EUME Berliner Seminar
Mi 24 Jun 2020 | 14:00–15:30

Art in War: Cultural Heritage and the (Legal) Codification of Forgetting

Banu Karaca (EUME Fellow of the VolkswagenStiftung 2019/20), Chair: Lamia Moghnieh (EUME Fellow of the Fritz Thyssen Foundation 2019-21)

The art plunder and destruction accompanying the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria together with increasing calls to decolonize museums and recent developments in the restitution of Nazi-looted art have brought about renewed attention to the role of artworks in armed conflict. While the majority of these inquiries highlight the capacity of art and heritage to mobilize memory and to serve as conduits for historical justice, this presentation examines them as sites at which forgetting is established materially, conceptually and legally. Taking as its point of departure her ongoing research on the ways in which art expropriated in episodes of state violence against non-Muslims in the late Ottoman Empire and the early Turkish republic has shaped the writing of (post-)Ottoman art history, Banu Karaca's presentation traces how the material conditions of forgetting have been reproduced through (art) historical narratives and archival practices that are unable to capture the stories of lost, displaced and dispossessed art. The second part of the talk focuses on how the “present absence” of dispossessed art is mirrored in the legal realm. It shows how art dispossessed in the late Ottoman Empire and the early Turkish republic falls through the cracks of existing provisions against crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the conventions on looted art that have been elaborated by UNESCO and the EU. In doing so it dwells on the persistent contradictions, blind spots and the codification of forgetting that characterize legal provisions intended to safeguard art and heritage in times of war and violence.


Banu Karaca works at the intersection of political anthropology and critical theory, art and aesthetics, nationalism and cultural policy, museums and feminist memory studies. She holds a PhD from the Graduate Center, CUNY. Her recent publications interrogate the freedom of expression in the arts, the visualization of gendered memories of war and political violence, and visual literacy. She is the author of The National Frame: Art and State Violence in Turkey and Germany (Fordham University Press, Fall 2020) and co-editor of Women Mobilizing Memory (Columbia University Press, 2019). She is the co-founder of Siyah Bant, a research platform that documents censorship in the arts in Turkey. She has been Visiting Assistant Professor of Cultural Studies at Sabanci University and Faculty Fellow at Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Social Difference and held fellowships in the Art Histories and Aesthetics and Europe in the Middle East – The Middle East in Europe (EUME), research programs at the Forum Transregionale Studien, Berlin. She is currently a EUME Fellow supported by the VolkswagenStiftung through its funding initiative “Original – isn't it? New Options for the Humanities and Cultural Studies”.

In accordance with the measures against the spread of the coronavirus, this seminar session will be held virtually. Depending on approval by the speakers, the Berliner Seminar will be recorded. All audio recordings of the Berliner Seminar are available via the account of the Forum Transregionale Studien on Soundcloud.

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