Historian Vicente Rafael speaks on Philippines’ drug war

A woman cradles the body of her husband, who was killed on a street by a vigilante group, according to police, in a spate of drug-related killings in Pasay City, Metro Manila, Philippines July 23, 2016. (TRT World and Agencies)

Vancouver, B.C.

Updated: April 28, 2018, 7:05 AM
Witnessing Death: Photographing the Philippine Drug War

“And among families of the victims, how is the dead remembered in ways that elude photographic capture?”

The “war on drugs” in the Philippines has led to thousands of deaths and many more thousands of arrests born of corrupted “due process” and a vindictive populism with global resonance.

To advance critical understandings of the historical contours and necropolitics of the Philippine Drug War, the Philippines Studies Series UBC is welcoming distinguished historian Vicente Rafael from the University of Washington to give a public talk on the visual and historical conditions of witnessing death in the Philippines Drug War.

The event will be on Saturday, May 5 at 4 – 5:30 PM at Centre A, 268 Keefer St., Vancouver.

In the wake of President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs, one of the most important responses have come from the work of photojournalists, both Filipino and international.

Photojournalism, in this as in many other wars, has become a form of advocacy as much as a practice of mourning. How does this happen? How is trauma and witnessing braided together, for example, in the experience of photographers covering the drug war? What are the ambivalent effects of aestheticizing the image of those killed by the police and their death squads? How does the aesthetic rendering of death make possible the act of witnessing even as it repeatedly endangers it? What is the fate of photographic images once rendered into commodities by the global media and put into circulation for the consumption of anonymous viewers? And among families of the victims, how is the dead remembered in ways that elude photographic capture?


Vicente L. Rafael is the Giovanni and Ann Costigan Endowed Professor of History at the University of Washington in Seattle. He is the author of several works on the cultural history and politics of the Philippines, including Contracting Colonialism, White Love and Other Events in Filipino History, The Promise of the Foreign and Motherless Tongues: The Insurgency of Language Amid Wars of Translation, all published by Duke Univ. Press. Most recently, he has co-edited with Gina Apostol a collection of Nick Joaquin’s stories, The Woman Who Had Two Navels and Tales of the Tropical Gothic (Penguin Classics)

In recognition of our responsibilities as settlers with ongoing relations to colonial processes, organizers of this talk acknowledge and recognize that our meeting will take place on the unceded and ancestral lands of the Coast Salish peoples.

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