Investigating commemorative and memorial uses of personal, non-professional images in the digital age in the Global South

Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts, University of Sussex

4th and 5th September 2018

The commemorative and memorial use of personal, private images in the context of large-scale violence and death has a long history. Private images have been continually employed to access worlds that no longer exist, to de-anonymize, individualize or humanize victims, to identify murderers and the murdered, to evidence contested events and to prove the existence of life before death. They populate archives, memorials and museums, places of public protest and, increasingly, myriad regions of the internet.

The private photographic archive has been an important part of what Paul Williams calls the “global rush to commemorate” (2007), starting, arguably, with the attempts to memorialize the Holocaust.

Yet in this movement from the private to public, from intimacy to historical significance, private images undergo transitions (including for example displacement, re-contextualization and politicization) in a manner that raises critical challenges for both commemorative practices and those to whom the images initially belonged. To what extent, as some scholars have argued, does this use of private images become part of a trend to globalize and homogenize commemoration, such that local contexts are overwritten?  Similarly, where are issues of access, copyright and meaning addressed, particularly with the rise of the digital, and state-controlled, centralized memory-making?

This two-day symposium at the University of Sussex aims to explore real and perceived changes in the relationship(s) between private still images and the memorialization and commemoration of mass violence – including trauma – with a particular focus on practices in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and South and Central America in the digital age. Our latter emphasis on the digital is in response to the ways digital and social media are now arguably dominant in both personal and institutional commemoration, affecting all stages of image curation from archiving and scanning to display. As part of Sussex’s interdisciplinary ethos, we are particularly interested in exploring intersections between theory and practice.

Keynote speakers:

  • Professor Ludmila da Silva Catela (Universidad Nacional de Córdoba, Córdoba Museum of Anthropology, Archivo Provincial de la Memoria) 
  • Claver Irakoze (Rwanda Genocide Archive/Aegis Trust Rwanda)
  • Professor Elizabeth Edwards, FBA (De Montfort University)
  • Dr Gil Pasternak (De Montfort University)
The symposium will also feature a free screening of The Faces We Lost (2017) a documentary film about memorial and commemorative uses of private photographs in Rwanda followed by a Q&A with the director.
To consult the provisional programme visit the Programme Page.


For more details of how to attend and participate please visit the Registration Page.


The symposium is funded by the British Academy.