They were, those people, a kind of solution

The project They were, those people, a kind of solution is funded through European Union’s Creative Europe program.

Signs and Whispers

Maribel Casas-Cortes & Sebastian Cobarrubias, choir Domaćigosti, Davor Konjikušić, Daniela Ortiz, Erkan Özgen, the research It Is Obvious from the Map by Thomas Keenan & Sohrab Mohebbi
Gallery Nova, Zagreb
29/11/2017 – 03/03/2018

The exhibition Signs and Whispers presents examples of artistic practices that examine the concept of the border, the economic and ideological causes of migrations, and the dominant policies of presenting "the migrant and refugee crisis". By critically questioning the consequences of the growing militarization of borders, the exhibition juxtaposes the technical language of maps, diagrams and photographic depictions with the engaged use of physical expressions, voices and songs. Since the closing of the European borders and the Balkan migrant route that also included Croatia, and especially since the terrorist attacks in Paris in November of 2015, we are witnessing an extreme militarization of borders that is surrounding the walls of „Fortress Europe” with increasingly stringent and violent regimes. These include the "externalization of borders", that controls European borders from outside of Europe, inside the territories that are the sources and transit points of migrations, in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.

The project and exhibition by Thomas Keenan and Sohrab Mohebbi It Is Obvious from the Map (developed and shown in REDCAT, Los Angeles, 2017), deals precisely with this issue of the externalization of borders, questioning the role of maps and cartography in movements of large numbers of people from conflict zones in the Middle East and Africa toward Europe. The title of the research was taken from a detail on the map marking the border between Hungary and Serbia, which was created and shared by migrants on social networks, trying to carry through their fundamental right to migration. The selection of maps represents two different types of migrant route cartography: the first type includes maps, pictures and diagrams created during the journey that are shared and commented on by their users, while the other type comprises maps that are tools for enforcing oppressive regimes of controlling the movement of people and vehicles.

The series Aura: F37 (2015) by Davor Konjikušić shows violence of regimes that limit and control the movement of people. Realized with the help of police thermal imaging cameras that are used for night supervision of the external borders of the European Union, Aura: F37 points to the role of technology in processes of the militarization of borders. Along the series of photographs recording migrant crossings of the Schengen border and showing people's movements in the landscape, the work includes an audio recording of a conversation between migrants while crossing. According to the author "While a refugee in a wider biopolitical context is merely a body, a homo sacer, to law enforcement, by combining photography and sound, these depictions are given a clear social identity in the moment when the fear of "others" and terrorist threats makes us live in a permanent state of emergency, within which supranational control is entrusted to machines that fulfill their function through sight".

The works of Daniela Ortiz explore the notions of race, class, nationality, gender and civil rights policy as well as analyze social behavior as structures that are based on inclusion and exclusion. In recent years, many of her projects have initiated collaboration with migrants and asylum seekers and explored the consequences of migrations that the author also faced when coming to Spain from Peru. The picture book The ABC of Racist Europe uses collage, images and text in dealing with words related to the European system of migration control and colonial racism. Different terms are described from an anti-colonial and anti-racist perspective and critically discuss Eurocentrism. For example, the letter P denotes "paper", which refers to "a rectangular piece of white material on which one writes or prints", as well as "a document that enables migrants in Europe to not be forcefully deported for a certain period of time".

The Domaćigosti choir, which was created in the fall of 2016 on the initiative of the Center for Peace Studies, brings together foreigners and locals. The choir's repertoire includes songs from different parts of the world with which the choir showcases itself in its informal and street performances, indirectly fighting xenophobia and encouraging openness.

Erkan Özgen's video Wonderland (2016) deals with the inability to describe the experience of trauma. Wonderland introduces us to a 13-year-old boy called Muhammad who escaped from Kobanî. Kobanî is situated in southwestern Kurdistan (northern Syria), a region today called Rojava, that entered world media because of 107 days of resistance to superior ISIS forces, starting in September 2014. Since he is deaf-mute, in order to articulate his traumatic experience, Muhammad uses only his body. Although many might doubt the authenticity of the story that Muhammad so impressively relates, the inability to express it in the usual way reveals the way in which others' experiences can become locations of uncertainty, projections, misunderstandings and fears. The video shows the inability to represent war and conflict, trauma and pain, and that it is necessary for the viewers to construct, imagine and visualize such foreign experiences from their subjective position. In that sense, the work's title indicates a place of imagination, the importance of representation of imagination and the indescribable.

At a time when defending the borders, instead of protecting human lives, is the background of different tensions around which migration problems are grouped, the issue of solidarity stands out as crucial. Since there are attempts in many European countries to deny solidarity, for example, by criminalizing basic humanitarian assistance of European citizens to migrants, the question of how will the waves of solidarity develop depends also on the result of a broad public debate about readiness, need and ability of Europe to deal with migrants fleeing war and poverty. It is not just a matter of numbers, how many migrants to let into the countries of Europe, but do European countries have the sovereignty that would allow systemic shifts with the goal of preventing the real causes of migrations that are related to conflicts because of resources, class inequality and oppression.

The program is supported by:

  • City Office for Education, Culture and Sports of the City of Zagreb
  • European Union’s Creative Europe program
  • Foundation for Arts Initiatives
  • Kultura Nova Foundation
  • Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Croatia
  • Office for Cooperation with NGOs of the Republic of Croatia