International Cultural Responses to Wartime Rape: Ethical Questions and Critical Challenges

Maynooth University, 19th-20th June 2017

The role played by cultural producers in remembering and combatting wartime rape has been at the forefront of the public agenda in recent years. In October 2013, Jeremy Szumczyk courted controversy when he erected a life-size statue of a Red Army soldier raping a pregnant woman in a public square in Gdansk. In 2015, conceptual artist Alketa Xhafa-Mripa’s tribute to survivors of sexual violence in Kosovo, ‘Thinking of You’, grabbed headlines around the world. Likewise, Angelina Jolie’s involvement in the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence has been much discussed. The UNESCO ‘Culture of Peace’ programme and Creative Community Outreach Initiative further indicate the perceived links between creative culture, conflict prevention, reconciliation, and remembrance.
This conference seeks to explore this conjuncture through an analysis of international cultural responses to wartime rape and their impact. How have cultural works shaped, supplemented, intervened in, or challenged public discourses about sexual violence in conflict zones? In what way are creative works able to expose gaps, challenge biases, and illuminate ambiguities within official human rights narratives?

A further aim of this conference is to explore the role of cultural advocacy in post-conflict situations. How do creative exercises address and potentially attenuate the lasting effects of wartime sexual violence on individuals and communities? What contribution can art make to long-term processes of truth-seeking, justice, and reconciliation? And to what extent is the aesthetic experience particularly suited to provoking remembrance, empathy, and activism?

References to the aesthetic in the context of atrocity are always uncomfortable and raise unavoidable questions about the ethics of representation. This conference wishes to foreground these issues by addressing, amongst other things: representation and the potential for sensationalism, ideological appropriation, and obfuscation; unintended audience responses and the limitations of cultural representation or advocacy; the power dynamics of representation; and the risks of re-traumatizing and reifying victims inherent in acts of representing trauma.

This conference aims to generate discussion and new insights by drawing together researchers and practitioners from a range of disciplines, including: international relations; peace studies; cultural, literary, and film studies; art and art history. 

This conference is generously supported by the Irish Research Council and Maynooth University Conference and Workshop Fund.