Review: Notes on Visual Activism

Notes on Visual Activism Banner

A collaborative review of the Visual Activism Conference, hosted by SFMOMA at the Brava Theater, March 14-15, 2014. The symposium explored the relationship between visual culture and activist practices. My portion of the review focused on connections between a keynote address by Trinh T. Minh-ha and a panel in which artists and scholars discussed the challenges of representing displacement.


Once displaced, exiles can never successfully re-place themselves at the site from which they were separated. As artist Michelle Dizon noted during the “Displacement” panel, “displacement is not only a spatial violence, but also a temporal violence.” Because of the temporal lapse that stretches from the moment of departure, the idea of home no longer occupies the physical space where it originated. The exile can, in effect, never return.

This does not necessarily render exiles powerless, as Trinh T. Minh-ha pointed out in her keynote address. Laying the groundwork for the discussion about the politics of displacement that was to follow, she suggested that power relations equate the visible and the present with power, and the invisible and the absent with subjugation: “The question is not so much to render visible the invisible, an agenda previously dear to the struggle of women and of marginalized people. Rather, the question is how to work with the invisible within the visible.”

This struck a note that resonated with my own diasporic origins, and was a point to which the three other artist–panelists (including Dizon) would return. Rather than address displacement by calling for a return to place, they discussed how their projects created—through various combinations of image and narrative—new spaces that either articulate a different kind of presence or recognize the power of an absence.

Read the full review, published by Art Practical in April 2014.