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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Warming Up Records: Archives, Memory, Power and Index of the Disappeared


Policies of censorship and secrecy in federal governance skyrocketed under the Bush Administration in the wake of 9/11; these measures allowed for the detainment of some 700 predominately Arab and South Asian immigrants, though no evidence was released linking them with the terrorist attacks. The documents pertaining to the holding of these “special interest” detainees were kept secret for a number of years, and only released by the Department of Justice after significant external pressures from watchdog groups such as the ACLU. Two artists, Chitra Ganesh and Mariam Ghani, have called into question this exponential increase in the concealment of government documents with a project titled Index of the Disappeared. The multifaceted work, which utilizes several media as well as a variety of site-specific methods of engagement, employs radical archival practices in an attempt to “[foreground] the difficult histories of immigrant, ‘Other’ and dissenting communities in the U.S. since 9/11.” Through these efforts, the artists question the structures of archives and power in place in this country today. Using Ganesh and Ghani’s work as a touchstone, this paper seeks to examine the ways in which archival and recordkeeping practices function in the United States, and the potential long-term consequences increased secrecy might have on our cultural memory. Mobilizing archival, social, and critical theories, this paper interrogates The Archive’s relationship to power, and how that authority is translated into a collective memory. Building from Ganesh and Ghani’s notion of “warm data” – that which is opposed to the “cold data” of official records – the paper ultimately suggests that an integration of history and art, such as that suggested by Nietzsche, could proliferate in The Archive, therefore both arousing our instincts and preserving them.

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