Historical narratives, (Counter)visuality and Modernity

The activist and archival interventions of Paulo Tavares





visuality, modernity, colonialism, digital archive, Paulo Tavares


Taking Walter Benjamin’s conception of history as a discipline concerned with “the precise dialectical problem that the present is called upon to resolve”, this article considers the ways in which contemporary applications and conceptions of visual images and practices are being used to expose, challenge and replace modernity’s historical narratives and its material realities. The work of architect, artist and researcher Paulo Tavares is used as a case study in order to elucidate how projects combining critical engagements with the visual archive, the appropriation of lens-based technology and the incorporation of non-western are used to secure legal changes as well as changes in the way we think about and conceive the collective. In view of Tavares, Nicholas Mirzoeff’s concept of visuality – that is the West’s “visualization of history”, a “discursive practice that has material effects” – is employed in conjunction with insights from the African(-diasporic) intellectual tradition. This facilitates contextualization of the colonial roots of modern means of visualizing in light of how to repurpose them for decolonial, emancipatory and ecological ends.


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Author Biography

Michael Thomas Rowland, Independent Researcher

Independent researcher based in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Contributing editor at Threads Magazine. Research MA (Early Modern) History at Leiden University on the track Cities, Migration and Global Interdependence. Thesis centred on Eurocentric colonial metaphysical categories of the human and animal. Interests include animal studies, the African(-diasporic) intellectual tradition, discourse analysis, the Anthropocene and the mobilization of history as an emancipatory force. Submissions currently in peer review include the article “Louisville to Liverpool to Lublin:  Przekrój magazine, rock’n’roll discourse and global post-war Polish popular culture” and the chapter “Business as Usual: Persisting Narratives of Commodification, Racialization, Humanization and Trade in the Archive of the Middelburg Commercie Compagnie (MCC)”.


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How to Cite

Rowland, M. T. (2024). Historical narratives, (Counter)visuality and Modernity: The activist and archival interventions of Paulo Tavares . Archivo Papers, 4, 69–86. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.12544328