Art, Borders and Belonging
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Art, Borders and Belonging

On Home and Migration

Maria Photiou, Marsha Meskimmon, Maria Photiou, Marsha Meskimmon

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eBook - ePub

Art, Borders and Belonging

On Home and Migration

Maria Photiou, Marsha Meskimmon, Maria Photiou, Marsha Meskimmon

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Art, Borders and Belonging: On Home and Migration investigates how three associated concepts-house, home and homeland-are represented in contemporary global art. The volume brings together essays which explore the conditions of global migration as a process that is always both about departures and homecomings, indeed, home-makings, through which the construction of migratory narratives are made possible. Although centrally concerned with how recent and contemporary works of art can materialize the migratory experience of movement and (re)settlement, the contributions to this book also explore how curating and exhibition practices, at both local and global levels, can extend and challenge conventional narratives of art, borders and belonging. A growing number of artists migrate; some for better job opportunities and for the experience of different cultures, others not by choice but as a consequence of forced displacement caused economic or environmental collapse, or by political, religious or military destabilization. In recent years, the theme of migration has emerged as a dominant subject in art and curatorial practices. Art, Borders and Belonging thus seeks to explore how the migratory experience is generated and displayed through the lens of contemporary art. In considering the extent to which the visual arts are intertwined with real life events, this text acts as a vehicle of knowledge transfer of cultural perspectives and enhances the importance of understanding artistic interventions in relation to home, migration and belonging.

