More Thoughts on Stories of Immigration…

after reading Amardeep Singh’s Mimicry and Hybridity in Plain English.

I’m really fascinated by language, so that’s what jumped out at me from this text. The fact that Bhabha needs to be ‘translated’ into ‘plain English’ by another academic is also interesting/yucky for me. Why does Bhabha choose to write in the highly specialized academic register he does here to begin with? This seems pretty problematic to me in a subject area like postcolonial studies, where it is most likely that this type of highly academic and jargony work would be completely inaccessible to most of the subjects of his analysis.  Anyway, here are some additional thoughts on Singh’s post in no particular order:

On language preservation in Indigenous societies in general:

“Language is central to the reclamation of Indigenous law because translation fails us — not only because so much is lost in translation, but also because so much is added. It is nearly impossible for me to use the English term law and not have you immediately form images in your head of what law is. Your understanding of this term is probably rooted in a specific Anglo-cultural history. Whether you form pictures in your mind of lawyers in powdered wigs, or monarchs passing judgement, or of weary Crown prosecutors desperately trying to make it through a stack of files three feet high, the term is inextricably linked to an Anglo–common law tradition which stretches back for centuries. Millennia, if we want to really get to the roots of it…”

“Aside from allowing us to communicate with one another, our languages express our laws and sociopolitical principles. When we lose our language, we can no longer tap into those things that make us a whole culture. We must rely on translations that are inescapably influenced by foreign cultural understandings. We cannot help but experience an erosion of our cultural foundations when we cannot access these principles in their pure form, in our languages and in our territories. On the flip side, even when our traditions and cultures have been eroded, we can use the language to reclaim foundational principles that may have been forgotten or erased on purpose by the overlay of colonially imposed governance in our communities.”

On ‘reclaiming’ languages:


Stories of Immigration

I found the articles this week difficult to connect with. I’m not sure if this was due to the writing style or more abstract nature of the content or something else, but I struggled with them this week. So, I decided that I will try to respond to two ideas that I found interesting from these texts using the work of several diaspora artists who I feel engage with the themes in poetic ways.

“The disorientation that arises when familiar categories are left behind becomes the very ground on which critical readers reorient themselves anew.” -Leslie Adelson, ‘Against Between: A Manifesto’

 “To the extent to which discourse is a form of defensive warfare, mimicry marks those moments of civil disobedience within the discipline of civility: signs of spectacular resistance. Then the words of the master become the site of hybridity- the warlike, subaltern sign of the native- then we may not only read between the lines but even seek to change the often coercive reality that they so lucidly contain.” -Homi Bhabha, ‘Signs Taken for Wonders’


Jukhee Kwon (Korea/UK)

Altered book artist Jukhee Kwon’s work has an interesting resonance with Signs Taken for Wonders- the “words of the master” literally becoming a “site of hybridity” through her physical alteration of the text.


Jukhee Kwon, ‘Luminous Book’

“Kwon creates captivating works, quite literally, from the printed page. Using abandoned and disused books, she shreds the pages by hand to create magnificent ‘book sculptures’. These effervescent sculptures, brimming with energy, flow from their spines in the form of cascading waterfalls. Each book, thus deconstructed, attains to a new existence through this transformational creative process. Much of her work plays with ideas of destruction and re-creation…..The act of the book’s expansion alludes to a feeling of freedom and movement, mimicking in a sense, her migratory experience. As she cuts each strand, the process becomes a means to travel the tracks of half-held memories and to retrace those first conscious steps towards the creation of a new life.” via October Gallery

Mona Hatoum (Palestine/Lebanon/UK)

Mona Hatoum is one of my favourite installation artists. Born into a Palestinian family in Lebanon, she has lived in the UK since 1975. Her works are so densely layered and flawlessly executed.


Mona Hatoum, ‘Suspended’

“In Suspended (2011), Hatoum hangs 35 fibreboard swings from steel chains attached to the ceiling. Each is covered in red laminate, into which is etched the street plan of a city from across the globe. Hatoum aims to make a point about urban migration with these hanging islands, which are dislocated and impersonal, coldly hostile.” via YaLibnan


Mona Hatoum, ‘Paravent’ and ‘Dormiente’

Paravent and Dormiente (both 2008) are enlarged kitchen graters whose enormity transforms them into a room partition and a bed, respectively, but their sharp edges threaten to harm those who would dare to touch them. Made of steel they become a barrier that isolates visitors and impedes their passage in a threatening manner.”


