Sunil Shah is the Lead Artist on Activating our Archives, a group project which uses photography and curation to bring together a community of people from across Oxford to build an online archive of images that reflect on and explore their own lives. The project comes to an end this weekend with an all-day event at the gallery, This Image is No Longer Available. Below Shah reflects on the project’s themes and outcomes.
We began Activating our Archives in February of 2019. Modern Art Oxford’s public call for participants brought together a group of 18 people, from varying backgrounds and interests. Over the following two months, we met almost weekly, to discuss the nature of photography, archives, digital space, authorship, ethics and visual narratives. While we did this we photographed our interests, collected images and performed curating exercises where we selected, edited and displayed images. We created a shared online space using Padlet and with our Instagram hashtag, we generated over 500 posts, including contributions from people all over the world.
The aim of the project was to explore themes presented in Akram Zaatari’s exhibition The Script and how they related to our everyday lives. We began this by considering the “archive” in its broadest sense. Instead of imagining the archive as the institutional record, catalogued and held in storage, we considered it as a container of information, memory or experience and so in this sense, we could consider almost anything as an archive. Through our workshop sessions, our participants were encouraged to seek out their own archives and activate them. What turns something static, inert or hidden into something profoundly expressive and evocative? Furthermore, as a group creating our own digital archive around the keywords, ‘self’ and ‘community’, we could try to find ways to reimagine images, re-awaken memories, histories and common experiences. In doing this we were able to find communities and form our own sense of community.
Throughout Activating our Archives, we wanted to find ways in which we could all develop our understanding, grow creatively, experiment and learn. In creating a collection of multiple, disparate, sometimes disconnected images, the project was challenging and yet fun and filled with infinite possibilities. Our “raw” image material really stretched and tested our imaginations. Through exercises such as group editing, live curating and mutual feedback the group widened their understanding of images and created small, personal individual projects. We became aware that each of us has the power and agency to construct our own ideas and express ourselves creatively through a self-generated archive. We could then use social media platforms and the physical spaces around us to present those images back to the world. It has proved to be an incredibly fulfilling and rewarding experience, one that continues online as #activatingourarchives.