“Epistemic Anxieties and the idea of the “uncanny” to a post colonial lens of oral history encapsulated the fourth and penultimate day of the XIXth International Oral history Conference at the Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Bengaluru. “It is crucial that this Conference is in India. India has struggled with colonial rule and has seen many waves of invasions and displacements”, said Dr Heather Goodall while discussing ideas of mourning and displacement and how doing oral history illuminates the experiences of such situations.
The last day of panels included papers on the theory and practice of oral history. The creation and maintenance of knowledge systems through orality and the fragile nature of oral testimonies were discussed. The diverse forms of the practice of oral history was on display with panels discussing oral history in the museum; dissent and politics of marginalization through oral history; oral history in the classroom and beyond; oral history and its role in creating meaning in local culture and community. The bilingual panel of Spanish and English speakers deliberated on oral history, community and ideology. The final thematic panel offered an interesting and different take on the form the oral history interview can take in a digital world. Digital formats of oral history became a point of much discussion. This panel questioned the ‘privileged’ position of the long form oral history interview and offered alternatives of short form oral history interviews with the emergence of new formats like social media apps. Dr Michael Frisch provided context for the convergence of an oral historian and co-developer of an app PixStori. The question is: will oral history embrace such alternatives?
The Oral History Association of India (OHAI) held a general body meeting later in the day. The agenda was to elect new office bearers. The meeting also discussed some changes to be made to Constitution of OHAI, with regard to voting formats and the establishment of standard guidelines for the ethical practices of oral history in India. The members in the meeting also welcomed the idea of putting together a Newsletter as a common site to know about new oral history research and practice in India. The meting concluded with the election of Dr. Meeta Deka as President, Vrunda Pathare and Tapasya Thapa as co-Vice Presidents, Avehi Menon as treasurer and Reena Laishram as Secretary. A Joint Secretary will be appointed in the coming months through a voting process. Dr. Indira Chowdhury will continue to provide her invaluable help and guidance to the Association.
The third public panel at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), Bengaluru discussed the possibility of postcolonial oral histories. Titled “Postcolonial Oral Histories,” the panel was chaired by Paige Raibmon of the University of British Columbia, Canada. She addressed the diversity of experiences of postcolonial oral histories. She also highlighted the positions from where scholars speak and the specific contexts in conversation with each other. The postcolonial functions as a ‘contested’ space. The first speaker Sean Field (South Africa) questioned whether postcolonial oral histories are really postcolonial. According to him, these epistemic anxieties limit understanding(s) of voices and stories. He also asked whether it is possible to produce ‘postcolonial’ oral histories. Field traversed through notions of the “unsettled” oral historian and the idea of the “uncanny” in postcolonial enquiries and contextualized these probing questions by addressing the 1944 wave of refugees who migrated into South Africa. He also cautioned the imposition of the nationalist ideology into refugee memories. “Resilience is not innate, it is something to be worked through”, he concluded. Heather Goodall looked at the mourning process of people who migrate. She focused on the Hazaras from the Hazarajat region of Afganistan who now occupy the region around the Georges River in Australia. She made it explicit that the memory of loss was powerful among this community, not the memory of migration. Goodall explained, “a place consists of many elsewheres”, emphasing the need to embrace ethnic cultural diversity. Pramod Srivastava’s paper was a detailed description of the narratives of prisoner memories in the Andaman and Nicobar islands through the lens of colonialism and criminal justice.
Book launches formed the latter half of the evening. Participants from Spain, Argentina, Mexico, Argentina, Iran and India launched their recently published books. This brief ceremony was followed by a stellar performance by Shabnam Virmani of the Kabir Project. Her powerful voice transcended borders and difference. Shabnam also brought forth the dilemma between the written vs the spoken. She emphasized the fluidity of songs, and spoke of the fluidity of songs and the role of bhaav or feeling in knowledge creation. Her songs captured a world beyond left right, beyond dualities. The fourth day ended of IOHA 2016 ended with musings on multiple songs and their multiple forms, many spiritualities and many subjectivities.