A5 book, 67 pages, kettle stitch binding
How are we vulnerable (to images)?— a question that steered me from a very specific object of study to an array of concerns that extend beyond the scope of this thesis. I reversed this question throughout the process (“How are images vulnerable?”), and at times tried to reduce it (“How are we vulnerable?”). For a while, I prioritized the image as an object of analysis over the body, whether it would be my body, a public body or an imagined one. In the end, the body proved to be inseparable from its image, having left an imprint on the image despite the author’s intentions, whereas the image affects the body on several levels, changing both the body that is being represented and the bodies of those who look at it.
The majority of the objects I name and describe in each chapter are bound together by their shared premise, claiming to represent martyrs or martyrdom while they differ in function. Proposed as tools for commemoration, but often transcending this alleged purpose by other means, some allude to propaganda, when others may be considered to be self-portraits or simply a means for mourning. These differences were my immediate focus, as to “compare”, yet their specificities took over shortly thereafter and the mere issue of how they were different did not seem as central as it once was.
Regarding to what extent the image and the body of the martyr were linked to persecution and public death, led me to thinking about vulnerability as a socio-psychological factor. As such, vulnerable bodies and representations of vulnerability moved to the foreground, and I attempted to assume the vulnerability of others as the basis one’s own sense of (bodily) vulnerability. Positing mourning and permeability as a potential for resistance, I speculated on a hierarchy of grievability in terms of whose (public) death would be grievable and who would have the right to grieve. This all originated from a sense of having been denied grief in the face of martyrs who seemed unreachable (“Is there vulnerability to a smiling martyr?”), as theirs was claimed to be a meaningful, heroic or at least inevitable death.
Furthermore, I reflected on what martyrdom could mean in the context of an occupation and/or resistance, and how self-sacrifice was rendered a source of self-representation within national liberation movements, where the representation of a martyr could serve as an icon, meanwhile her image and act would become inseparable. When armed struggle and persecution on the basis of identity is in question, martyrdom could also expand its reach to denote a collective suffering, rendering it potentially meaningful and heroic, making martyrs of those who would otherwise be considered witnesses.
In the last chapter, I dealt with the “martyress”, a gendered martyr and as such a site for the desires of national patriarchal honor. The martyress led me to acknowledge how certain bodies could be gendered, racialized and sexualized and what their alterity could signify in terms of voyeurism and identification. Drawing from film theory, I proposed the image of the "female body" in particular to possess screen-like qualities, a surface for projections and a source of pleasure. Taking The Bulgarian Martyresses as a point of departure, I contemplated the complicity of looking at such images and the pleasure that could be derived from “watching” unveiled bodies and an aestheticized rendition of violence.
To make way for a practice that concerns itself with how images and bodies may be vulnerable to one another, denotes both a study of complicity and a potential for permeability. Whether this would be considered a “pedagogy of images” or not, it would need to concern itself not only with what images represent (by themselves or in relation to each other), but also through which means they come into being in terms of the tools used to make them, the mediums they operate within and those who take part in their “act” as makers and viewers. For me, asking How are we vulnerable (to images)? was then an initial step as to coming to terms with our permeability to images — not only as a burden, and possibly in terms of seeing it as a potential, especially when our own sense of vulnerability is in question.