Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Art and Visual Culture


Dr. Bridget Elliott


This dissertation looks at the limits and possibilities for the representation of political conflicts in the Middle East through the work of three contemporary artists: Emily Jacir, Eric Baudelaire, and Jafar Panahi. Situated within a moment of increasing uncertainty and global unrest evidenced by the continuing involvement of the United States in various wars in the Middle East, the rise of new terrorist formations like ISIS, and the ongoing geopolitical struggle between Israel and Palestine, to name but a few examples, three interrelated questions are taken up in this study: Given the increasing pressure placed upon truth claims and the documentary image, how can we reassess modes of signification and representation to redeploy them within our contemporary moment? What is necessary to make intelligible political positions that are traditionally kept outside of the political and representational realm, as is the history and demands of terrorist groups? How might we think through the relationship between specific material histories and the politics of representation?

With these questions in mind, chapter one looks at Emily Jacir's Material for a Film (2005-ongoing) and Material for a Film (Performance) (2006) which represents the history of Wael Zuaiter, a Palestinian assassinated in 1972. I argue that Jacir’s works engage with the propagandistic modes of representing the Palestinian struggle utilized in the 1970s by producing a material and narrative challenge to these modes. I contend that she accomplishes this by producing a ‘filmic installation’ that upsets the linear narrative of historical writing and the closed narrative arc of traditional documentary film.

Chapter two further investigates the linearity of historical narrative, documentary representation, and fragmented archival accounts through Eric Baudelaire’s installation and film The Anabasis of May and Fusako Shigenobu, Masao Adachi and 27 years without images (2011), a project which struggles over how to represent the history of the Japanese Red Army’s participation with the Palestinian Liberation Organization in a series of terrorist attacks. Rather than settling on one historical account, which could be read as sympathetic support or damning condemnation, I argue that Baudelaire instead produces three modes of historical explanation in order to shift his viewer’s focus toward the register of representational possibilities.

Chapter three pursues the question of censorship through Jafar Panahi's This is not a Film (2011). Made in Iran while Panahi was confined to house arrest and smuggled out in a USB drive hidden in a cake, I contend that Panahi puts his own oeuvre at the crux of his negation of film by creating an argument in This is Not a Film through appropriated footage from, and commentary on, his previous work.

The three chapters of my dissertation elaborate on my theoretical questions through a close engagement with the work. As each artist struggles over the terms of representing fraught political and material histories, I analyze the social and political stakes of their engagement with new narrative and representational modes.