Container Resident, Padmini Ray Murray, introduces her residency project, Reclaiming Our Times (RiOT):
We document the ‘now’ endlessly. It can, in many ways, be a valuable response – especially when it comes to chronicling acts of resistance. Like many parts of the world, India has increasingly witnessed a significant escalation in protest and agitation in the recent past, and as India is downgraded from ‘free’ to ‘partly free’ in the eyes of human rights watchdogs, the space for dissent and its documentation is rapidly shrinking. The chilling effects created by such environments necessitates an alternative arena to host personal recollections and images. To usefully record these moments of profound historical importance goes against the grain of a hegemonic, nationalistic narrative, created by acts of archival contagion – such as the destruction of records and manipulation of documentary evidence.
Currently, much of this content ends up being shared in walled gardens such as Facebook and Instagram. This puts these records at considerable risk, given the precarious nature of these platforms, demonstrated through their tendencies towards censorship and algorithmic gatekeeping.
Important conversations, images, and debates are constantly under threat of erasure by the corporate archive – Which is antithetical to any sort of impulse to archive with care.
Reclaiming Our Times (RiOT) is a collective participatory archiving project that attempts to inspire people to rescue their valuable images, conversations and thoughts, in response to these historical shifts. I look to enable the moving of our personal archives out of these platforms and into spaces that are scaffolded by an ethics of care. I also explore the roles that can be played by a custodian, a steward, or a curator to safeguard these spaces.
During the course of the residency, I’m hoping to craft a modular toolkit for DIY archiving, and hoping to do so in dialogue with those who are working under particularly challenging conditions. In my context, this would include those working in non-English languages (archiving and writing metadata in Indian languages, for example, is a complicated undertaking), and marginalised communities whose narratives, archives and lives are endangered by oppressive regimes.
I’m thrilled that the folks at Container have offered to host an event with me in April – I’ll be in conversation with some inspirational thinkers and doers doing similar work and together, we can hopefully create a manifesto that can act as a roadmap for anyone who wants to reclaim their archives! RiOT is a call to action, a collection of strategies to ensure that the future of history is stewarded by citizens rather than platforms, and an exercise to demonstrate how interoperability can ultimately be an intersectional gesture.
Watch this space – we will be sharing Reclaiming our Times event details soon.