Rosanne Kennedy is associate professor of Gender, Sexuality and Culture at the ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences. Her research focuses on trauma, memory and witnessing in Australia and in transnational contexts; she is particularly interested in the genre of testimony and how testimonies travel across media and geographical spaces.
Australia has become internationally notorious for its ‘Pacific Solution’ – the indefinite detention of asylum seekers on the remote Pacific islands of Manus and Nauru. Despite the government’s attempt to impose a media blackout on its Pacific operations and camps, in recent years a distinctive testimonial culture, enabled by new media, has developed. Tweeting, posting, podcasting, filming, drawing, reporting and whistleblowing are producing texts that are canny and creative, that travel fast and far, and make new demands on us as humanities scholars.
In their book in progress, Witnessing Refugees, Rosanne Kennedy and her colleague Gillian Whitlock are mapping and tracking this new testimonial archive that bears witness to refugee lives in limbo. To work in this archive, they need to learn to read redactions, to track the emotional life of the camp in the ebb and flow of social media, to watch a poetic documentary that is filmed with a smartphone on Manus and co-produced in Eindhoven.
The Nauru Files
In this talk, Rosanne Kennedy will discusse one example of this refugee archive - the Nauru Files. In an extraordinary collaboration with Amnesty International, the Guardian Australia leaked the Nauru Files – over 2000 incident reports from the Nauru camp – detailing accounts of actual and attempted self-harm, sexual assault and despair. These ‘perverse archives’ have been transformed into living testimony through the mediation of journalists, activists, writers and artists, who have performed them on the street, at literary festivals, in the gallery and online.
What do these various mediations of the Nauru Files reveal about the role of the arts in fostering witnessing publics? About the ways in which cultural forms and visual iconography mediate human rights? How do the Nauru Files, scarred by redactions, metaphorically and visually link Australia’s detention camps to other ‘black sites’ in a transnational network? What unique contribution can humanities scholars bring to refugee studies through an analysis of the visual and textual languages of refugee advocacy?
This lecture is organised by the Centre for the Humanities in collaboration with the Centre for Global Challenges.