work in progress; it will visit memory sites in Harlem and lower Manhattan; and will sponsor a number of public events. Public happenings include an exhibition at Leroy Neiman Gallery on “Intimate Archives: Connective Histories;”  artists’ performances and a roundtable discussion; a Wishing Tree commemorative public art ritual; and a one-day conference featuring various roundtable discussions on performance, art, and activism.

Links to the workshop, conference, and exhibit page can be found here