Mona Hatoum, ‘Impenetrable’

Impenetrable (2008) hangs from the ceiling, forming a dense, impenetrable cube that seems to float in the air. Though delicate in its execution, the work is highly evocative of feelings of danger and captivity as closer inspection reveals its composition to be barbed-wire. Notions of magic, wonder, and fragility are juxtaposed with danger and fear. The barbed wire is a deadly encumbrance but at the same time an ethereal and astonishing structure of minimal form.”


Mona Hatoum, ‘Natura morta’

 “Natura morta: Designed to disperse shrapnel upon exploding, the first Byzantine hand grenades had a body made of stone, ceramic, and later of glass. The small explosive shell took its name from the French grenade for “pomegranate,” because it looked and behaved like the many-seeded fruit that explodes once it is overripe, disseminating its seeds over a wide perimeter. The pomegranate is native to the region of Persia and the western Himalayan range. Knowing no borders it has been cultivated for several millennia in Iran, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Northern India, Russia, and also in South China, Southeast Asia, and the Mediterranean region. In Hatoum’s still life Natura Morta, the grenade appears as both vital fruit and deadly fire.” all via 5centsapound

 Nida Sinnokrot (Palestine/Algeria/USA)

 Sinnokrot is better known as a video and documentary artist, but I love these two pieces of his and think they respond eloquently to Bhabha’s discussion of mimicry, resistance and hybridity. More on these works via Nadour and Sharjah Art Foundation.


Nida Sinnokrot, ‘KA (JCB JCB)


Nida Sinnokrot, ‘Rubber Coated Rocks’

Lida Abdul (Afghanistan/Germany/USA)

Lida Abdul discusses her migratory experience and her piece White House:

“AM: As a child, you were forced to leave Afghanistan after the Soviet Invasion and sought refuge in India, Germany and USA…You have talked about being in a state of ‘post-identity’, ‘post-nation’… How does your personal history inform your work?

LA: I feel that I can easily cross cultural borders. I think that is what is wonderful about not having a fixed notion of identity or nationhood. There is really nothing I have a duty to do. It bothers people, this refusal to choose between us and them because I guess when you announce your identity publicly people know what to expect. If I were to identify with anything, it would be Afghanistan because it’s a country that needs so much attention.

AM: In White House (2005), in a landscape strewn with ruins, you painstakingly paint the rubble of a destroyed building white. It is at once an absurdist gesture and a cathartic, determined act of political resistance. You have said that the most difficult thing is to move beyond the memory of an event, and your works are the forms of failed attempts to ‘transcend’. Could you say more about this?

LA: I wanted to turn the ruins into sculptures because they carry for me the memory of something lost, yet at the same time they are reminders of what is no longer there. A fragment. Yet complete in its own way because any attempt to fix it, will erase its uniqueness. It teaches nothing, except that what was once is gone and the only way to approach it is through art without direct reference to an event.” via ArtVehicle


Lida Abdul, ‘White House’

Dear White People

The potential of the internet to allow marginalized communities to crowd fund representational media created by, for, and about themselves in a way not seen in mainstream media on or offline is something else I was thinking about…

‘Dear White People’ was crowd funded through IndieGogo and showed at Sundance this January. The film “follows the stories of four black students at an Ivy League college where a riot breaks out over a popular “African American” themed party thrown by white students. With tongue planted firmly in cheek, the film will explore racial identity in “post-racial” America while weaving a universal story of forging one’s unique path in the world.”

Check it out here.

Internet, Virtual Activism and the Blogosphere: The Refugee Art Project

For this shared discoveries week, I decided to look at an online community of migrants slightly different than the ones represented in the articles. While the migrants discussed in the readings are empowered to use their online presence for self determination and self representation, refugees in detention are largely silenced by their lack of direct access to media to tell their own stories and connect to their wider communities.