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Información

Año
2021
ISBN
9781350203082
Edición
1
Categoría
Design
Categoría
Decorative Arts
1
Weaving together: Narratives of home, exile and belonging
Maria Photiou
Over the past decades, the Eastern Mediterranean region has experienced enduring wars and armed conflict that have resulted in a migration crisis and an increase in the security of borders. This chapter explores narratives of exile and the complexities of belonging, leaving and returning in Cyprus and Palestine. I have chosen to focus on these two countries because they share similarities in terms of their experience of leaving, returning and belonging. Both countries have experienced wars and are under military occupation – Palestine since 1948 when the Israeli army conducted a forced migration exercise and Cyprus since 1974 when Turkey invaded the island in response to a military coop, which was backed by the Greek government.1 The two countries share similar sociopolitical specificities and have been physically and psychologically traumatized by these conflicts. The political conflict in Cyprus and Palestine resulted in a mass-population forced migration and still to this day refugees are not allowed to return to their homes.
Cyprus and Palestine share similar narratives in relation to their exilic conditions and attachment to the notion of homeland. They also share a powerful quest for return to their place of birth, home and roots. For people in Cyprus and Palestine, their lives and sense of belonging is complicated in similar ways. The geopolitical division of their homeland is constituted by a series of checkpoints and roadblocks across their respective partition line. The aftermath of their internal displacement means that for many people their exilic condition is living at a close distance to their lost homes.
The experience of growing up and living under military occupation affected not only the generation who experienced the events but also the following generations. Crossing to the other side requires passing through a border that separates them from what constitutes their identity: their place of birth, land, neighbourhood and home. For many, their crossing to visit what has been left behind is followed by the disappointment of finding out that someone else is occupying their ancestral homes.
My aim in this chapter is to bring together a set of debates concerning concepts of home, exile and belonging. In doing so, I will examine a few of the salient issues that are prominent in exilic experience and refugee narratives. This chapter builds on the knowledge that exile is ‘inexorably tied to homeland and to the possibility of return’2 and explores the ways in which politicized narrations of home engage in debates about exile and rootlessness. It addresses the issue of internal exile and how it is articulated in works by migrant artists. It focuses on the work of Greek Cypriot artist Vassia Vanezi and Palestinian artist Emily Jacir, who assert in their work ongoing issues in relation to exile, borders, belonging and history of their respective homelands. I am interested in unpacking the projects where the two artists use powerful metaphors to represent protracted exile. These projects, which I consider to be ‘projects of belonging’ are: Weaving Together – The Grid of Memory (Vanezi, 2017) and Memorial to 418 Palestinian Villages which Were Destroyed, Depopulated, and Occupied by Israel in 1948 (Jacir, 2000). Both artists have participated in the international art exhibition documenta 14 and have invited communities to participate in the making of their projects. I chose to focus on the two works because the participatory element is very similar and the making of the works constitutes a significant event where people weaved together. In this chapter, I will weave together two different cities and two different artworks. What these two cities and artworks have in common is the ways in which the issues of internal exile, quest to return to homeland and sense of belonging are mutually intertwined.
Learning from Athens
In April 2017, documenta 14 opened in Athens, Greece and two months later in its traditional home city Kassel, Germany. While previously documenta was staged exclusively in Kassel, the 2017 exhibition offered a new perspective by staging a series of art events in both venues. The curatorial team of documenta 14 aimed for the exhibition to have a ‘politicised, transversal reading of our present moment and its attendant histories’.3 Therefore, the works exhibited during documenta 14 were able to engender a ‘transformative insight into the artists’ daily circumstances as part of the time of upheavals that came to be our own’.4
The theme of learning and the different processes of collective experience were visibly embedded into the exhibition’s approach. This was also reflected in the exhibition’s subtitle Learning from Athens that comprised 160 artists across 40 venues. In Athens was the Victoria Square Project, a social sculpture initiative by artist Rick Lowe, which aimed to bring people together during the exhibition. Athens-based artist Vassia Vanezi staged her project Weaving Together – The Grid of Memory in the Victoria Square Project following Lowe’s invitation to participate in documenta 14 in Athens.
Born in Nicosia, Cyprus, Vanezi explores in her work themes of loss, displacement, history and the sense of belonging. A particularly important element of her work is that she uses autobiographical experiences to represent the geopolitical division of her homeland, Cyprus. This formed a key part in her project Weaving Together – The Grid of Memory. For the project, Vanezi invited people to gather every Friday evening and weave together (Figure 1.1). Vanezi talks about the notion of weaving together:
Weaving together is a common work. It is about coming together, sitting together, talking together, eating and drinking together, making together, bringing our lives, our cultures together, sharing words together, sharing our stories and history together, confessing our pain and fears, our hopes. It is about companionship. It is about gathering. It is about human condition.5
Figure 1.1 Vassia Vanezi, Weaving Together – The Grid of Memory, 2017, Happening (Victoria Square Project: Athens, Greece).
Source: Courtesy of the artist.
Participants who responded to Vanezi’s call found themselves on a fascinating and intimate new journey. Over sixty people participated in the process of weaving and making the fabric: during the project, they were provided with multicoloured threads and an artist book called LEXICON/ΛΕΞΙΚΟΝ with written words chosen by Vanezi. The participants were invited to choose words from the book, and in some cases they chose to stitch a word of their preference.6 An important element of the project is that it provided an opportunity for participants to reflect and form their own narrative in relation to the question of memory. During a recorded narration, Vanezi expressed what memory is for her:
Memory is a grid of words, images, sounds, smells. The objects of memory. They are dressed in words when they return to our consciousness. They sound when they are being spoken, when they become languages, when they turn into a story. A call, a coffee, words that we recall from memory, we knit them, we make them a story, a narrative.7
Memories of the physical and emotional departure are pivotal in Weaving Together – The Grid of Memory. The work becomes an instrument for the artist not only to transfer her own memories as a refugee but to also express her wish and ongoing hope in returning to the home she was forced to leave as a child:
I’m a refugee. The house I was born is in occupied Nicosia. It was very nice my home. In the front there was a window and a bower and a lemon tree in the backyard. The last time I saw it was on July 20, 1974. On the day of the Turkish invasion. I left and I never went back. I was five years old. The sirens were blowing, the bombs were falling and the sky was black. I did not have the chance to take anything with me. Not even my favorite doll. We left with nothing but the clothes we wore. All I have is that little dress. A red treasure of memory. I do not forget and I expect to go back.8
As a survivor of the 1974 Turkish invasion, Vanezi carries the burden of having a personal memory of the tragic event. Remembering the home she was forced to abandon is a haunting and intimate experience. Such memory becomes a powerful form of sharing the conditions of displacement and exile. I suggest that the project Weaving Together acts as a coping strategy to negotiate the past and the memories from the lost homeland. Storytelling can be a powerful survival tool, as ‘telling stories about oneself, about one’s life, and about oneself in the world can be a way to help the individual neg...

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