Ariella Aïsha Azoulay lives and works in Pawtucket, on the unceded lands of the Narragansett and the Wampanoag, US

In The Natural History Of Rape (2017/22), Ariella Aïsha Azoulay brings together texts and photographs taken in Berlin immediately after the end of World War II, exploring whether they can reconstruct the mass rapes perpetrated during this period. She does not seek to relativize the war Germany waged by comparing it to the war crimes of the allied armies; rather, the work focuses on gendered violence across national divisions.

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Ariella Aïsha Azoulay, The Natural History of Rape (detail), 2017/2022, vintage photographs, prints, untaken b/w photographs, books, essay, magazines, drawings, dimensions variable © Ariella Aïsha Azoulay

Drawing upon her decades of work on photography’s complicity with existing or emerging orders of domination, Azoulay is interested in testimonies, images, and methods that challenge binary oppositions between ally and enemy. The artist cites the French writer Marguerite Duras: while waiting for news from her husband, deported by the Nazis, she imagines a German mother’s grief for her son, killed in combat. The violence of war appears as “universally unacceptable”(1) beyond its justifications. The title of Azoulay’s work refers critically to W. G. Sebald’s On the Natural History of Destruction, pointing to “processes of naturalizing imperial bodies of governance.”(2)

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Ariella Aïsha Azoulay, The Natural History of Rape, 2017/2022, vintage photographs, prints, untaken b/w photographs, books, essay, magazines, drawings, dimensions variable © Ariella Aïsha Azoulay

By citing oral and written accounts of women who lived in Berlin in 1945, the artist directly links their vulnerability to the devastated city. In contrast, the archival photographs scarcely depict any violence against women. Azoulay contends that the images should not be considered in isolation but must be read knowing that the sites they depict are where the rapes occurred. For this reason, “in zones of systemic and omnipresent violence of which there are no photographs at all, all photos should be explored as photos of the very same violence.”(3) By intervening in these historical documents—commenting, replacing, superimposing, and amending—Azoulay inscribes here perspectives of the women in Berlin who could not appear in the photographic archive of the new world order established at the end of the war.
Lotte Arndt

(1) Ariella Aïsha Azoulay, “The Natural History of Rape” in The End of the World as We Know It ist der Beginn einer Welt, die wir nicht kennen, eds. Jan Wenzel and Anne König (Leipzig, 2016).
(2) Ibid.
(3) Ibid.

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Ariella Aïsha Azoulay, The Natural History of Rape (detail), 2017/2022, vintage photographs, prints, untaken b/w photographs, books, essay, magazines, drawings, dimensions variable © Ariella Aïsha Azoulay

Exhibitions

Errata, 2019, Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona (ES) and Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin (DE) (solo)

Act of State 1967–2007, 2016/2020, Le centre national d’art et de culture Georges-Pompidou, Paris (FR) and Arquivo Municipal de Lisboa Fotográfico, Lisbon (PT) (solo)

Enough! The Natural Violence of New World Order, 2016, f/stop – Festival für Fotografie Leipzig, Leipzig (DE)

Really Useful Knowledge, 2014, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid (ES)

Potential History, 2012, STUK/Artefact, Leuven (BE)

Untaken Photographs, 2010, Moderna galerija Ljubljana, Ljubljana (SI) und Zochrot, Tel Aviv (IL) (solo)