Still photographs of mourning continue to circulate widely, swaying public opinion regarding contemporary wars and disasters. Yet, these representation, rarely transgress the norms of eteronormativity, overwhelmingly focused upon the undeniable premise that men die and women mourn them. The goal of this essay is to undermine the monolithic structure of several images by pointing to the cultural mediations surrounding photographs of mourning women as emblematic figures of loss and grief. While taking into account the psychoanalytical work on mourning, my theoretical tools to lay bare the cultural shifts the concept of mourning undergoes are grounded in feminist and postcolonial theory. My (re)reading of those photographs aims to defy liberal political sentimentality that allows a universal manageable mourning narrative, often unconcerned with territorial or political constraints. Diverging from the main road of scholarship focused on “regarding the pain of others” – the empathic responses of Western audiences (Moeller, 1999; Sontag, 2003) – I investigate how photographs of mourning involve two complex and interrelated layers: the construction of an embodied, gendered and racialized mourning subject and the consequent placement of this subject within/outside geopolitical boundaries.
This lecture was given within the framework of the 2011 School of Critical Theory organized by the Centre for the Humanities in Utrecht. The programme was titled ‘G-local Cosmopolitanism: The Social Responsibility of the Artists, the Academics, and the Media’, and offered trans-national and interdisciplinary approaches drawn from the humanities, social sciences, law, philosophy and international relations. Its focus on the development of cross-national European perspectives in these areas, allows for the innovative use of key notions of cosmopolitanism across different national, cultural and disciplinary traditions. The school consisted of three clusters, which focused on Cosmopolitanism and the social responsibility of the Artists, Cosmopolitanism and the social responsibility of the Academics, and Cosmopolitanism and the social responsibility of the Media.