Present Past: Mediating Memory, Trauma and Autobiography in the Aftermath of the Nigeria-Biafra War

Chukwuma, Monalisa. 2024. Present Past: Mediating Memory, Trauma and Autobiography in the Aftermath of the Nigeria-Biafra War. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

My practice-based research investigates post-conflict memory concerning the Nigeria-Biafra war (1967-70), the impact of trauma on its survivors and their descendants, and the need to mediate and share this traumatic impact. In my practice submission, the film Portrait of an Unknown Woman (97 minutes, 2021), I bring personal voice and family history into relation with collective memory, image, and sound of an event that was repressed in the public constructions of Nigeria’s history. In making space for the repressed memories of ordinary people living through this conflict, my research addresses the long afterlife of trauma and its transmission down generations.

My research examines ethical and aesthetic issues relating to post-conflict trauma. These concern a filmmaker’s relationship with survivors and their testimonies, and the cinematic representation of traumatic experience, including inaccessible aspects of traumatic memory, and post and transgenerational trauma. Drawing on Ken Plummer’s “documents of life” approach (2001), and Avery Gordon’s theory of haunting (2008), my research engages material records including diaries – my mother’s and mine, family photographs, images from Biafran places and the war museum in Umuahia, Eastern Nigeria, and interviews with some Biafran war survivors.

However, I argue that there are limitations in relying on these memory referents as evidence to mediate traumatic memory and the continuing aftereffects of war. Experimental strategies such as dream work, cinematic blackness - the blackness of the screen without images, and fictional enactments were incorporated to enhance the realist strategies of participatory interviews, autoethnographic vignettes, and observational footage to mediate autobiographical traces, including the absence and loss around which I weave my trauma narratives. The marriage of these fictional and nonfictional strategies merges the past - memory and history with the present through the delicacy, and propulsive force of the imagination.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


Memory, trauma, autobiography, transgenerational trauma, postmemory, family history, personal and collective memory, cinematic mediation, cinematic Blackness, first person film, trauma cinema, Nigeria-Biafra war

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Media, Communications and Cultural Studies


31 January 2024

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

09 Feb 2024 11:53

Last Modified:

09 Feb 2024 11:53


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