Australia has been widely criticized by organizations such as UNHCR and Amnesty International for conditions at its Manus Island and Nauru indefinite detention centres, where it currently detains asylum seekers and refugees, many of them children. For some background on Australia’s detention centres, check out this really great, short comic on one former guard’s experience working for Serco. In the Australian media, asylum seekers are frequently represented as dangerous, unwanted ‘boat people’, taking advantage of Australian compassion and benefits and threatening to end the ‘Australian way of life’ with forced multiculturalism. In this context, these migrants voices are all the more important to hear.

The refugees in Australian detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru share their stories online through The Refugee Art Project, an “apolitical” non profit that provides a showcase for refugee artwork. As The Refugee Art Project states on their website:

“Our intention is simply to enable asylum seekers to communicate to the public in their own voice, through art, which creates a bridge between them and the community. This is a political act only insofar as the voices of asylum seekers are shut out of public discussion whilst they are often misrepresented and maligned by our political leaders and the commercial media. By showing the art of asylum seekers and refugees, we hope to raise a greater public awareness about their suffering and to highlight the enormous talent that is locked away, behind razor wire.”

In this way The Refugee Art Project complicates Mainsah’s argument for the internet as being “a site of struggle rather than escape.” While the artists are literally imprisoned, through the internet, their artwork is allowed a chance to escape, inspiring support and struggle for their cause in a wider community beyond the razor wire.

In addition to their website, which showcases artwork done by asylum seekers in detention, the Refugee Art Project has an active online twitter, tumblr and facebook presence. On their website, detainees work is presented in galleries such as “memories of home”, “exile”, “surviving detention”, and “imagining Australia.” The Refugee Art Project also provides an offline voice for the detainees, distributing zines created by asylum seekers and putting on art shows of their work.

Recently, The Refugee Art Project joined in support with a number of artists in boycotting the Sidney Biennale, whose founding partner, Transfield, has been granted contracts to operate a detention centre on Manus Island. In response to the boycott, the chairman of the Biennale (who is also chairman of Transfield holdings) resigned his position with the festival. Detainee artists with The Refugee Art Project are currently collaborating to create a piece that “deals directly with the subject of their mandatory and indefinite detention” for the Biennale.


O, ‘Hope’


K, ‘Christmas Island Boat Tradgedy’


A few themes kept standing out for me in the readings this week. Both Soysal and Schiller point out the limitations of using the (often arbitrary) borders of the nation state as meaningful territories that enclose a culture or ethnicity “as one cohesive identity.” Instead, they argue, the framework of the nation state “collapse[s] all useful categorical and historical distinctions between place, nation (ethnicity) and culture” (Soysal), with each ethnic group “assumed to have a uniform mode of incorporation throughout the national space” (Schiller). Using an overly simplified category of ‘ethnicity’ this way “homogenizes the differentiated opportunities, processes, and forms of migrant incorporation within the national territory” (Schiller) by failing to take into account the greatly differentiated experiences of class (and gender) difference that Schiller touches on in his discussion on “double polarization” in the globalized neoliberal context. The readings seem to argue for a more nuanced understanding of migrant experience than the singular category of ‘ethnicity’ can provide, and locate the empowered and multiethnic youth culture of ‘the second generation’ as a potential site where this complexity is highly visible and being actively re imagined.


‘Berlin Wall’: Street artist blu in Kreuzberg

In watching the film and in Soysal’s discussion of the vivid ‘second generation’ youth culture of Kreuzberg, I kept thinking back to our previous discussions on C-it and the youth of the Paris suburbs who identify more with an area code as their community than any one ethnicity. In their shared German neighbourhood, the Greek and Turkish families in Kebab Connection appear to have more in common than what sets them apart. The film makers use food as a theme to highlight this, poking fun at the similarity of Greek and Turkish cuisine through the rogue Greek son’s ‘Islamic restaurant’ and the final scene where the feuding restaurant owners exchange yaprak sarma/dolma in a peace offering. Speaking to the “dislocations of wealth, hegemony, and spatial hierarchies” (Schiller), it would seem that one’s address in a city might reveal more about potential shared experiences with their neighbours (and the potential for the creation of a cohesive community) than a homogenous reading of their nationality or ethnicity would. In this context, the implications of community gentrification programs on migrant and ‘second generation’ identities seem all the more violent.

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Photos from Rena Effendi: Last Dance of Tarlabaşı

On Tarlabaşı: