PANEL AND ARTIST TALK: Clear-Hold-Build-Archive

September 13, 7-9pm * Twelve Gates Arts * 106 N 2nd St, Philadelphia, PA 19106

Photo credit: Jelena Prljević

HEKLER, in collaboration with Twelve Gates Arts, presents Clear-Hold-Build-Archive, an artist talk moderated by curator Shimrit Lee with exhibiting artists Bisan Abu-Eisheh, Samia Henni, alongside Nora Elmarzouky, Manager of Friends, Peace, and Sanctuary Project at Swarthmore College. The panel will focus on the use of archives as an artistic medium with which to address the legacies of counterinsurgency.

In his 2004 book An Archival Impulse, art critic Hal Foster wrote: “Perhaps, like the Library of Alexandria, any archive is founded on disaster (or its threat), pledged against a ruin that it cannot forestall.” In zones of conflict, the “threat” of disaster plays out through forms of destruction and deconstruction—whether it be through the burning of books, films, and monuments by occupying forces, or via a sovereign, state-controlled archive that erases histories of marginalized people. In the context of counterinsurgencies that seeks to render occupied populations hyper-visible, archives have also been used a form of mass surveillance and control.

With an understanding that archives speak to and attempt to prescribe how future generations will understand the political realities of the present and the not-so-distant past, artists have drawn upon archival methods, or constructed their own archives, as a way to produce knowledge of individual and collective histories, and to reveal what has been erased or rewritten.


Samia Henni is Assistant Professor of History and Theory of Architecture and Urban Development at the Department of Architecture, College of Architecture, Art, and Planning at Cornell University. Her work in the exhibit, “Discreet Violence,” explores the territorial transformation of colonial Algeria through the use of archival records drawn from both state-generated propaganda, media reports, and private records.

Bisan Abu-Eisheh is a Palestinian artist living and working between Jerusalem and Glasgow, and currently completing his PhD at the University of Westminster. In his piece, “Playing House (Bayt Byoot),” Abu-Eisheh collects the belongings that have been left behind during the systemic house demolitions in East Jerusalem that are part of the Israeli military’s counterinsurgency strategy in Palestine. By meticulously collecting objects of daily life—shoes, toys, kitchen utensils, and CDs—Abu-Eisheh subverts bureaucratic information gathering techniques used by states to manage, track, and control populations.

Nora Elmarzouky is a cultural broker/organizer, who designs and facilitates programming on a range of themes such as cultural understanding, identity, Egyptian culture, education, immigration, arts and culture, storytelling, diversity and equity, philanthropy, and interfaith understanding, as well as writing and public speaking. A co-founder of collaborative, a collective of women dedicated to equitable, engaging, and inclusive urban spaces, she consults and evaluates alternative community engagement methods. RE-humanization and collective collaboration are central to her work, demonstrated currently through a variety of partnerships exploring energy democracy and the green economy as a framework for bottom-up community-driven development with Centennial Parkside CDC and managing Friends, Peace, and Sanctuary - a collaborative exhibitions project between Swarthmore College, book artists, and Syrian and Iraqi resettled individuals. She is a board member of YallaPunk, Barrio Alegria, and the East Parkside Residents Association; Impact100 founders fellow; and co-founder of PHL Niqash discussion group. 

Shimrit Lee is a Brooklyn-based writer, educator, and curator working at the intersection of visual culture, performance, and critical security studies. Her work examines how violence is perpetuated, packaged, and sold in contemporary culture, and the role of visual art and performance in decolonizing and building community. She has served as curator-in-residence at Residency Unlimited, editorial assistant at Creative Time, and curator at No Longer Empty’s Curatorial Lab, and is currently a member of HEKLER, an artist-run collaborative platform that fosters critical examination of hospitality and conflict. She has an MA in international human rights law from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, and recently completed a PhD in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at New York University. The exhibit “Clear-Hold-Build” is an extension of her dissertation research on the commodification of global counterinsurgency.

Samia Henni,  Discreet Violence: Architecture and the French War in Algeria.  Installation detail. Photo credit: Twelve Gates Arts and Sahar Irshad.

Samia Henni, Discreet Violence: Architecture and the French War in Algeria. Installation detail. Photo credit: Twelve Gates Arts and Sahar Irshad.