Rational Witness no More: Social Documentary and War in Northern Uganda

By Lara Rosenoff.

Published by The Arts Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

My repeated experiences with Beatrice in Padibe Internally Displaced Person’s Camp in Northern Uganda showed that social justice documentary and art work in, or about, situations of mass human rights abuses and war requires a conceptual shift from rational, to implicated, to critical witness. Coupled with my practical experience of using ethnographic research that privileges marginalized voices, and pursuing alternative dissemination opportunities, the critical witness stance can re-conceptualize dominant media and humanitarian narratives on issues such as internal displacement and children in armed conflict. These are first steps in challenging hegemonic practices that tend to bind social documentary media and art-work to a production and dissemination process that simply serves to reinforce prevailing political and economic agendas.

Keywords: Documentary, Advocacy Art, Political Art, Witnessing, Conflict, Northern Uganda, Politics of Storytelling

International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 5, Issue 1, pp.219-236. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 2.340MB).

Lara Rosenoff

MFA Documentary Media, Ryerson University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Lara has collaborated on numerous projects in and about Northern Uganda as artist, activist, researcher and lecturer since 2004. She most recently finished her MFA in Documentary Media in June 2009 with a project that follows one girl over 2 years in an internal displacement camp, all the while questioning her own role as witness. She is currently continuing her work in the area as a PhD student in Anthropology at The University of British Columbia, and her dissertation project will examine disruptions in intergenerational knowledge exchange and its effect on youth in areas of long-term conflict. Lara will be pursuing art-based research methods, collaborating with youth and the elderly towards new forms of representation and research of the worldviews of those living in areas of violent conflict.

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