Joud Toamah is an interdisciplinary graphic designer and visual researcher based in Antwerp, Belgium. The project 'Archive of Traveling Images, an Image Amidst the Heart' (2018–ongoing) is an archive of digitised images of family albums that the artist sources from acquaintances, friends and family members in Syria and the diaspora. Toamah collects pictures that have undergone processes of scanning, uploading, searching, cutting, pasting, renaming, compressing, downloading, forwarding, etc. As such, she is creating digital archives of private and intimate images. But her research highlights something more interesting than the photographs themselves: the way that this digital circulation within personal networks becomes reflected in the image itself. Digital reproduction and circulation — the conditions of recreating bonds after displacement — leave their traces. In its digital journey of relocation, the image acquires consecutive layers of relationality.
Toamah’s art and research are deeply relatable despite the fact that her archive of travelling images is not publicly accessible. Although she chooses to share only the project’s conditions and context, her approach is poetic rather than analytical. We are invited to see how she secures the invisible, the inaccessible, the untranslatable. The artist’s research suggests that to safeguard one’s humanity, one must retain agency over one’s images — and protect them from the othering gaze. Yet her project moves beyond this aspect: through the recollection of private and personal images, she creates personal bonds based on reciprocity, generosity, care and feedback. Photography becomes an interaction between people, a tool to talk and share. A tool for knowledge production, for telling and retelling, for activating each other’s stories and memories.
The digitised images reveal their unique materiality: the fading of the paper, the despair that one will forget certain places, the writing scribbled on the backs of photographs to remind us across generations and distances that to remember is to relate. Toamah’s research moves beyond the binary oppositions between digital and material, here and there, past and present. She establishes a relational archive and an aesthetics of care: the archive of travelling images creates simultaneously belonging and protection.
- Text by Petra Van Brabandt (.tiff)