Jeff O’Brien obtained a PhD in Art History and Theory from The University of British Columbia in 2020. Previously he was a Liu Scholar and Curator at the Liu Institute for Global Issues, UBC, and held a Joseph-Armand Bombardier CGS Doctoral SSHRC. From 2018 to 2019 he was a fellow of Modern and Contemporary Arab Art at Darat al Funun in Amman, Jordan. His dissertation, The Right to be Seen: Archiving Absence in Post-Civil War Lebanon, investigates the work of several contemporary Lebanese and Palestinian artists who, after the Lebanese Civil War(s) of 1975-1990 in which 17,000 people were deemed “disappeared,” attempt to make visible these populations and their histories through photography, video, and the construction of archives. He has published in Critical Interventions, Prefix Photo, and elsewhere. His most recent publication is “Walter Benjamin’s Allegorical Dismemberment” in Arcades Materials: Blue, Threshold to Cosmos, and his essay “Under-Writing Beirut-Mathaf, Whose Ghosts Must be Summoned” in the anthology Inside / Outside Islamic Art & Architecture (Bloomsbury Academic Press, 2021) is forthcoming. He has presented his work and given lectures in Jordan, Palestine, the United States and Canada.
O’Brien’s research centres around the visual representation of displaced and disappeared populations in Lebanon and Palestine. In particular, his research considers these questions: How do contemporary visual artists reconstruct collective memory after a period of crisis or after a series of traumatic events? How do artists both preserve and reconstitute the individual memories of the forcibly disappeared and missing? And how does visual art inscribe the missing into the domain of history? He is particularly interested in the representational possibilities afforded by the lens-based mediums of video and photography and how these mediums work hand-in-hand with the archive. He argues that archives variously mark traces of the disappeared and locate, at times, disappearances as a presence within the archive, thereby making possible the ability to visually and critically speculate on and re-represent the foreclosed lives of both disappeared and displaced peoples.