In how this trend reclaimed the humanity of Muslim immigrants through everyday home objects, it made me consider how a similar detective exercise in a ‘normal’ household environment could be a powerful method of telling the less spectacular, but nonetheless significant, stories of those who migrate that we rarely see documented.
Joining together these various trains of thought, I designed an exploration experience in which visitors would investigate replicas of rooms from the former homes of migrants. These would be built and arranged according to the migrants' own stories, recorded during participatory workshops with migrant communities.
Entitled ‘Another Life: Exploring the untold stories of migrant lives’, the opening panel of my exhibition gives an overview of this idea:
When people leave home to migrate, they often leave behind stories of a life and a livelihood that rarely get told in their new setting. Instead, we are used to hearing about ‘migrants’ in the context of statistics and government policy. While these wider concerns are important, they don’t teach us much about the people who migrate: fellow human beings with family lives, hobbies, possessions, ambitions, and memories. By learning about these details, we can begin to understand their experiences better and shed new light on issues around migration today, whilst also recognising both the diversity of our cultures and our common humanity.
In this exhibition, we are giving you the opportunity to play detective. By exploring the former homes of real people who have migrated, we want you to find out about their lives. What were their jobs? What did their home town used to be like? Why did they leave? These are just some of the questions you can consider as you investigate.
There are three homes to explore, each representing a different migrant community. Inside the rooms, you will find all sorts of everyday objects, placed as they would have been in the original homes. You are welcome to touch, pick up, open and use objects in the rooms, but when you are finished please leave everything in the rooms as you found it. We also encourage you to use the tables and chairs provided to talk with others about what you discover.
We hope that your investigations give you insight into the intriguing hidden stories of people who live around us today in our villages, towns, and cities, yet have left another life behind.
So in total there would be three replica rooms, each representing a different migrant community participating in the workshops. For each of these communities, one person’s life story would be chosen as the main narrative, while all participants would be involved in decorating the rooms in a culturally-sensitive way, according to their own experiences. The individual life stories would be communicated through objects that contain a more explicit sense of narrative. This could be letters, electronic communications, diary extracts, and notes. As the rooms are replicas, however, all the materials would be created or bought during the production stage – unless participants would be willing to use relevant personal items that are still in their possession.
This image indicates what the rough size of the replica rooms would be, and the type of contents they would contain:
For the purposes of this exercise, we were given unlimited access to resources for the exhibition, and freedom to choose where the exhibition would be held – providing that it was roughly ‘medium-sized’.
I decided that my exhibition would be held in the Contemporary Gallery of the Geffrye Museum of the Home in London. Not only would this location provide ample space and accessibility for all of the exhibition’s activities, but the subject of ‘home’ – and all of the material and emotional connotations that this word has – is central to the exhibition’s theme.
Here is my floor plan for the exhibition:
As you can see, my exhibition also has an area with tables and chairs provided for discussion between visitors. The idea here is that people can discuss any issues raised by the installation’s subject matter in a space free from the biases and generalisations of the media, instead being informed by the migrants' experiences themselves.
Additionally there are rooms where educational activities for younger visitors could take place. Outreach is an important component of the exhibition, and what better way for young people to learn about other cultures and migrant experiences than by immersing themselves in the everyday environments of these people.
Although it wouldn’t be part of the physical exhibition, another important component of outreach would be a parallel website, where anyone who has experienced migration anywhere in the world could tell their story through text, images, video and sound. Ideally, these stories could be accessed via an interactive map, so that navigating to certain locations on the map would bring up the stories of people who have migrated both from and to the area. This idea arose mainly from my surprise that there is no real substantial online ‘archive’ where migrant experiences are documented, with most stories simply being told through individual media outputs. By creating a website dedicated to preserving these stories, it would help build a legacy for my exhibition project, extending its impact both beyond the timespan of the exhibition run and also beyond the location of the exhibition in London, for those who cannot visit it in person.
Another Life is an ambitious project, going well beyond the conventions and expectations of most exhibitions. It would therefore be difficult to organise if this were a real proposal, with a limited budget and other institutional and practical hurdles to negotiate. However, as my lecturer told my classmates and I, it’s a shame that there isn’t the opportunity for all of our exhibitions to be made. Between us there were some truly exciting and thought-provoking designs.
This is still an idea that I would love to pursue, though, and if the right opportunity arose it would be interesting to consider how I could develop this concept in a real-life context.
Regardless, designing an exhibition was a really worthwhile experience, and a fantastic chance to combine my geographical interests with my more creative impulses.