The abstract for the paper I will be giving at the American Anthropological Association Meeting next week:
Artistic expression can be a powerful means to challenge the hegemonic power structure and to imagine an alternative social and moral order. In this paper, I highlight the work of three Polish artists who experienced a moral awakening during the Solidarity Movement in the early 1980s which made them sensitive to the repression of memories of Poland’s multi-ethnic, multi-religious past. In the ensuing years, they have engaged politically through their art to expose what remains of Jewish material culture (such as synagogues, cemeteries, and photographs), and to bring back into the public sphere a recognition of the space Jews once filled in everyday life in Poland. This artwork is both documentary and affective; it is intended to simultaneously inform viewers and to generate in them deep emotional responses that encourage ethical reflection. Through various media, the artists seek to communicate that Jews were an essential part of Polish culture until the Holocaust, and also to give form to a collective sense of loss experienced after their violent removal. The cases examined are Wojtek Wilczyk’s photographs of former synagogues, called “There is no Innocent Eye,” Janusz Marciniak’s installations in the former synagogue in Poznan, and Andrzej Niziołek’s book Fira which traces the everyday life of a Jewish woman as revealed in her photo album of snapshots taken between the World Wars. These artists engage their moral selves to challenge political exclusion, public indifference, and antisemitism that until recently has kept Jewish spaces outside of everyday public and personal memories.
It’s part of a panel organized by Natasa Garic-Humphrey at UCSD:
The Politics of Indignation, Resistance, and Reconstitution of the Moral Self
This panel explores the intersections of governmentality, citizenship, political subjectivity, activism, ethics, and morality, and critically examines the importance of inserting “the moral self” within political theory to better understand how citizens come to confront political organizations and policies. Recent years have provided unprecedented examples of large-scale resistance, uprising, protest, and violent confrontation to authoritarian regimes, invidious state policies, and localized manifestations of neoliberal political-economics. To explain current confrontations to prevailing forms of state power, scholars have successfully highlighted the gaps between policy making from above and people’s on-the-ground experiences, resulting in citizens’ alienation from governmental ideologies, programs, and practices, while another line of research explored the various ways in which experiences of subjectivity and suffering are shaped within particular contexts of political economy.
This panel however, takes a closer look at the ways people manage to change their moral orientations within the context of hegemonic power and (re)make their moral selves to engage in and confront larger political and socioeconomic processes. How do specific situations, events, and visceral experiences in people’s lives evoke moments of self-reflection, engender reorientations towards the self, and inspire courses of action that cultivate a new sense of moral personhood? How does this experience of generating a new moral self shape one’s perceptions of government ineptitude and prepare them to engage in citizen-based action to confront political injustices and socio-political reforms? What motivates people to resist, initiate change, and form new senses of themselves as moral actors in the midst of stifling crises brought by socioeconomic and political transformations, war, genocide, fear, and other examples of structural violence?