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Borrowing from the title of Vladimir Nabokov’s classic autobiography, Speak, memory was a three-day event structured around presentations, panel discussions, screenings, and artist talks exploring the rich array of methodologies that can be adopted to unearth, revisit or reactivate past artistic practices.

Recently, the Middle East has seen the emergence of a series of archival and historiographic endeavors focused on a local and regional history of modern and contemporary art. In response to the scarce and scattered art historical documentation of the region’s most recent past, a growing number of researchers, curators and artists have begun collecting documents and recording the oral histories of artistic practices and exhibitions that have seemingly been forgotten, misinterpreted or dismissed.

As these research projects gain momentum, private collectors and newly created museums are also slowly acquiring artists’ archives, magazines and other remnants of the region’s 20th century cultural history. These developments are not unique to the Middle East. A similar phenomenon has been taking place in Latin America, where private collectors, foreign museums and universities have been buying and exporting privately held archives related to artistic production of the 60’s and 70’s.

The current situation calls for a critical discussion between institutions, collectors, artists, curators, and researchers interested in reactivating recent cultural memory in a way that enables the creation of a multiplicity of narratives and ready access to these histories. Speak, memory sought to instigate an informed debate on the challenges and strategies for the preservation of modern and contemporary art histories, focusing on those that have been scarcely documented or are underrepresented in dominant art historical narratives. In addition, the symposium presented archival initiatives that stand out for their successful organizational model, accessibility and discursive potential, as well as online platforms that are already providing possibilities for collaboration.

Rather than being a one-time event, the symposium aimed to create a network of archival initiatives and broader historiographic endeavors that can facilitate a series of ongoing conversations and collaborations.