The visual force of justice in the making of Liberia: Representations, Technologies, Critique




Chalmers, Shane

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University of Toronto Press


Two types of image pervade history, one tracking across its surfaces, the other coursing through its middle. The first type is the image as interpretive resource. Such images provide a fluid medium for seeing and revealing, and over-looking, their object. They also create their object through visualisation - making visible what would remain otherwise unseen. The second type is the image as technology. As technology, images are a product of history, bound to their own objectivity. And as technology, images course through history, whilst being defied or ignored by a world that shifts around them. This essay is concerned with a particular image that of "Liberia" and a particular history the making of Liberia. The essay examines how both this image and this history are implicated in the life of the other, playing out within the typology of images of and in history. There are four parts to the essay: (1) The essay begins by setting out the typology of images of and in history. (2) It then turns to the conception of "Liberia" at the start of the nineteenth century, to show how it was informed by a racialized vision of justice. (3) The essay then examines the image of the young African-American settler, Matilda Newport, created and deployed in the nineteenth century as an image of the making of the republic, to show how "Liberia", as an image of justice, was made visible in the most forceful ways in the attempt to realise its jurisdiction over its subjects and territory. This forceful visualisation of "Liberia", represented most strikingly in the image of "Matilda Newport", cut deep into the lands and peoples it was required to signify under international law (or else lose to competing colonial powers, Britain and France), whilst both the lands and peoples signified by "Liberia" continued to elude the jurisdiction of this sovereign image. (4) In closing, the essay considers how the image of "Liberia" has managed to stay afloat despite the revolution and wars that swept away "Matilda Newport" and the colonial Americo-Liberian regime it represented. The question this poses is where it leaves "Liberia" as an image of and in history, at a time when the nation-state is being re-made in the twenty-first century with the assistance of an international peace-building intervention post-war.






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Law and the Visual: representations, technologies and critique

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