An Aesthetics of Disruption: Unsettling the Diasporic Subject


  • Donna West Brett The University of Sydney



Photography, Art, Arab, Diaspora


In her writings and video works, Hito Steyerl presents a disruptive tension between the pervading sense of being under constant surveillance and the desire not to be seen or to be invisible. In observing the omnipresence of the camera, Ariella Azoulay also considers photography’s capacity for inscription and surveillance. This withdrawal from representation disrupts our expectations of the photographic process, in which a contract is made between the sitter and the photographer, that their likeness will be captured on the photographic emulsion or digital pixels, a likeness that can be observed, critiqued, printed or shared. Disrupting the political and social ontologies of photography undoes and unsettles what photography is and what it should do; hence Azoulay and others ask, What is a photograph? This essay takes these concepts as a point from which to consider an aesthetics of disruption and the conditions that cause a subject or an image to withdraw, to hide, or to disappear, in the work of three artists from the Arab diaspora: Cherine Fahd, Joana Hadjithomas, and Khalil Joreige.

Author Biography

Donna West Brett, The University of Sydney

Dr. Donna West Brett is a lecturer in art history at the University of Sydney. She is author of Photography and Place: Seeing and Not Seeing Germany after 1945 (Routledge, 2016), coeditor with Natalya Lusty, Photography and Ontology: Unsettling Images (Routledge, 2018), and an editorial board member of the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Art. Brett is a recipient of the 2017 Australian Academy of the Humanities Ernst and Rosemarie Keller Award, and research leader for the Photographic Cultures Research Group.