Migration Art Exhibit Aims to Improve International Migrant Representation

by Georgia Bennett
On October 16th Rutgers Center for African Studies in conjunction with the Center for European Studies and the Department of Italian Studies held an event entitled “Africa, Europe and the Mediterranean Migration Crisis” which told the story of immigrants over the past century through a variety of film, video and sculptural installations.

The exhibition centered on the work of Danish born, London raised filmmaker Nikolaj Bendix Skyum Larsen, and his recent body of work “End of Dreams”. Having worked on the issues and dangers surrounded migration through the world for many years, Larsens has developed a unique way of portraying the struggles and tribulations of people as they travel across geographical borders. The project intended to be an installation of concrete cast body bags, subjected to the cruelties of nature once immersed in the harsh waters of the coast of South Italy, turned into a vivid display of metaphors for human trauma and devastation, when a storm destroyed the raft that the concrete sculptures were suspended from.

In the wake of the storm remained the debris of the sculptures scattered along the nearby beaches, resembling lifeless bodies washed onto shore, hence the title of the project “End of Dreams” a harrowing depiction of the perils faced by many immigrants and refugees travelling across the Mediterranean from war stricken countries. Taken aback by the interaction between the tethered concrete sculptures and the waves of the sea, Larsen decided to film the scene from an array of angles and to then project these onto five separate screens creating a panorama of destruction and death. Frayed ropes covered in a blood red accumulation of algae, moved solemnly in the background against the contrast of the eerily still concrete body bags which by Larsens own admission portrayed the tragedy of the migrant crisis better than he could ever have hoped to.
The stillness of the body bags, represented the permanency of death, whilst the gentle movement of the ropes that once held them together were a reminded of life that once existed and an ever present soul.
Nikolaj hopes his work in that sense is able to reverse the dehumanization of migrants we are now so accustomed to seeing by highlighting the reality of the migrant crisis, and the weight of the loss of life that we must all bear on our shoulders.

Alongside discussion about Larsen’s work, the event also provided a platform for Senegalese visual artist and social activist Amadou Kane Sy to discuss the problems he sees the African Youth facing, and how his work aims to combat the restrictions placed on people of African descent.  Speaking on one of his recent works, which features the motif of ‘Flip Flops’, Kan-Sy explains how his work expresses the freedom of mobility that we should all have as humans. Taking an item, or piece of clothing as ubiquitous as sandals, Kan- Sy symbolized the effortlessness of our journeys, and the ease with which we should all be able to travel irrespective of our race or background. In a time where there is often such prejudice towards people of color who travel to westernized countries, in contrast to the adulation their white counterparts may receive for being worldly and having visited many different countries, Kan –Sy’s work is calling its audience to think critically about globalization and about the right we have as humans to experience the world without having to fear borders.
Though the exhibition featured many different forms of art that prompted an array of interesting and very important discussions about human migration. All members of the audience were in solidarity with the notion that as a society we need to more in order to improve the representation of migrants throughout the world.  This event brought together people from many different backgrounds, and countries, whose paths- without migration- would never have collided. As humans we have so much more in common with those around us than we realize, and it is only by sharing our experiences through our art, and our words that we can truly be a harmonious society


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