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Disturbing Pasts: Memories, Controversies and Creativity

We are pleased to announce a two-year international research project led by Dr Leon Wainwright (The Open University, UK) and funded by HERA (Humanities in the European Research Area, the European Science Foundation), which commenced in December 2011.

‘Disturbing Pasts: Memories, Controversies and Creativity’ brings together artists, photographers, curators, policy makers and academics from around the world, with the aim of networking with one another and exploring creative engagements with controversial and traumatic pasts in art practice, curating and museums.

Personal item recovered from mass graves and photographed on forensic table. Photo by Ziyah Gafic
Image copyright: Ziyah Gafic. Tuzla, Bosnia, December 2009. Personal item recovered from mass graves and photographed on forensic table. Photo by Ziyah Gafic / VII network.

Our theme:

Traumatic pasts have complex and often dramatic influences on the present. In many countries, legacies of war, colonialism, genocide and oppression return again and again to dominate contemporary politics, culture and society. The controversies surrounding traumatic pasts can shape policy, make or break governments, trigger mass demonstrations, and even spark violent confrontation. These pasts also inspire rich visual and creative responses, through which the past is remembered, remade and challenged, and the public space of the modern museum is the primary venue for these responses.

‘Disturbing Pasts’ marks a collaboration between three HERA-sponsored research consortia drawn from universities throughout Europe, in partnership with the Museum of Ethnology, Vienna. They are:

The project has generated audio-visual material made available through the Open Arts Archive and a collection of writings and original artworks published as a special issue of the Open Arts Journal.

Project conference

From the 20th to 22nd November, 2012, the Museum of Ethnology, Vienna, hosted our project conference. You can download the final programme, which includes abstracts and biographies, in PDF format [2.5 MB]. Download the poster [PDF, 319 KB].

Conference speakers included artists, curators, policy-makers and academics:
Peju Layiwola, Dierk Schmidt, T. Shanaathanan, Christopher Cozier, Rita Duffy, Paul Lowe, Rafał Betlejewski, Joanna Rajkowska, Heather Shearer, John Timberlake, Shan McAnena, Bente Geving, Wayne Modest, Liv Ramskjær, Maria Six-Hohenbalken, Margit Berner, Clara Himmelheber, Maruska Svasek, Fiona Magowan, Uilleam Blacker, Sigrid Lien, Susan Legêne, Anette Hoffmann, Erica Lehrer, Simon Faulkner, Carol Tulloch.

Committee members for the project include:

Dr Leon Wainwright (The Open University, UK), Dr Barbara Plankensteiner (Museum of Ethnology, Vienna), Dr Maruska Svasek (Queen’s University, Belfast), Professor Elizabeth Edwards (De Montfort University, Leicester), Professor Alexander Etkind and Dr Uilleam Blacker (University of Cambridge). More information about the research project committee [PDF, 100 KB].


The project '‘Disturbing Pasts: Memories, Controversies and Creativity’ is financially supported by the HERA Joint Research Programme which is co-funded by AHRC, AKA, DASTI, ETF, FNR, FWF, HAZU, IRCHSS, MHEST, NWO, RANNIS, RCN, VR and The European Community FP7 2007-2013, under the Socio-economic Sciences and Humanities programme.

The Open University

Museum fur Volker Kunde

HERA - Humanities in the European Research Area

Seventh Framework Programme