CFP: Activist Images and the Dissemination of Dissent -- Deadline Jan 15 2019

Siona Wilson's picture
June 11, 2019 to June 13, 2019
Subject Fields: 
Art, Art History & Visual Studies, Colonial and Post-Colonial History / Studies, Communication, Human Rights, Cultural History / Studies


An Interdisciplinary Conference at Tel Aviv University, June 11-13, 2019

Call for Papers

Organized by:
Vered Maimon (Tel Aviv University) 
Siona Wilson (The College of Staten Island and Graduate Center, CUNY)

In the last decade the photo-reproductive image – both moving and still – has achieved a new value and prominence in grassroots political movements around the world. In addition to the massively increased quantity of images being produced, the networked technologies used for their dissemination are realized through citizen, or vernacular forms that suggest both embodied sensory immediacy and global connectedness. From the euphoric celebration of social media during the Arab Spring to the powerful means by which Black Lives Matter has mobilized citizen footage of police violence to activate a whole new chapter in Civil Rights history, the meaning, as well as the critical and political viability of such newly ubiquitous images remains deeply contested. While these networked infrastructures have produced new modes of often abstracted political collectivity, these political forms also come at a price. This new democracy of the image goes hand in hand with a disturbing integration of state and commercial forms of surveillance and data mining. The ever-expanding access to image production and dissemination by non-professionals is coextensive with the expansion of neoliberal forms of power into everyday life through, among others, the creation of different material and sensorial platforms for self-management. Paradoxically then, we might say that the significance of the visual within this new economy of the image has been displaced in favor of non-visual forms of circulation and mobility that are inextricably bound up with other kinds of political economies of capital and state power.

In this conference we will examine the strategies that artists and activists have devised to critically mobilize these new technologies of image production and dissemination. We seek to map the field of contemporary practice focusing on examples of political struggles within which the power of reproductive images resides not simply in what is seen in them, but more importantly in their operative mode of transmission, circulation and dissemination. It becomes necessary, we believe, to consider the performative rather than representational function of images within global visual culture. The different ways images are subject to highly complex acts of reinscription and repetition through which sovereign, economic and political strategies of possession (of public space, living environments and territories) and control (of subjects and communities) are challenged. 

What roles do images have in political struggles today when forms of agency are not always pre-given, but are enacted as part of actual lived experience and unfolding movements of alliance and antagonistic dissent? How do processes of circulation and dissemination both enable and undermine collective forms of affiliation? What specific mediums of public address, social modes of communication, and platforms of exchange and display are created and mobilized by activist groups?

At the same time, it is vital that we examine historical precedents for our current moment. Art historical approaches to the history of the activist image have tended to emphasize avant-garde examples with a particular focus on the Russian avant-garde and Weimar Germany. We are interested in examples, historical and contemporary, that address multiple geo-political sites and draw from diverse disciplinary and theoretical frameworks. What are the histories of vernacular activist photography? Looking at “worker photography” in the 1930s and the return to these forms in the 1960s and 1970s in the context of feminist, urban, national liberation and civil rights struggles, we see some interesting parallels with our current moment. What networks for image distribution were developed during anti-colonial and anti-apartheid struggles? Instead of the avant-garde focus on stylistic innovation, how was photography put to work as part of radical pedagogy, alternative news and history from below? How images are used, who they are disseminated by and to whom, and how they are shared within political communities often eclipses questions of representation. How might these histories of the activist image provide important precedents for, and insight into contemporary practices? 

Papers might address, but are not limited to, the following subjects and themes in relation to historical or contemporary examples:
1. Digital or analog archives: sharing, disseminating, storing
2 Communities and communication
3. Medium and mediation
4. Bodies, performativity, affect  
5. Embodied witnessing and documentation
6. Pedagogy and activism 
7. Participatory, vernacular and citizen photography: local and global perspectives
8. Spaces of dissent: rethinking public and political space
9. Temporalities of protest: the “now,” deferral, futurity  

How to apply:
Please submit the following: 500 word abstract describing your proposed paper; 300 word biography explaining your expertise in the topic (including, as relevant, research interests and publications) sent to, by January 15, 2019

Contact Info: 

Siona Wilson (The College of Staten Island and the Graduate Center, The City University of New York)

Vered Maimon (Tel Aviv University)

Contact Email: