As a collaborative multimedia project, the ‘Memory, Movement, Montage’ initiative intends to present the complexities of crossing political, social, ecological and geographical borders in an innovative format that is conceptualised around the process of migration. We specifically examine how the construction of migrant identity is greatly influenced by material objects that inadvertently become part of migration. Objects play an important part in memorialising the process of migration, and this can take place through various mediums that create possibilities for alternative histories. These often intangible and overlooked movements can both question and challenge dominant narratives of migration. The project looks closely at the way certain objects travel and how they become repositories of uncertainties and silences embedded in the migration process.
The process of human movement can be the result of various conscious or forced circumstances, and each individual going through this process experiences it differently. The many definitions of a migrant that are provided by the United Nations, such as refugees, forced migrants, illegal migrants, immigrants, asylum seekers and diaspora are restrictive definitions that it limits the identity of the people and compartmentalise them into these terms. These labels strip the human value from these people and reduces their experiences and narratives to a mere statistical data.
This project aims to problematize this method of looking at migration as a mass process and create a platform where individual narratives of migration find a space to voice themselves. We acknowledge that it cannot be taken for granted that all individuals associated with the migration process would be comfortable with voicing it out or sharing it with the world. Silence and forgetting is also a crucial part of memory formation. There are instances in migration which can be traumatic and painful, and thus the individual can choose, sometimes inadvertently, to not remember or forget those incidents. This project thus involves multiple different mediums which can not only give space to share these stories but also give space and respects to those silences.
We plan to associate with Oral historians working with migrants from different regions of the world and are archiving their narratives. We also plan to showcase different incidents of migration through photographs and virtual reality mediums that can also address the silences of migrants. These silences themselves form extremely powerful narratives of the trauma that is associated with the migration process. Paying attention to seemingly mute and inanimate objects and listening to their stories can create be an affective archive that will cater to different sensory modes.
One of the mediums through which this particular project will demonstrate these complex issues is photography, as photographs themselves are objects embodying memories and experiences, whether real or imagined. More than being mere representations of the past, they make memories re-lived and re-experienced. In photographs, the past and the idea of time itself gets memorialised. We aim to locate this project in Minnesota, USA and explore the stories of South-Asian and Somalian migrants in this particular space. This project aims to reveal how the objects they carried with them from their homeland navigate through this new western space and how the process of cultural assimilation/alienation takes place. We have already been involved in establishing contacts with such migrants for the past 6 months and have collected some very interesting stories related to the objects that migrated with the people and what symbolic significance such objects hold. Another medium of recording narratives migration is via oral histories. This project will also compose a digital archive of both audio and video interviews of 1st, 2nd and 3rd generation migrants to showcase how memory gets transmitted from one generation to the next and how the 2nd and 3rd generation migrants who were not actually a part of the migration process construct
their identity through ‘postmemory’. This section will particularly focus on the 1947 Partition of India, and the migrants who moved during that period from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to different parts of the world. The virtual reality museum of material memory of migration which will showcase the different facets of migration through the material objects is one of the most promising outcomes that we aim to achieve in this collaborative project. We also aim to open multiple other avenues such as installation at galleries and museums, an Instagram account sharing the narratives of the migrants, a series of guest lectures, symposiums and seminars from various experts, face to face conversation with different generations of migrants and other artistic performances as part of this project.
The project has been conceptualised in three phases. Each phase will focus on a particular media, therefore, the goals and expected outcomes are different in each phase.
Phase 1- This phase will focus on the material memory of migrants through objects that become part of the migration process. To understand migration narratives through these objects, the medium that we will use is still photography. Beyond memorializing the past, do photographs work as objects themselves that destabilize memory and temporality? In order to answer this question, we will largely focus on the South-Asian migrants in Minnesota who travelled to North America through Africa and Europe. We will specifically look for objects that became part of this migration pattern because of the 1947 Partition of the Indian subcontinent resulting in the formation of India, East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh) and Pakistan.
Phase 2- This phase will focus on oral narratives and oral histories of individual migrants. We aim to create a space for understanding how the migration process can be broken down from a mass collective process to something very individual and personal. Is it possible to unlearn what we know about migrant communities through such narratives of crossing borders around the world? In this phase, we will build upon our work on South Asian migrants and engage with the Hmong community in the Twin Cities area. We plan to create a digital archive that will store video and audio recordings of the first, second and third generation migrants and study how memories of migration get transferred from one generation to the other.
Phase 3- The final phase will be dedicated to building a Virtual Reality (VR) museum to connect with the everyday life of migration. As the most ambitious part of the project, it will engage with questions of ephemerality and (in)accessibility in migrant histories. The VR museum will create an experimental space with 3D forms and audio-visual techniques so that the audience can interact with different narratives, experiences, traumas and silences of migration. We aim to develop this project in collaboration with our listed international partners, the LATIS team in the College of Liberal Arts, and the School of Design labs.
The interdisciplinary model of the IAS Collaborative will allow us to imagine, conceptualise and experiment with various people who are involved in similar fields of work. This project will create a common platform for artists, scholars, and activists from across the world to collaborate on different aspects of migration. Since this project intends to bring together people working on the themes of migration and memory from three continents – North America, Europe and Asia, the IAS Collaborative will provide us with the space to go beyond individual work and build a transnational project. We believe IAS will not only encourage such a project, but also enrich it with the available resources. With support from IAS, we will be able to include perspectives of individuals and collectives who are working on different aspects of memory, movement and migration. This will facilitate the larger debate on how narratives of migration are represented in the global forum and provide various frames of reference for further research.