Amy Fagin is a U.S. based visual artist who is specializing in the traditional art form of manuscript illumination. Her body of work includes a powerful post-modern contribution to the materials, techniques and theory used in manuscript illumination as a reinterpreted art form for contemporary consideration. She is the creator of Beyond Genocide, an emerging series of illuminations narrating a visual arts perspective on global historical legacies of genocide and mass annihilation. Ms. Fagin is also an independent scholar in genocide studies, and conducts research, seminars and advisory work on global initiatives of memory and memorialization through individual and collective arts expression and the museum experience.

Amy Fagin at Liberation War Museum. Photo Credit:

Recently she visited Bangladesh and attended the 4th International Conference on Bangladesh Genocide and the issue of Justice organized by Liberation War Museum, from February 27 to March 1, 2015,  at CIRDAP, Dhaka. In the conference, she talked about how the efforts of documentation and the process of memorialization undertaken in different nations can confront genocide and contribute to the development of genocide and justice studies today. At the end of the conference, Naureen Rahim interviewed her on the importance of memorialization and art form in confronting genocide worldwide.

Memorialization is a newly emerged concept in the study of genocide and justice. How do you think the evolution of memorialization can make the way for the post conflict nations to confront genocide?

I absolutely do consider, that as countries emerge from post conflict situations that the process of evaluation of memory, commemoration and memorialization can support the trajectory of healthy debate, between competing groups whose memory may or may not be included in the dominant narrative. Memorialization can open dialogue about why an event occurred and foster discussion about how to prevent mass violence within the arena of the memorial site or with the groups organizing programming. Memory sites can challenge status quo of a dominant narrative as well as make a permanent space for reflection and personal connection. These attributes naturally lead to a fostering of societal commitment to prevention, but can always be hijacked into commodification or political manipulation.

What sorts of commodification or political manipulation are you referring to? What could be the role of a State to prevent such manipulation or commodification?

The “Collective Memory Sites”, i.e. those sites that have been established by a group to commemorate a groups’ experience of mass trauma must be understood in the context of the socio-political condition of a country.  We need to realize and value some issues in the discussion, such as: who are the agents that have sponsored and financed the memory site; and to whom are they addressing their narrative?

Moreover, historical facts are couched and selected for public consumption in any possible arrangement. Hence, it is important to develop critical thinking when experiencing or visiting a site of memory. We need to assess whether the current political conditions in the country are repressive or inclusive. Does the memory site cater to international visitors who have the discretionary income to pay admission? Are the programs designed to foster local, regional, national and or international interest? These are some of the thoughts in considering the politics of memory sites.

And how do you relate this process of memorialization with the system of transitional justice?

Designed by sculptor Abdullah Khaled and located in Dhaka University, ‘Oporajeyo Bangla’ (the ‘Unvanquished Bengal’) epitomizes the fearless sacrifices of the freedom fighters of 1971 Liberation War. Photo Credit:

Typically, transitional justice processes include: criminal prosecutions; reparations; institutional reforms; and establishing truth commissions. However, memorialization and other symbolic initiatives are increasingly being parts of the portfolio of efforts in creating platforms for understanding the underlying causes of serious human rights violations across the world. If stakeholders are committed to working with memorialization processes as part of transitional justice mechanisms, then I believe that the concept and practice of memorialization can serve the transitional justice process successfully.

We know, in each conflict, some factors like gender, religion, ethnicity, identity, etc. become the dominant variables on the basis of which the perpetrators conduct mass atrocity or oppress the nation. How do you conceptualize these factors particularly the representation of gender in genocidal art form?

To this question, there is no simple answer, I think. In establishing an artistic response to genocide, the artist’s depictions and interpretations would be wholly a product of their personal stylistic approach as well as the subject matter and compositional choices that they make. I don’t think that I have a specific “conceptualization” of the representation of gender!

However, what is your view on art therapy in surviving the post genocidal atrocity?

Art therapy has potential for universal expression as a healing activity that can offer a means of absorbing and processing extremely painful and traumatic experiences without having to verbalize a traumatic memory. In fact, I think that all forms of art expression have potential to work in any cultural environment around the world. All human beings are creative and recognize shapes, patterns, colors, and representational as well as abstract imagery. All human beings experience sound, and react to the sounds in our environment. Many societies use theater, oral poetry or song as a means of communicating to illiterate communities. Visual art, or musical expression, theater, or literature are all a part of every human groups’ cultural expression of life cycle events. With the violent rupture of a conflict that victimizes groups the use of arts expression as a therapeutic activity can help relieve stress, anxiety, depression, hopelessness and anger that are inevitable in coping with the suffering mass violence inflicts.

As we know, it’s been the focus of  ‘Beyond Genocide’ to approach the seemingly incomprehensible subject like genocide from an artist’s perspective and promote its studies through different art forms. Could you please enlighten us a bit more with the objectives and components of ‘Beyond Genocide’?

Well, ‘Beyond Genocide’ is the name of the series of contemporary illuminated manuscripts that explores the history and legacy of genocides around the world. It is an artistic response to the insanity that “genocide” connotes, and an effort to provide a place to encounter a connection between our life and the life of the victim. It is also an opus that reflects on the paradoxes of humanity and our capacity for destruction as well as creativity. It is designed as a universally accessible arts experience which can be included in broader programs designed to educate about the history of genocide around the globe.

Liberation War Museum_1
‘Shikha Chiro Omlan’ – the eternal flame lighted in memory of the martyrs of 1971. Photo Credit: Liberation War Museum

How do you evaluate the role of Liberation War Museum (LWM) that has been contributing to memorialize the genocidal history of 1971 in Bangladesh for a long period of time?

From my understanding, the LWM has been playing a central role in creating the processes of memory, justice and international awareness of 1971 atrocity and its historical context within Bangladesh as well as addressing the important links with the international community in comprehending genocide in the history of humanity. The skill and clarity of vision of the LWM Board of Trustees is successfully walking the tightrope of performance in not falling into overtly limiting narratives of the history of the campaign of violence and its implications for the country today.  I do marvel at the strength of vision that the LWM has conveyed to the nation and international visitors in working with the tragedy to find the tools to ensure justice, reparations, commemoration, victim support, and prevention through education – that all play a role in the LWM’s work.

It is also evident that the LWM is sensitive to the concerns and critiques of matters that concern the public, and that they are open to exploring narratives that cause issue or concern such as the role of gender in the museum’s displays, as an example.


Naureen Rahim, “Memorialization and Art Forms in Confronting Genocide: An Interview with Amy Fagin” (DHLR Blog, 25 March 2015)

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