#escapes2021 International Online Conference
University of Milan, 24 – 26 June 2021
Border crossings, memories and opacity: potentials and limits of participatory audio-visual experiences
Convenor: Gianluca Gatta (AMM – Archive of Migrant Memories)
In the last decade, both in the social and human sciences and in the broader cultural sphere, a growing attention has been paid to narratives of migration “from inside”. Self-narration and participatory methods are increasingly deemed a bottom-up antidote to the instrumentalization of the migration experience either through the total silencing of migrant voices or their being framed into domesticated and abstract representations; however, while they are acknowledged as important forms of resistance to the subjugation of migrants, little attention has been directed so far to their possible ambivalence.
Drawing on direct experience of audiovisual self-representations and on theoretical reflections in the fields of anthropology, media studies, and literary studies, this panel will examine the potential that participatory forms of video self-narrations have in constructing multidirectional and critical memories of the postcolonial encounter in, and starting from, the Mediterranean. The panel will also examine the dark side of self-expression, particularly in view of what appears to be a moral “imperative to self-express” as coded by the neoliberal rationale. Starting from the deep reflexivity of the narrative relationship, the aim is to explore resistant forms of self-expression, including the possibility of silence, opacity and refusal as emancipatory tools.
Cultural participation through mediated memorialization
Karina Horsti (University of Jyväskylä, Finland)
This presentation examines how and why Eritrean survivors of the October 3, 2013 disaster in Lampedusa participate in annual commemorations that are mainly directed to European publics. Anniversary commemorations are mediated through social media and mainstream media in Italy and beyond but each year survivors have also produced their own media through poems, protest signs, online video reports and discussions. They have interjected their specific politics into the commemoration – their personal memories, political manifestations of Eritrean and diasporic politics, and disaster-specific claims. The presentation argues that to understand the complexities of media and cultural participation, analysis of diasporic media sphere and practices of self-representation are necessary.
“Unwritten letters”: unwriting ‘the’ migrant experience through film and friendship
Abd Alrahman Dukmak (filmmaker), Maximilian Bloching (filmmaker)
“I want to see “my film” in this film, says Abd to Max. Abd is a 24 years old Syrian, who took part in the early days of the 2011 revolution and now lives in Padova, Italy. Together with his friend Max he is working on a film called Unwritten Letters. As they are exploring how to turn Abd’s reality in Italy into a film, Abd is revisiting his past and diving into possible futures. Unwritten Letters documents the story of a young Syrian man arriving to Europe and his process to make sense of who he is through film and friendship.” (Synopsis of Unwritten Letters).
Drawing on the specific experience of co-directing Unwritten Letters, we will be reflecting on our approach towards collaborative filmmaking as a space of friendship that opens the possibility for both a reflexive and poetic engagement with an experience of migration. Returning to the motivations and structural elements of our project, we will explore how the incorporation of the editing process, the act of letter writing and the search for a shared cinematic language can be a fruitful attempt of exploring and representing a particular experience in its open-ended nature beyond the common structure of the ‘hero/victim’s journey’.
What makes me “capture” stories: the sedimentation of audio-visual memories across the Mediterranean
Zakaria Mohamed Ali (filmmaker, AMM – Archive of migrant memories)
“What shall we tell our children tomorrow?”. Drawing on the author’s own experience of border crossing and participatory video making, the aim of this talk is to explore the many challenges faced by persons with migratory background who engage in self-narrative practices as a way to contribute to inclusion policies that affect people’s own lives.
A critical retrospective of the main reasons pushing the author to express his voice since his arrival in Italy will be provided, as well as a prospective account of his current “desire to return” through a new documentary project, a multi-layered return, aimed at reframing his past narrative and memory experience, reconnecting with his fellow travellers currently scattered all over Europe, revisiting places forcibly crossed during the journey, and returning to his homeland, Somalia.
Against Narrative Extraction, Aesthetic Austerity, and Voyeurism
Hanna Musiol (Norwegian University of Science and Technology NTNU)
Self-narration is one of the most ubiquitous forms of global storytelling. An autobiography, a migrant detention diary, a coming-out or coming-of-age narrative, a MeToo testimonial—all are lauded as models for victorious overcoming. Your own story can set you free, we are told, and it sometimes does. Yet, our stories are never just our own, and in the migration story industry, stories are the new gold, the new spice, a precious resource extracted and molded under unequal, violent labor conditions, often in carceral settings, and distributed broadly, often without consent. Your story should be exceptional, but never systemic. And, if you keep your emotional range, plots, and stock characters (the victim-hero protagonist, the perpetrator, the savior) in check, arch the plot in a particular way, tell your story right, and comply with specific “aesthetic austerity” demands to make the citizen, the torturer, the teacher, the journalist, the Global North voyeur feel right, you may get rewarded with a visa or a book deal. In that, migrant self-narration industry is as neocolonial as it is neoliberal.
Thus, there is no denying that self-narration is often the possible act of witness, defiance, or solidarity, but it is equally important to remember the conditions under which such storytelling happens. This talk will focus on several examples—Trondheim-based collective narrative and more somatic initiatives, the Toxic Biographies Archive, and reflective migrant cartographies—that break these cardinal rules of popular migrant self-narration, engaging in communal, choral, often somatic storytelling not designed for humanitarian voyeurs; that reflect on the emplacement of the reflective migrant self with the system of oppression; and, most important, that make radical demands on the audience to change the carceral conditions of reception of stories and migrant bodies alike.
The films directed by some of the panelists will be available on the conference’s Film Platform from 17 to 27 June, see: www.archiviomemoriemigranti.net/mc-filmplatform/
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