In recent years theorists and practitioners of memory have increasingly turned their attention to memory’s “other,” forgetting or oblivion. At best a secondary concern during the “memory boom” of the 1980s and 1990s, the phenomenon of forgetting commands widespread interest these days, not only in academic circles but also in the art world and across society.

Prominent memory scholars such as Paul Connerton, Aleida Assmann, and Paul Ricœur insist on the need to differentiate between different types or forms of forgetting, some constructive, others destructive. The anthropologist Ann Laura Stoler has famously put forward the concept of aphasia as an alternative to forgetting to describe European nations’ problematic relationship with their respective colonial histories. In a much-talked-about book, the journalist David Rieff provocatively calls for a rehabilitation of forgetting as a worthy pursuit. Memory loss is being studied as a major symptom of dementia, arguably the signature illness of this era of big data and information overload, which could yet become known as a “digital Dark Age” to future historians due to the ephemerality of born-digital materials. Responding to what seems to be the opposite fear, a ruling by the European Court of Justice has enshrined a “right to be forgotten” in EU law, giving EU citizens the right to have their personal data erased under certain circumstances. Meanwhile, numerous artists and activists have been investigating, documenting, and protesting processes and practices of forgetting, erasure, denial, and repression, often in response to official attempts to impose a hegemonic version of a contested past and to suppress, silence, or marginalize dissenting voices.

Featuring keynote lectures by Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela and Michael Rothberg, the international symposium “Arts of Oblivion” will bring together scholars, artists, and activists to discuss how, why, and to what effect contemporary culture addresses issues of forgetting in relation to a diverse range of individual as well as collective histories of violence, trauma, and illness. The programme will include a mix of presentations, interviews, roundtables, and film screenings, and allow ample time for discussion and interaction.

The symposium is organized by KASK – School of Arts in collaboration with the Cultural Memory Studies Initiative (UGent), CiAsp (Université libre de Bruxelles) and TAPAS: Thinking about the Past (UGent).

Organizing committee

Jelena Jureša
Marte Van Hassel
Stef Craps

The symposium is one of the outcomes of the KASK-funded research project Unfolding Amnesia: An Interdisciplinary Inquiry into Artistic Practices and the Politics of Oblivion. 

In Unfolding Amnesia: An Interdisciplinary Inquiry into Artistic Practices and the Politics of Oblivion the visual artist and filmmaker Jelena Jureša investigates the politics of oblivion in relation to the construction of a homogeneous national identity. Three traumatic pasts of the twentieth century in the European context are at stake- the negation of war crimes after the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the construction of a new national identity in Serbia and Republika Srpska, the construction of a national identity in Austria after the Anschluss, and the construction of a Belgian identity in the aftermath of its colonial past. The research project is supervised by Lars Kwakkenbos (Kask – School of Arts, 2017-2019). The inquiry is based on research previously taken during Jureša’s doctoral studies (2014-2018) at UGent and KASK (mentored by Christel Stalpaert, Berber Bevernage, Jasper Rigole and in consultation with Aneta Stojnić and Johan Grimonprez). Currently, Jureša continues her research  line within the project: Revolt! On a Refusal to Sing—Thinking Resistance Through Music, Waste and Complicity (2020-2026).