& Writing


University grounds, SITAAD. Madison, New Jersey, August 2023. Photograph courtesy of SITAAD.

Afterall Publishing

Notes on dark archives: Transforming colonial photographs using alternative analogue processes

In this dialogue-as-essay for Afterall, Naima Hassan and Leyla Degan reflect on their methodology for transforming a series of photographs, archival traces and bureaucratic records associated with a Somali ethnographic performing troupe who arrived on a french iron steamship to Ellis Island Immigration Station in 1914. Departing from Erica Scourti’s concept of Dark Archives (2015), SITAAD engages the shadows cast by colonial archives by invoking Xirsi, a clandestine Somali practice of protection, and experimenting with analogue formats. Testing the concept and limits of opacity, the duo explore their use of cyanotypes and audiocassettes, partially developed through archival research and participatory workshops held in New York City and Minneapolis in 2023. Through the lens of colonial botany and plantation economies, the cyanotype as a counter archival method is weighed against the ghost of early photographic proccesses which reiterated the racial logic of colonial policies. In doing so, SITAAD examine the limits of using analogue processes that first ‘rendered’ colonial subjects. Speculating on community-led circulations of colonial archives, they discuss new potentials for institutional collections typically preserved as static repositories with settled narratives.  

Transmigrating Cassettes, Fellowship

Hub Residencies 2023-24: College of Liberal Arts, University of Minnesota

SITAAD was a recipient of 2023-2024 Soomaal House Archive Fellowship with generous support from the Liberal Arts Engagement Hub and Minnesota Transform.

In partnership with Soomaal House of Art and the Immigration History Research Center Archives, SITAAD undertook an archive-focused residency in the summer of 2023.

About the project
Transmigrating Cassettes is a sonic container for SITAAD research interventions on dispersed colonial collections. It instrumentalises the audio cassette as an archival and discursive tool.

The first cassette series examines Augustus F. Sherman’s photography collection of Somali passengers who arrived from French Somaliland to Ellis Island Immigration Station in 1914. With the guidance of Soomaal House of Art, SITAAD will undertake collections research on the seventy-five Somali passengers, who are described in official bureaucratic records as a performing troupe who arrived for exhibition purposes. The troupe’s arrival, performances, detainment, and eventual deportation, are contained in collections across the United States. To engage the public, SITAAD will host workshops and symbolic gatherings in Minneapolis and NYC. The volume is developed with research support and guidance from Kaamil A. Haider, director of Soomaal House Library & Archive Center, and  Louis Takács, initiator of the project Let Me Get There: Visualizing immigrants, transnational migrants & U.S. citizens abroad, 1904-1925.

Future iterations of the project will investigate Somali participation in the economies of international colonial exhibitions in new geographies in association with practitioners, communities, collectives, and institutions. The cassettes will map sonic strategies for transmuting colonial histories in the present and coalesces into a symphonic archive on Somali performing troupes and their itinerant trajectories across the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Indian Ocean.

In 2024, SITAAD will endevour to make accessible Vol.1 tapes through public presentations and closed circulations.