The Baggage of Emigration

Guided visits: Estefanía Camejo
Wednesday 29/11 | 17:00
Friday, 01/12 | 17:00
Saturday, 02/12 | 10:30

One of the oddest and most dramatic features of our present-day reaction to any given catastrophe—particularly those which last in time—is the loss of our emotional connection with what is happening. For some particular psychological reason, the empathy that encourages us to think about the singularity of a person when we hear about their death has been replaced by an abstract and indifferent relationship. The same happens when we are informed about migratory processes. The attention captured by an occasional story through an image and a name (Alan, for instance) is instantaneous yet vanishes as soon as the next piece of news appears. In this sense, it comes as no surprise that one of the main demands to counteract this type of situations is to reverse the abstract quality implied in notions like victims, missing people, migrants or refugees when talking about those who die or suffer as individuals with lives, personal stories, memories, expectations, rights… names.

Very probably, the rationale of contemporary communication makes a transformation of this kind impossible. Responding to their primary function, communication systems speed up and filter information with various purposes, although sometimes they also distort the reality of the tragedy by smoothing its harshest angles or using information to create polarisation and fear. With few exceptions, we have learned to view practically any disaster or massacre while eating lunch, chatting or going about our daily chores. We never see specific individuals, but abstractions that comment on subjects who die and suffer in some remote country. It is always about the others and that is why when local victims come to the fore, images or specific references are carefully avoided.

The aim of The Baggage of Emigration, an exhibition programmed to tie in with the Muestra de Cine de Lanzarote, is to attempt to reinstate within migration a certain personal dimension.

Over the course of several months we have been involved in a labour-intensive process of research, trying to locate stories of migrants from different parts of the world and in different times in history. We have located countless stories and biographies, in which people both related and unrelated to literature talk and reflect about their personal experiences as migrants, exiles or refugees. They are people fleeing political persecution or dictatorships in some cases, or situations of pure misery in others. We have found individuals escaping their countries because of their sexual orientation or religious beliefs. Nearly all the cases share something in common: the consciousness of having left their homes behind, and the inevitability of feeling fear and uncertainty about what awaits them.

The various types of luggage we see in the exhibition symbolise migration with great precision. Who does not associate emigration with a suitcase? A suitcase that must contain everything one can take, a small bundle for a whole life to come. Each one chooses what they need to remember, those things that are absolutely necessary for the everyday, the papers to produce at the border, photographs… That is the reason why the suitcase, bag, backpack or satchel acquires a radical dimension. Each one of these items speaks about individual circumstances, with absolutely necessary things in one extreme and (perhaps painfully) contingent ones in the other. Hence, the luggage accompanying each individual migrant has something akin to a ghost-like halo that transports us to a particular time, social class, way of life and subjectivity.

The exhibits selected for the show have been purchased in street markets and shops around the world because of their proximity to the persons alluded to in each of the chosen stories. Displayed as objects in the middle of a city, separated by glass, they await there in a scattered arrangement, disconnected from one another, each one willing to tell its story to anyone with time to stop for a moment to listen about the crucial instant of a life. Each piece of luggage is accompanied by an account about an individual from a specific country and time, and their experience as migrants, exiles or refugees. All of them keenly aware of the radicality of their particular moment, in terms of both the abandonment and the uncertainty involved in migration.