Jeff O’Brien

The University of British Columbia, Canada

Jeff O’Brien is an art historian completing his PhD at The University of British Columbia, Canada.

The Right to be Seen: Archiving Absence After Nakba in Palestine and Lebanon (1970-2016)

"My research queries the work of contemporary artists in Palestine and Lebanon who—after the 1948 Nakba that displaced 700,000 Palestinians from their homeland, and Lebanese Civil War(s) of 1975-1990, whereby 18,000 people in Beirut were deemed “disappeared”—attempt to make visible these populations and their histories. I consider how numerous artists in Palestine and Lebanon employ similar conceptual models and visual strategies, notably the construction of counter-archives, in response to questions of memory, trauma, and absence. Specifically, I ask: How does one archive the immaterial, the absent, the inaccessible at times of crisis? How does one make visible disappeared and displaced populations? My dissertation attends closely to the historical, material conditions in Palestine and Lebanon that overlap and provide insight into the historiographic demands placed on artists. By placing an emphasis on the ruin, the residual material fragment, I argue that one can begin to articulate the possibility of archiving what is absent yet spectral, and what some have referred to as an “absent present” (M Darwish), a “latent image” (J Toufic, K Joreige and J Hadjithomas), an “object in absentia” (W Sadek), a “night visibility” (J Derrida)."

--Jeff O'Brien, 2018.