Article (Scientific journals)
Harnessing visibility and invisibility through arts practices: Ethnographic case studies with migrant performers in Belgium
Damery, Shannon; Mescoli, Elsa
2019In Arts
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Keywords :
art; undocumented migrants; belgium
Abstract :
[en] This paper endeavors to understand the role of arts in migration-related issues by offering insights into the different ways in which artistic practices can be used by migrants, and migrants’ differing objectives in participating in the arts. Through the exploration of the initiatives of undocumented and refugee migrants involved in two artistic groups in Belgium, this paper compares the motivations of the performers and concludes that art can operate as an empowering tool for migrants as it constitutes a space for agency, notwithstanding the specific scope of which it is contextually charged. It allows migrants to render themselves visible or invisible, depending on their contrasting motivations. The theatre productions of the first group, composed by members of “La Voix des sans papiers de Liège”, a collective of undocumented migrants, corresponds to an explicit effort of political engagement in the local context (Salzbrunn 2014). The collective was recently created by those occupying some vacant public buildings in Liege and offered a way for participants to advocate for the right to regularization. Liege is an urban context that has been the theatre of similar struggles for migrants in the past, and that takes the form of a "welcoming city" (commune hospitalière) in terms of migrants and their rights. A network of actors from different social spheres (politics, NGOs and associations, cultural actors) support the emergence, at the local level, of artistic initiatives by members of the collective, and these initiatives become social spaces for migrants to raise their voices. More specifically, the undocumented people go on stage as non-professional actors to narrate their story and to claim their rights as active citizens despite their legal status, thus positioning themselves against the restrictive policies on migration operating at the federal level of the state. In this example, art is a way for undocumented migrants to become visible actors and contest the process of invisibilization imposed by federal state authorities. The second group, a ‘Roma’ music group created through cultural funding from the state and the initiative of two non-profit cultural organizations, had the aim of integrating Roma youth into Belgian society through the promotion of Roma music. Despite the political aims of the group leaders, the members of the group were diverse and included refugee and undocumented youth from various backgrounds who had no political agenda when joining the ensemble. As Rotas (2012) argues, the categorization of art is significant in the way it is interpreted and received by the audience. For example, the portrayal of art as ‘migrant’ art, means that it is somehow not local art. The choice of the young people to be involved in a group that did not have political aims in terms of refugee and undocumented rights, highlights their desire to be, in some ways, invisible and anonymous while participating in this collective of artists. They were claiming a kind of unofficial belonging by being part of the group where they were accepted as artists regardless of their migratory status. Through a perspective that sees knowledge as collaborative production (O'Neil 2008), ethnographic material has been collected throughout the duration of the creative process of the two groups. The analysis of this material shows how art - while its use is not necessarily always political (Martiniello and Lafleur 2008) - permits us to unpack categories and to blur the boundaries between supposedly opposing statuses (legality and illegality, migrant and local). Whether it occurs through visibility or invisibility, art offers opportunities for migrants to actively participate in the socio-cultural and political environment in which they reside and to claim various forms of official and unofficial belonging.
Disciplines :
Author, co-author :
Damery, Shannon ;  Université de Liège - ULiège > Département des sciences sociales > Centre d'études de l'ethnicité et des migrations (CEDEM)
Mescoli, Elsa  ;  Université de Liège - ULiège > Département des sciences sociales > Centre d'études de l'ethnicité et des migrations (CEDEM)
Language :
Title :
Harnessing visibility and invisibility through arts practices: Ethnographic case studies with migrant performers in Belgium
Publication date :
Journal title :
Publisher :
Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute (MDPI), Basel, Switzerland
Peer reviewed :
Peer Reviewed verified by ORBi
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since 12 October 2019


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