SMMAC "Failed But Not Forgotten: Oil Media in Iraq Before 1958" & "Archival Regimes of Extraction: Contested Petromodernity in Iran and its Visual Undercurrents"

Le 03/11/2021

with Mona Damluji, University of California & Sanaz Shorabi, Concordia University

The stories we tell. Engaging archives otherwise – Contemporary Arab and Muslim Worlds Seminar Series (SMMAC) – 2021-2022

"Failed But Not Forgotten: Oil Media in Iraq Before 1958"

One the one hand, oil propaganda has endured the bet- ter part of a century. The images and messages crafted in the middle of the twentieth century by oil companies to celebrate industrial modernization in the Middle East continue to circulate on social media and in collective memory until today. On the other hand, these collections of photographs and films sponsored by oil companies in order to quell anti-imperialist sentiments among the general public in producing countries constitute an archive of failed projects. In this paper, I examine contradictions that emerge from engaging with the media archives of oil company public relations in Iraq, where the revolution in 1958 overturned the British-controlled Iraq Petroleum Company’s efforts to persuade Iraqi audiences that the company’s story of oil was also the story of their nation.

Mona Damluji is Assistant Professor of Film and Media Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. As a faculty fellow of the National Endowment for the Huma- nities (NEH), she is currently writing her first monograph, Pipeline Cinema, a history of how multinational petroleum companies shaped local cultural norms and global popular imaginaries of oil and the Middle East through film and media sponsorship in the twentieth cen- tury. Her publications appear in Urban History, Compara- tive Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Jadaliyya and elsewhere.

"Archival Regimes of Extraction: Contested Petromo- dernity in Iran and its Visual Undercurrents"

Investigating the relationship between petromodernity and photography and film as embodied technologies of visuality and eradication, this project unpacks the visual and cultural manifestation of this emergent image economy which operated in tandem with the larger petroleum complex. I ask: what visual analysis can we perform to understand the colonial nexus, beyond simply reiterating “the camera’s complicity in the subjugation of racial others?”. Following oil as an ethnographic phenomenon helps us connect and map different colonial tech- nologies of order and control. Addressing the question of the recovery of the subaltern voice in the context of photographic visibility in the archives, I seek to further reconsider what constitutes presence and absence once we move from the written to the visual document. By discussing my recent film One Image, Two Acts, I will address the formations of early modernist infrastructures of leisure vis-à-vis the broader social engineering project and asymmetries of power in the oil towns of South-Western Iran. I trace the paths in which the oil company’s visual regimes of petromodernity were reclaimed and countered by a growing anti-colonial cinema in which oil was a protagonist and cinemas had become the contested emblem of colonial development. In doing so, I seek to further reframe oil not solely as an exchangeable commodity but rather as an archive itself; one that constitutes a web of imaginations, aspirations, and struggles.

Sanaz Shorabi is a research-based artist, filmmaker, and a Fonds de Recherche du Québec Société et Culture (FRQSC) doctoral fellow at the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Society and Culture in Montréal. Her doctoral artistic research is conceived as a series of essay film and documentary-based installation mapping an unlikely geopolitical calendar of political affinities, competing and contradictory national projects wherein oil was both the agent of imperial power and the catalyst for anticolonial political projects, examining the ways in which oil was tasked to navigate the political task of nation-building on the one hand and transnational solidarity during the global decolonization on the other. Her work has been screened and exhibited internationally at 50th International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR), Montréal International Documentary Film Festival (RIDM), Sheffield Doc/Fest, IndieLisboa, Videonale 16 Bonn, Kasseler Dokfest (nominated for Golden Key Award), Images Festival, Centre Clark Montréal, and Beirut Art Center, among others. Sohrabi has been supported by fellowships and artist residency awards such as Forum Transregionale Studien Berlin, Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, RAW Académie, SOMA Summer School Ciudad de México, Est-Nord-Est résidence d’artistes, and Vermont Studio Center.

Full program here

Wednesday 3rd November 2021, 5:30pm

Online on ZOOM

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Contacts: Sahar Aurore Saeidnia & Omar Jabary Salamanca
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