The exhibition aims to identify clusters of artistic expression regarding migration and mobility in, from and to Eastern and Southern Africa – to contribute to their visibility and to discuss and potentially strengthen intended interventions. The project does not intend to provide an ethnography or social history of African migration processes; consequently, it does not claim in any way to show a comprehensive representation of African artists from the above mentioned regions working on migration-related issues. Rather, it intends to present the outcomes of on-going research as conducted, in close collaboration, by the scholarly, artistic and activist participants.
The exhibition will address current issues in migration and mobility by way of three domains:
1. THE MIGRATION CONTINUUM
Migrants’ hopes, their capabilities and opportunities, their agency and adventurous initiatives might be considered as one end of the spectrum – processes of forced migration, exile, violence, xenophobia as the other. The perspective of a migration ‘continuum’ is here chosen to underline that clear-cut categorisations, often along dualistic lines – such as voluntary / forced, legal / illegal, short-term / long-term, skilled / unskilled, etc. – do not do justice to the complex situation most migrants face and that more flexible structures are required to let them live, at least survive. The idea and wider introduction of the migration continuum might also be considered as an approach to oppose rigid and arbitrary structures of migration policy and migration management. Works of art displayed under this domain address a number of overarching issues, such as the link between violence and exile (e.g. Gonçalo Mabunda, ‘Throne for an African King’, 2004). Other artists included in this section are Victor Mutelekesha (‘Not there yet’, 2009) and Miriam Syowia Kyambi (‘WoMen, Fraulein, Damsel & Me’, 2008; ‘Portals (I): Houses of the Present Past’, 2010).
2. DIASPORIC EXPERIENCES
Artistic work is often grounded in artist biographies, in the case of many of the artists included in this exhibition in their experience as migrants, and as part of diasporic communities. Throughout Southern and Eastern Africa numerous African diasporic communities exist – at times merging into transnational social spaces, at times concurrently reaffirming ethnic and national boundaries. This phenomenon is particularly apparent in refugee settlements.
With regard to the African diasporic context the post-Apartheid Republic of South Africa is both a key destination for migrants and a unique space for hybrid artistic production and exchange on related topics, namely migration and mobility, and alienation and xenophobia. This is as much reflected in the work of artists originally from South Africa (e.g. Jody Bieber) as in the work of migrant artists (e.g. Dan Halter) and those who have return to their country of origin or moved on (e.g. Mimi Cherono Ng’ok).
African migrants to Europe, by contrast, generally draw public attention the moment they reach the border crossing. The exhibition also reflects on their diasporic experiences. The work of Kiluanji Kia Henda, for example, ironically juxtaposes European ‘high culture’ (e.g. references art and architecture, literature, but also designer merchandise) and the presence of African migrants.
The exhibition will not only present unfamiliar interpretations and representations of seemingly well-known African migration processes, but will also draw attention to as yet ‘untold stories’. Among these are Aida Muluneh’s filmic investigations into the biographies of 4 thousands of Ethiopian children sent to Cuba around 1978 and now living in Cuba, Ethiopia, and many other locations around the world. Emma Wolukau Wanabwa opens up yet another window with her art: combining photography, film and text, she looks at Eastern Africa as a destination for European refugees, more precisely several thousand Poles, who found shelter in civilian camps in Uganda in 1942-1952.
3. BORDER(LANDS)S – AESTHETICS AND ETHICS
Artistic investigations into the existing intra-African permeability of borders and the development of borderlands into transnational spaces and transcultural contact zones often result in a simultaneous exploration of political-military interests and border control regimes, including territorial demarcations and cross-border conflicts. Aesthetic representations therefore frequently engage with migrants’ experiences and raise various ethical questions.
Thenjiwe Nkosi’s (and Meza Weza’s) artistic intervention ‘Border Farm Project’ (2009/10) resulted in the film ‘Border Farm’ and the video ‘Crossing’ (both 2011) about the Zimbabwean-South African border and the experience of Zimbabwean migrants. Focussing on another geographical location, Sarah Vanagt’s work, shifting from film to installation and integrating photography, video, and voice recording, investigates children’s and young people’s lives and the meaning of the border in the war-torn border zone between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The last domain and last section of the exhibition thus brings the visitor back to a fundamental dimension of migration, i.e. that it is the crossing of international borders that ‘creates’ the migrant – while especially in the era of globalization migration processes constantly challenge the existence and question the legitimacy of borders and border regimes.