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‘THE REAL AND THE ABSENT’ Gatherings on oral tradition and collective memory

June to September 2019

“Anything that I have to say,
that’s because a whole bunch of people,
a whole bunch of history,
a whole bunch of things sent me
to say it.” — Fred Moten

Francisca Khamis (PS/CL) is an interdisciplinary designer who, during her residency at Disarming Design from Palestine, will set up 4 collective meetings to work and research on the topics of oral tradition and collective memory. The gatherings are designed for students, young scholars, independent researchers and culture and tradition enthusiasts who would like to introduce oral history in their practice and also record and preserve and share unwritten stories.

The sessions overviewed methods and exercises on oral tradition, including collective readings and screenings on the topic, and different exercises to explore the notion of memory and collective memory. Collective memories highlight relationships that allow a crossing and intermingling between differences. The participants explored the world as a network of interacting memories, stories and communities, though with a specific understanding of the different experiences that must underline the (hi)stories.

During the gatherings, they also reflected on the potentialities of images, approaching different mediums for creating a common experience, taking the stories that they collected as a starting point. The group considered film, performance, audio, photography, and writing as means of resistance, and tools to generate new critical forms, materials and ideas.

Each session started with a text or a film on the subject of memory, oral tradition and listening, creating a context for the exercises that they work on during the second part of the session. These exercises allowed the participants to embody some of the discussed topics and also to translate this knowledge into different outputs.

At the end of the 4 gatherings, the group created a collective exhibition where they shared all the different stories collected, that took place in Hosh El-Etem, in the old city of Birzeit.

Session 1: Holding memories. Stories of displacement and Oral Tradition as a way as knowing.

How can we reflect, integrate and interact with oral tradition? What tools do we need to understand the experience of another? Who am I listening to? — We explored the notions of listening and understandings of our past and ancestors as part of our present, working on listening exercises based on the task of deep listening by Pauline Oliveros.

Session 2: Objects of memory and Storytelling as a strategy.

Reflections on the notion of memories linked with specific objects and the importance of storytelling as a strategy of resistance. Each participant shared with the group one object that is important for her/him. We centered our listening around the object. How can it allow us to ‘see history’ and help us remember? How are we translating these memories and stories into coherent narratives?

Stories are an essential part of our individual and collective identity, the stories we tell about ourselves and the stories other people tell about us, define us.

What does it mean to frame our lives or other lives and situations like this – as an unfolding story moving towards resolution? What does it mean to make the chaos of our experience cohere into a single story? Is it essential to be in possession of a full and explicit narrative to develop as a person or as a group?

Session 3: Walking to remember. Exploring subjective memories in the public space.

We explored the interconnections between walking, listening, space and oral history in the context of what could be termed ‘memorial audio walks’, about memories that are related to a specific site. The participants experienced some of these questions and concepts through their own bodies, through a series of short practical exercises. Altogether, they were introduced to different approaches to oral history performance, and to some of the key artistic, ethical, and methodological questions.

Session 4: Collective narrative

Does a performance of memory need to include words? When is it necessary and appropriate to re-present someone else’s oral history testimony? What roles do listening, remembering and going public play in the performance of oral history?

In this session we worked altogether in order to create a space that gathers all the stories and outputs shared during the previous sessions, creating ways to present them into a specific space, working as a collective.

The exhibition was presented in Hosh El-Etem, in the old city of Birzeit, open to the public during September 2019.


Francisca Khamis (CL / PS) is an Amsterdam-based interdisciplinary designer, who focusing on the cases of diaspora, explores the mobility between reality and fantasy of the immigrants’ memory based on her family story (originally from Beit Jala and Bethlehem) and how this leads to new realities around personal identities. Francisca is currently working in collaboration with Tina Reden and Davide Sanvee in the project In between worlds, where they zoom in on alternative ways of knowing and the task of listening as a strategy to breaking open the modern control over a singular narrative and chronology. She has been invited as designer-in-residence at Hosh Jalsa from june to september 2019.

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