The Art of Truth, History and Memory

“Some artists also make use of methods that amateur historians and ordinary citizens use, such as historical reenactment and
autobiography-…” – Dipti Desai and Jessica Hamlin (2009)

“But these methods also contribute a great deal to efforts to make sense of the past, and offer important strategies that teachers can use in classrooms to encourage students to engage with history in a thoughtful, critical manner…” – Dipti Desai and Jessica Hamlin (2009)

We can make sense of the present by making sense of the past. Dipti Desai and Jessica Hamlin discuss how art is enables us to make better sense of the past by using all our sense to knowing history. Artists who produce work in relation to the strategic use or archives incorporate sensual experience enhances the audience relationship to the history. Sensual experience through art also tends to effectively provoke a certain feeling or emotion to the event unlike perceiving archive merely as a collection of documents in a secured storage room. In other words, art can project the sentimental values of the past. As Alison Jagga suggests:

Just as observation directs, shapes, and partially defines emotions, so too emotion directs, shapes, and even partially defines observations. Observation is not simply a passive process of absorbing impressions or recording stimuli; instead, it is an activity of selection and interpretation. What is selected and how it is interpreted are influenced by emotional attitudes.

Chris Marker is an artist who produces cinematic essays that explore the notions of truth, memory and history. For example, one of his video installation work, The Hollowmen captures a haunting vision of the death and destruction of World War I along with T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Hollow Men,” written during the violent chaos of the early twentieth century. The combination of old photographs, the poem and melancholy piano composition delivers the notion of horror that once existed in the past.

Art is able to project a sense of time, place and memory from the past but the question about the truth remains uncertain. Archive, a collection of documents that are being secured may also appear to be secretive. Is it because of a certain ugly truth that cannot be revealed to the society? How can an artist reveal the truth through their artwork? Even if they do, can the audience be convinced about the truth? There is certainly no ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to these questions but artists are certainly able to convey the ugly truth to the public through aesthetic approach.

The picture above is a screenshot from a Japanese manga series by Keiji Nakazawa. This is based on Nakazawa’s own experiences as a Hiroshima survivor. This film as been described as a powerful statement against war. Nakazawa has managed to illustrate the real life horror in his fine piece of work. His work tells us the truth about the horrible effect of war on humanity. It maybe agonizing to watch but it is certainly worth watching it.

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This entry was posted in archival and historical art, kelly teh and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Art of Truth, History and Memory

  1. Pingback: Voicing of “Other” in history | thinking practices

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