Talking Objects

Un-Documented – Unlearning Imperial Plunder

by Ariella Aïsha Azoulay

»Un-Documented – Unlearning Imperial Plunder« (35 min) is screened in the context of the performative discursive event »Unexpected Lessons – Decolonizing Memory and Knowledge«. The film by Ariella Aïsha Azoulay argues—against Alain Resnais and Chris Marker’s film Statues Also Die—that statues plundered from imperial exhibitions do not die. It’s true that those who plundered millions of statues and objects, isolating them far from their communities in museum vitrines, should be charged with the attempted murder of these objects. The objects survived and still stand alert, even when they are confined to glass cases and imperial archives, awaiting reunion with their people.

The theft of their objects leaves people endangered. The forced migration of objects is not separate from the forced migration of people who are forced to seek a home in the places where their objects are preserved. As such, they are perceived “objectless” and deemed “undocumented” by border regimes. As the “undocumented,” they are denied free movement and unduly criminalized.

Un-Documented argues that there is a strong connection between the plundered objects in European museums and the calls of asylum seekers trying to enter the countries of their former European colonizers: these are twinned migrations. The first migration is of the objects, generating professional care, scrupulous documentation, and generous hospitality in museums and archives: they are the (relatively) well-documented. The second migration is of people who do not have the documents that would allow them access to care and hospitality, and the documents they need to rebuild their homes and worlds. As the film argues, the rights of the undocumented are inscribed in the plundered objects themselves: colonizers stole not just statues, but rights inscribed in objects. Yet, the statues still live—and can be reclaimed and the rights inscribed in them renewed.

Script and director: Ariella Aïsha Azoulay

Voice and Music composed and performed by Edoheart, Awori & Moor Mother

Camera: Bona Manga Bell

Production: Eyal Vexler

Editing & Graphics: Claudia Yile

Sound editor: Ziad Fayed

Un-Documented – Unlearning Imperial Plunder by Ariella Aïsha Azoulay
Un-Documented by Ariella Aïsha Azoulay, Film Still