WaterFire Symposium: Ariella Aïsha Azoulay in conversation with Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa

february, 2020

28feb6:30 pm8:30 pmFeaturedWaterFire Symposium: Ariella Aïsha Azoulay in conversation with Stanley Wolukau-WanambwaPresented by Symposium Books & WaterFire Providence6:30 pm - 8:30 pm WaterFire Arts Center

Event Details


 As part of WaterFire Symposium (a series of public dialogues curated by Symposium and WaterFire Arts Center), cultural critic and theorist Ariella Aïsha Azoulay will discuss her new book *Potential History* with Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa.

RSVP now online.

A passionately urgent call for all of us to unlearn imperialism and repair the violent world we share.

In this theoretical tour-de-force, renowned scholar Ariella Aïsha Azoulay calls on us to recognize the imperial foundations of knowledge and to refuse its strictures and its many violences.

Azoulay argues that the institutions that make our world, from archives and museums to ideas of sovereignty and human rights to history itself, are all dependent on imperial modes of thinking. Imperialism has segmented populations into differentially governed groups, continually emphasized the possibility of progress while it tries to destroy what came before, and voraciously seeks out the new by sealing the past away in dusty archival boxes and the glass vitrines of museums.

By practicing what she calls potential history, Azoulay argues that we can still refuse the original imperial violence that shattered communities, lives, and worlds, from native peoples in the Americas at the moment of conquest to the Congo ruled by Belgium’s brutal King Léopold II, from dispossessed Palestinians in 1948 to displaced refugees in our own day. In Potential History, Azoulay travels alongside historical companions—an old Palestinian man who refused to leave his village in 1948, an anonymous woman in war-ravaged Berlin, looted objects and documents torn from their worlds and now housed in archives and museums—to chart the ways imperialism has sought to order time, space, and politics.

Rather than looking for a new future, Azoulay calls upon us to rewind history and unlearn our imperial rights, to continue to refuse imperial violence by making present what was invented as “past” and making the repair of torn worlds the substance of politics.



Ariella Aïsha Azoulay is a professor of Modern Culture and Media and the Department of Comparative Literature at Brown University. Azoulay is a curator and documentary film maker.

Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa is a photographer and writer and Assistant Professor at the Rhode Island School of Design.



“Ariella Azoulay takes on the seemingly impossible task of teaching us how to unlearn: unlearning imperialism, unlearning the archive, unlearning our complicity with regimes of violence, domination and exploitation, and most importantly for this ambitious volume, unlearning photography and its capacity to foreclose ‘potential histories’ that must urgently be realized and reclaimed.”

– Tina Campt, author of Listening to Images


The WaterFire Symposium is a series of public lectures, readings and conversations about vital and timely issues from the arts to the sciences, from history to the climate crisis. WaterFire’s mission is to inspire our community. Bringing us all together in cordial discussion about the issues impacting our community helps us better understand the issues of the day. In an era where complex issues become reduced to silly slogans, a forum for learning, understanding, and dialog is critical to the democratic process.

WaterFire is pleased to partner with Symposium Books to host and co-curate this series of public dialogues that are presented for free and are open to all.


The views and opinions expressed by speakers/presenters at the WaterFire Arts Center are those of the speakers/authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of WaterFire Providence or any of our partners, sponsors, or supporters.



(Friday) 6:30 pm - 8:30 pm


WaterFire Arts Center

475 Valley Street


WaterFire ProvidenceWaterFire Providence® is an independent, 501(c)3 non-profit arts organization whose mission is to inspire Providence and its visitors by revitalizing the urban experience, fostering community engagement and creatively transforming the city by presenting WaterFire for all to enjoy.info@waterfire.org 475 Valley Street, Providence, RI 02908

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