Working anonymously, Abounaddara is a filmmaking collective that produces videos about individual Syrians on all sides of the current conflict. The work depicts daily life in a society wracked by atrocities. As self-styled “emergency cinema,” the group seeks to transcend mainstream war reporting by making use of both the wide reach and anonymity afforded by online video platforms. Each week videos are posted as missives in the fight for freedom and dignity of all Syrians—implying that the Syrian crisis is far from “local” or “isolated,” but rather a matter of global concern and global doing.
On October 22, 2015 Abounaddara was awarded the The New School’s biennial Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics. What follows is a portion of their acceptance speech.
Thank you for honouring Abounaddara, the anonymous Syrian collective that I am here to represent. But I should now tell you the truth: we distrust honours!
We distrust honours because we try to be revolutionaries. And honoured revolutionaries are generally retired, dead, or compromised.
We also distrust honours because, as anonymous filmmakers, we want to find an alternative to the model of the star artist who basks in his fame rather than humbly dissolving in the midst of society.
Finally, we distrust honours because our society expects us to defend its honour, rather than to be, ourselves, honoured.
But we have nonetheless chosen to embrace the honour bestowed on us by The New School’s Vera List Center, because we would like to join our fight to yours. Because we have to fight together the enemy that threatens Syria’s future and the world’s.
This enemy is far more dangerous than the regimes of Bashar al Assad or the Islamic State, both of which are systematically destroying Syrian society. This enemy is indifference: the indifference with which the world watches the crime against humanity that has been broadcast by the media, practically on a live feed, from Syria since 2011. This is nothing other than the “banality of evil” against which a professor of The New School, Hannah Arendt (may she rest in peace), warned us not so long ago.
Since 2011, our collective has not wavered in its mission to uncover, probe, and denounce the banalisation of evil in Syria. The global media, whether intentionally or not, has contributed to this banalisation. And today, the world finds itself in a situation much like that of the villages neighbouring Nazi concentration camps, where people carried on their normal lives, unperturbed by the smell of the cremation ovens.
What to do, then, when we are faced with this enemy who attacks that which we hold most dear, dignity? We, the Abounaddara Collective, call for the recognition of the right of every human being to a dignified image, in accordance with the preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As a collective, we have already proven that this right is compatible with the freedom of information, as we produce one film every Friday since the start of the revolution, presenting the many aspects of the lives of Syrians—films that deal with the indignity of our present without ever replicating that indignity on the screen.
But our call for the right to a dignified image is still not being heard. Because our voice is too weak to be heard by the media industry and its backers, the advertisers, who shape the Syrian image today.
If, then, you really seek to honour us, help us to construct the balance of power that will be conducive to recognizing our right to a dignified image. Help us to change our image in your media, if you want to help us change our regime. Help us here and now, or leave us in peace to pursue our lost revolution.
The exhibition Abounaddara. The Right to the Image is currently on view at The New School and ends November 11, 2015.