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Conference opens on April 10th at 3 p.m. with keynote by Marianne Hirsch and Leo Spitzer

The aftermath of mass murders is felt not only by the victims and their families but also by their descendants, who find themselves in the paradoxical situation of suffering the psychological effects of events they did not experience themselves.

It is this transmission of trauma that the notion of postmemory – developed in 1997 by Marianne Hirsch in her book Family Frames: Photography Narra­tive and Postmemory – attempts to describe. Hirsch demonstrates how an indirect form of memory may develop in individuals who did not experience a traumatic event personally but feel its active presence within their family.

Since postmemory is unable to draw on precise recollections, great importance is given to imagination and creation. Art has a major part to play in this process, since in some cases it is only through the works created by survivors that subsequent generations can access the traumatic event. Art also constitutes an ideal means for later generations to attempt to imagine an unknown past and discover its implications in their lives.

In connection with this symposium there will be an art exhibition (April 10-May 4, 2013), also at Columbia University (Columbia Maison Française and Italian Academy for Advanced Studies), devoted to three generations of Cambodian artists: the painter Vann Nath – one of seven survivors of the S-21 concentration camp –, painter and comic book author Séra,and emerging artists invited to create artworks evoking the genocide during three “memory workshops” held in Cambodia between 2008 and 2012.

The conference and art exhibit are part of the city-wide Season of Cambodia Festival. The events at the Maison Francaise aim to examine how the arts and other creative forms harness indirect memory and ensure its transmission through a variety of archives and traces. Although the Cambodian genocide will be the primary focus, other genocides of the 20th century, such as the Holocaust and the Armenian and Rwandan genocides, will be discussed in a comparative perspective.

Conference organizers : Pierre Bayard and Soko Phay-Vakalis (Paris 8 University), in collaboration with Bachir Souleymane Diagne (Columbia University) and François Cornilliat (Rutgers University)

Primary Contact at Columbia University: Shanny Peer, Director, Columbia Maison Française; Tel: 212 854-4482; e-mail:

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