I recently fell head over heels in love with an online platform called Creative Memory (The Creative Memory of the Syrian Revolution). The website’s approach to archiving memory while simultaneously disseminating its collection online is highly innovative but more importantly takes the longevity of the project into account as well. While visiting Beirut this summer, I had the pleasure to interview the founder of Creative Memory, Sana Yazigi.
Creative Memory is a web-based project that “aims to archive all the intellectual and artistic expressions in the age of (the Syrian) revolution; it is writing, recording, and collecting stories of the Syrian people, and those experiences through which they have regained meaning of their social, political and cultural lives.” (CreativeMemory.org 2017)
The website was initially launched in 2013 with a total of 200 documents. As of today, in the summer of 2017, this number has increased to over 27-thousand single items. Creative Memory publishes all its content in Arabic, English and French and openly invites external contributors to add their artwork by uploading it to the site. It offers multiple entry points to the archived material and differentiates between twenty categories ranging from paintings and graffiti to photography, sculptures and online publications. The separate section Story of a Place lets the visitor browse through an interactive map that connects the collected documents to real world geo locations and provides short background information on the sites themselves. Each archived element provides information about the author, the date and place of production and, if applicable, a link to the original source. Sana indicates that by adding context to a single document, different stories can be linked together and generate new meaning: “Suddenly you have more than the visual work, instead you are provided with a story. So you have the work itself and the story behind it – the work and the human. This is what I am most interested in – that this work is representing the human side of us. And regarding the visual aspect – it’s simply easier to grasp and provides wide access to everyone.”
As MacDougall (2005) so fittingly pointed out, the visual is able to offer us “pathways to the other senses and to experience more generally” and that particular knowledge is neither transparent but rather “stubborn and opaque, but with a capacity for the finest detail”. The multiplicity and sheer amount of media collected by Creative Memory offers the visitor infinite ways of how to perceive and analyze these specific moments in history. Sana describes one of the aims of this project is to form a “parallel memory” of the Syrian revolution. The visitor is given the opportunity to remember recent events through different forms of artistic expressions: “On the website you don’t see barrels falling from the sky but you see a painting about the barrels. Or you can find a sculpture of a barrel. We are in fact talking about the same reality, but from a different point of view. And we are not talking about a ten-year process of producing these paintings. No! Ordinary people will go outside and draw something about chemical weapons onto their walls.” Sana and her team’s objective is to collect these traces of memory, make them accessible to the public and hence provide a counter narrative to local governmental news and Western media outlets: “If you don’t speak out and actively document everything, you are left with only one version of what happened – and this is the official version. Or it’s the version of whoever won. But what really happened is of no interest to anyone. So I think it’s helpful for the conscience of the Syrians to keep trace of every single incident.”
The most outstanding characteristic of the platform is its immediacy in relation to current developments in Syria. Real-time documentation of artistic output has the effect of compressing time between the incident itself and its representation, dissolving the boundaries between the past and the present as understood by Huyssen (1995). Furthermore, the website has the potential to give way to a variety of research projects using multitemporal approaches to history, memory and heritage. Multitemporality refers to “ways in which the past was multiply encoded, recorded and transmitted at different points in time” as delineated by Macdonald (2013).
Looking to the future, Sana would like Creative Memory to be a source for various research and artistic projects and hopefully be constructive for anyone who wants to learn more about this specific time in Syrian history: “I want to invite people to look beyond and to take a deep look into the Syrian society. Sometimes I imagine a history book illustrated by all these visuals. For example, you will have the chemical attacks of 2013 represented in the form of caricatures, paintings and sculptures – and every single element comes with a separate story. So all this effort of collecting and documenting may help to create a parallel way of telling history.”
A selection of the archived material is currently displayed at the La Manufacture in Avignon, France as part of the exhibition The Creative Memory of the Syrian Revolution. The graffiti (Fig3) shown above is one of Sana’s personal favorites among the various documents that can be found on the website and was photographed in Homs in 2015: “I am here… This is my trace… A moon will rise from my darkness…“. The words are taken from the poem “Halib Enana” (Enana’s Milk) written by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish.
I want to sincerely thank Sana Yazigi for agreeing to this interview and sharing her insights and stories with me.
Creativememory.org. 2017. About us. The Creative Memory of the Syrian Revolution. Accessed July 18 2017. http://www.creativememory.org/?page_id=134.
Huyssen, Andreas. 1995. [(Twilight Memories : Marking Time in a Culture of Amnesia)]. Taylor & Francis Ltd.
Macdonald, Sharon. 2013. Memorylands: Heritage and Identity in Europe Today. London ; New York: Taylor & Francis Ltd.
Macdougall, David. 2005. Corporeal Image: Film, Ethnography, and the Senses. Princeton, N.J: University Press Group Ltd.