Mapping Migration: Putting Journeys in Context

Barrak Alzaid,
October 12, 2012

Arts Policy Nexus

(To read other articles in our Arts-Policy Nexus series click here.)

European Migration map. Caption: Mapping Journey #7. Video. 2011. 6'. Courtesy of the artist and Galerieofmarseille, Marseille.
European Migration map. Caption: Mapping Journey #7. Video. 2011. 6′. Courtesy of the artist and Galerieofmarseille, Marseille.

Working primarily with video and images, artist Bouchra Khalili creates installation pieces that show narratives of migration. In the videos, individuals narrate the story of their migration while tracing its path on maps. A series of silkscreen prints presents these same journeys in the stark simplicity of constellation-like traces on a blank blue plane. Depicting only key cities and the paths taken in between, the works allow for viewers to engage with these journeys without the context of physical landmarks or guiding narrative, leaving them to project their own stories onto the stark maps.

Bouchra Khalili humanizes migrants’ stories without victimizing or sensationalizing them.

In The Mapping Journey Project, a still and tightly captured video frame reveals a section of map, a marker, a speaker’s hand, and a voice. These elements conspire to share the migrant’s clandestine journey, offering speakers a unique opportunity to engage their often-unheard story.

The Constellation, Fig. 7. Silkscreen print. 2011. 40cm x 60cm. Mounted on aluminium and framed. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Polaris, Paris. Photo by Maya Wilsens
The Constellation, Fig. 7. Silkscreen print. 2011. 40cm x 60cm. Mounted on aluminium and framed. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Polaris, Paris. Photo by Maya Wilsens

Stories disseminated in mass media that impact national immigration policies about the safety, security, or rights of migrant workers are often limited to descriptions of violence or ostensibly illegal activity. Data collected by rights workers and advocacy organizations are often stripped of their human stories, and when anecdotes are included, they are often aggregated to convey a specific policy-driven message. Rarely, if ever, do migrants have the opportunity to tell their own stories, to have their own journeys capture the attention of a captive audience.

The Constellation. Caption: The Constellation, Fig. 3. Silkscreen print. 2011. 40cm x 60cm. Mounted on aluminum and framed. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Polaris, Paris. Photo by Maya Wilsens
The Constellation. Caption: The Constellation, Fig. 3. Silkscreen print. 2011. 40cm x 60cm. Mounted on aluminum and framed. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Polaris, Paris. Photo by Maya Wilsens

This work does not offer itself up as a corrective or palliative to the current problems of migrants, which are systemic and driven by a range of punitive immigration policies. Instead, it humanizes migrants’ stories without victimizing or sensationalizing them. In this way, the work brings viewers in and asks them to address the plight of migrants directly, by hearing their stories.

From 2008 to 2011, Khalili concentrated on a project entitled The Mapping Journey Project, elements of which were exhibited at the Sharjah Biennial 10 and Meeting Points 6. The project as a whole comprised eight video works as well as the series of silkscreen prints entitled The Constellations. For the project, Khalili travelled to Marseilles, Ramallah, Bari, Rome, Barcelona, and Istanbul and sought out individuals to share their specific experiences. Between actively narrated videos and images of migration routes seemingly stuck in an ambiguous space between sky and land, the 16-piece project illustrates the vast complexity of our contemporary borders and the tragic impacts of regulating movement.

 

Barrak Alzaid

Barrak Alzaid

Barrak Alzaid is a writer, curator, and artist, and is the artistic director of ArteEast. He is co-editor with Khalid Hadeed of the ArteEast Shahadat Publication For Lives Undone: Gaza Summons its Writers to Speak (Min Hutam al-Hayah: Ghazzah Tastantiq Kuttabaha).

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