Manal: Hi May! So in response to a question you posed last month, your wishful thought of including our collaboration as a tangible part of the project rather than having it defined as part of the process...
I think our collaboration and our voices are the perfect setting for creating a space to explore the absurd and paradoxical. Can we create an emancipatory alternative space? I think we can, if we can focus on revealing the truth rather than attempting to represent it. Can we use the idea of an archive to convey our version of the story, but not necessary abide by the rules of an archive? I think yes!
So at this time and moment I would like to declare ourselves as the “Masters of the Archive” in an outright dictatorship grab of what we want to included and excluded in our version of the modern Saudi woman archive. Do you accept?
May: Meen gaddik bas? Masters of the Archive, indeed. I guess a little bit of theatrical role playing can be fun. Do I get to wear a beret?
Manal: Hi May. Interesting but very stylish choice, a beret. Hmmm, people in academia are a bit nutty I must say, I think that’s why we get along so well.
So now that we have a declaration of power. How will we design our archive? I feel we need a declaration or a Manifesto of some sort. Something that sets the stage for a space that has the powerful feel of visual objectivity; by displaying books, screening interviews and arranging found objects. We can also include a detailed labeling of the archive contents using a scientific style of formatting. These all give the illusion that we have come to a formulated conclusion to our research. Our organized display of our collected items and their archiving can create a space conducive to disseminating knowledge that is truthful. But, the absence of true analysis of all the collected and displayed objects allows for this project to be subjective. It also invites the viewer to imagine with us. In a sense we will all be imagining the factual and factualizing the imagined, which I hope will reveal the danger of believing without justification.
May: I love the fact that you will be experimenting with “text” the main medium academics use, and I am experimenting with “visuals” your usual mode of communication. I guess in a sense our collaboration is different from other academic/artistic collaborations that assume that each mode of expression is sacred. The social science “spoof” is fabulous. I think that creating a space for embracing subjectivity is key but also an interactive space that allows anyone seeing our exhibition to touch, feel, reflect, and express themselves. Their engagements are as much a factor in our “subjective” archive as our own subjectivities. I would love to bring that space for questioning into my classroom. Maybe also other classrooms? Manal, you are slowly going to sucked into the world of academia.
Manal: Academia?! Does that come with a beret too?
May, one important point I want to bring up before we move to another discussion is that I really want to make sure that this exercise is not perceived as a way of reducing the importance of our subject or disrespecting our participants. Most importantly, we are not attempting to fool our viewers. I want this project to help us understand when belief can turn data into truth, and what distinguishes justified belief from opinion.
I hope that our design for the visual representation of our conversations through an imagined archive summons an increased interest in questioning the data that seeks to define any group in this world but in our project we specifically question what defines the Saudi woman. In the end ya May, I think we might be the subjects of our own research. Do you think I’m narcissistic for thinking this way?
May: Yes. But I love the narcissism. It totally suits you. Just kidding. I love the fact that we are challenging the usual dichotomy between producer of knowledge and object of study. The fact of the matter is, we have been both. And this project allows us to explore that space without needing to label the experience. Also, your concern about how our participants feel about our project is valid. I think we have been fairly self reflexive during this whole process. But maybe we bring them in and have them share the space we have created? We could even invite them to comment on the representations and include it in the exhibit or at least in our book. Yes, I’ve decided, the book is going to happen! Now that I’m Master who is going to say no?
Manal: OMG I have created a monster!
May: Actually, this is just the beginning. You haven’t seen anything yet.