One of the starting points for Jala Wahid's new exhibition 'AFTERMATH' were the archives of the Kurdish Cultural Centre (KCC) in London. The archive contains writings, news clippings, official documents, academic publications and photo albums, built up since the mid-1980s. Like all such similar archives created by diasporic people, it is an open-ended, always unfinished, incomplete entity. Such archives are the heterogeneous collective result of work done by committed individuals often working either voluntarily or in an under-funded capacity. Whilst historical texts and documentary still claim to an extent to try to speak of they 'way it was', diasporic archives act to try and connect a community and identity through a necessarily partial and fragmentary narrative, through which a present can be created for a diasporic community from the past.
The second starting point for Wahid was a different sort of archive - The National Archive. Sited in Kew this is the official archive and publisher for the UK government who describe themselves on their website as "the guardians of over 1,000 years of iconic national documents." This is an archive that, unlike diaspora archives in community organisations, has ambitions towards totality, to telling it the 'way it was' through its succession of official documents and records. Here and in follow-up research Wahid looked at two periods of the relationship between Britain and the Kurds, the first from 1918 to 1926 where Britain and France divided up the remnants of the Ottoman Empire to align with their own strategic interests, quashing Kurdish claims for an independent state. The second is the 1990s when Britain again intervened, this time to carry out a humanitarian aid operation during the time Saddam Hussein was committing genocide against the Kurds. At the KCC Wahid found a plethora of materials in the archive; protest paraphernalia, poetry reading and music concert announcements, party invitations, pamphlets, books and photographs. There is much written on Kurdish politics and identity through the twentieth and twenty-first century, most of it from a political history point of view, from the betrayal by Britain and France in ensuring a Kurdish sovereign state after the First World War through to the role of the Kurds in recent conflict in the area. Yet the way that cultural identity is formed is not neat and coherent. From the archives in the KCC it might be said that Wahid articulates what might be described as the poetics within that body of material. This is an always tentative, partial venture; an attempt to momentarily capture the protest, loss, urgency, celebration, sadness and music of an embattled cultural identity that has faced the sustained threat of erasure. Political histories tend to steer clear of cultural products or debates, instead focusing on treaties, conflict, alliances and political motivations. Yet the cultural products and expressions of a group are entwined with that group's political ambitions. Political protests might be recorded as how many attended and what the speeches were, but are as much about the messy expressions of collective cultural identity, songs, dances, expression and dress of those there. To make a demand for political recognitions is also in part to ask for a recognition of a certain cultural specificity.
'AFTERMATH' takes the form of discontinuous display through the gallery. On first sight there looks to be some sort of explanatory text on a plinth as well as on a shelf, the types one might see in a museum that likes to offer earnest explanations for the objects it displays. There are objects on the wall and on a long plinth and cut-outs on the floor. On closer inspection it becomes clear that the text are not there to 'explain' the objects. Instead they are drawn from the second archive, the National Archive. In their original setting these governmental papers, meeting minutes and memos sought to offer official explanation for the British policy to the Kurds. Wahid re-writes the form of this archive. Chopped, cut and recast in the form of play, they lose their authoritative voice. Instead this supposedly proper archive becomes as fragmentary, as partial, as tentative as the diasporic archive. The National Archive does not provide knowledge or mastery over the partial, chaotic and incomplete other.
The collection of objects and texts in 'AFTERMATH' articulate how the archive of a minority group exists; it is not a coherent, neatly sequenced thing. Instead in the words of Michel Foucault, it is "a series full of gaps, intertwined with one another, interplays of differences, distances, substitutions, transformations." Instead of trying to simplify and unify, a better approach would be to listen for the echoes, whispers and shout that link the heterogeneity, that articulate an identity in the present that is not rooted in the past but deliriously, unevenly informed by it. It is something that official archives and narratives might learn from.