“Performing the Politics of Memory: Grupa Spomenik, the Bosnian Genocide and the Articulation of Justice”

Sheikh, Shela. 2015. '“Performing the Politics of Memory: Grupa Spomenik, the Bosnian Genocide and the Articulation of Justice”'. In: Possibility Matters. Institute for Cultural Inquiry (ICI), Berlin, Germany. [Conference or Workshop Item]

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Abstract or Description

In their Pythagorean Lecture: Mathemes of Re-association (first performed in 2009), the art and theory collective Grupa Spomenik (Monument Group) take as their object of concern the role of forensic science in the process of the re-association of the dis-articulated, hence unidentified, mortal remains of the victims of the mass killings of Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks) in Srebrenica in 1995. While advances in forensic science and anthropology have undoubtedly contributed enormously to the search for justice and legal accountability, Grupa Spomenik’s work brings to light the potential co-option and instrumentalization of such evidentiary and reconciliatory technologies and the manner in which the treatment of the victims by internationally sanctioned, humanitarian responses at times comes dangerously close to mirroring that of the original perpetrators.

At the heart of this paper is a questioning of the status of evidence, produced by forensic science, in investigations into violations of human rights. Through a reading of the Pythagorean Lecture, I affirm a social, cultural and scientific performance, as a mode of emancipatory political practice and will, that brings together (articulates) science, anthropology and the arts, and that sets forward (again, articulates) a critique of the positivism espoused by legal and scientific institutions and at the heart of various regimes of ‘the governance of trauma’. Here, Grupa Spomenik’s practice is viewed as an unique lens through which to re-view forensics’ ‘matter of fact’ as a (Latourian) ‘matter of concern’. Central to the paper are two conceptual and material motifs: performance and articulation. In the work of the Forensic Architecture project, the practice of forensics is re-imagined as that of forensis, Latin for ‘pertaining to the forum’ and origin of the term forensics. Here, the Latin forum’s capacity as a potential space of politics is resuscitated. Evidentiary, inanimate objects necessitate animation, active interpretation and corroboration – the mediated speech (articulation) of what Roman rhetorician Quintilian called prosopopeia. In the case of the Pythagorean Lecture, the absent bones are quite literally animated and performed. Meanwhile, the deeply troubling fate of the dis-articulated remains of victims demands a re-consideration of that which takes place in and escapes from the space of articulation between subject and object, speech and writing (traces), testimony and evidence, affirmation and denial, truth and fiction, epistemological openness and closure, with this unlocatable space of in-betweenness here conceptualized through Derridean différance, or what Grupa Spomenik name ‘the stubborn remainder’. In this reading, Grupa Spomenik’s performance opens up a performative space of discourse that works to unhinge and complicate common assumptions about the application of contemporary (forensic) science within the realms of humanitarianism and the politics of memory.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Centre for Cultural Studies (1998-2017)


5 December 2015Completed

Event Location:

Institute for Cultural Inquiry (ICI), Berlin, Germany

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

17 Feb 2016 12:04

Last Modified:

01 Nov 2018 10:52



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