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Research The Groningen Research Institute for the Study of Culture (ICOG) Research Research centres Research Centre for Historical Studies (CHS)

Heritage and Memory - SHANADE BARNABAS: 'Vandalism as a form of visual sovereignty'

When:Fr 05-04-2024 15:00 - 17:00
Where:Room 1315.0048, Harmonie building

Heritage and Memory Network

We are delighted to invite you to our 2nd meeting on Friday the 5th of April from 3 to 5 pm at 1315.0048 (Harmonie building). During this meeting, we will listen to dr. Shanade Barnabas (GIA, Faculty of Arts) presenting her ongoing article “Vandalism as a form of visual sovereignty”, and we will discuss it afterwards.

Hannah Malone / History Department
Mayada Madbouly / Department of Middle Eastern Studies
Federica Marulo, Tino Mager, and Maja Babic / Department of History of Art, Architecture and Landscape


Visual sovereignty refers to indigenous groups’ authority in the imagery, representation, conservation and meaning-making around visual heritage belonging to them. Where it is often heritage ‘experts’ who are in control of such representation, visual sovereignty may afford indigenous and marginalised groups the opportunity to counter damaging, paternalistic, oppressive or merely incomplete narratives in favour of their own practices of cultural heritage preservation and representation. While visual sovereignty is often discussed in terms of making, with a focus on art, photography and filmmaking, this paper will discuss it in terms of unmaking. Vandalism—the deliberate destruction of, or performative reconstitution of, public art, monuments and/or statuary—has been used as a political tool to counter prevailing narratives of history, sometimes in favour of lesser known histories, and other times in favour of an entirely different narrative. It shows a clear break from authorised discourses, and depending on its content, vandalism may repudiate those discourses. Communicative vandalism, where a clear message or counter-narrative is offered, is a tool that can be used by marginalised indigenous groups, especially where they may have little recourse to much else, in the guiding of representation, conservation and meaning-making around visual heritage belonging to them. As such it is my argument that the conceptualisation of visual sovereignty should be expanded to include this unmaking.