DocX Archive Lab

DocX Archive Lab: How Are We Known? Reimagining, Repurposing, and Rewriting the Archive

The DocX initiative at Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies (CDS) enters its next phase of evolution: to support BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) artists and thought leaders working across the nonfiction landscape who are charting more accountable, non-extractive documentary paths and practices. To reimagine what documentary work looks and sounds like, DocX nurtures the imaginative exploration and questioning of artists and curators of color who boldly interrogate form and ways of collaborating.

As the first project in its new iteration under DocX Director Stephanie Owens, the initiative presents the virtually hosted DocX Archive Lab, How Are We Known?: Reimagining, Repurposing, and Rewriting the Archive.

The tattered boxes underneath grandma’s bed, the movements of our bodies, the smell of a sacred family recipe—all make up what we uniquely know about ourselves. But the collective archive, in all its iterations—documentary practices, works of literature, art practices, academic publishing, museums, library collections, etc.— becomes the formal means by which a society knows and remembers itself. It is the long memory of who “we” were, who “we” are, and who constitutes “we.” 

Historically, the authorship of society’s long memory of BIPOC life has been fixed within, for, and by the colonial and white gaze. As makers, the archives in which we explore and from which we pull are oftentimes rooted in extractive colonial practices.

The DocX Archive Lab, How Are We Known: Reimagining, Repurposing, and Rewriting the Archive, was born of these questions: How will we be remembered, how do we want to be remembered, and who will remember us? Once we wrest the power to author our own stories, who will we speak to? 

As Toni Morrison wrote in Beloved, “Freeing yourself was one thing. Claiming ownership of that freed self was another.”  

The lab will be a space for BIPOC artists to invest deeply in their art practices, and to be in communion with these questions, as well as imagine non-extractive practices of our own; interrogate what it means to listen and hear community, and ourselves; weigh our embodied and situated knowledge; and trouble matters of address and agency. 

What could manifest when we repurpose, reimagine, and rewrite the documentation of who we are?

The DocX Archive Lab, How Are We Known?, starting September 24, 2021 at 5 p.m. (ET), will virtually host six selected fellows across documentary practices—including but not limited to film, video, writing, audio, installation, oral history, photography, and new media—allowing them space to explore, pose questions, and create with Lead Artist Facilitator Nyssa Chow (oral historian, writer, and interdisciplinary artist), Lead Artist Lab Collaborator Martine Granby (nonfiction filmmaker, Assistant Professor of Documentary Journalism at the University of Connecticut), and a slate of guest artists, some of whom include Dorothy Berry (Digital Collections Program Manager, Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences Houghton Library)Greg de Cuir Jr. (curator, writer), Christopher Harris (filmmaker; still/here, Distant Shores), Onyeka Igwe (artist, filmmaker; No Archive Can Restore You), Sofía Gallisá Muriente (visual artist; Lluvia con nieve), and CC Paschal (audio journalist; Louder Than A Riot, Invisibilia, The Heart).

Over eight months, the lab will consist of artist talks, ideation meetings, readings, screenings, and creative exercises, which are divided into monthly modules inspired by the specialized perspectives of visiting artists. The lab will culminate in an in-person weekend-long retreat held at the Center for Documentary Studies on the Duke University campus on May 13–15, 2022, barring any COVID-related restrictions on in-person events. 

Fellows will receive $3,000 for their committed participation and engagement with the lab. Fellows are also asked to share some of their insights and learnings from the lab by creating an offering for the community in which they reside, or from which their work derives—an oral history/histories, live performance, panel discussion, screening, op-ed, or a form that best suits the fellow’s practice. Offerings will be made available to the public.