On May 15, Bard College Berlin held a student exhibition entitled I am the Ghost. A member of IIE’s Syria Consortium for Higher Education in Crisis, the university works to help support displaced students to continue their higher education. During this event, students were invited to share their migration experience through art. Some of the student’s works have been shared in this article. Bose Sarmiento and Omar Haidari wrote poems and created a visual media display. Rafar Alkotaini and Wafa Mustafa shared their experience in films they created and directed.
Untitled by Bose Sarmiento
From the artist:
I originally got to be in touch with this project by helping Omar Haidari to draw a map to complement his final of the class he took with Marion in the Spring Semester: History and Memory: Forced Migration from Nineteenth to Twenty-First-Century Germany. I drew the map and 3 figures that had a transformation in their memories and identities while they travelled. It made me realize how little I knew about them and how unfamiliar I was with the frontiers. That’s why I wanted to work on that when we (Omar and I) took the class together. My aim changed really fast because I didn’t want to just be “helpful” for him to tell his story. But I wanted to talk about something that did belong to me. I was very interested in the place of the spectator, in how to be me, or anyone looking from the outside. The light was very important and also creating a space more than a single piece. Which is why I wanted something that would look different depending on from where it is being looked at, to instate the public to move around it and engage with the space. But the colors have no order, no association to them. It was really meant for the one looking and his associations and a space to meditate in what you have seen and all the information you received before seeing my installation.
It was purposely untitled since I didn’t want to have a big term associated to it before it had been looked at properly. But it came with the poem that I will attach. For the technique, I worked a lot with an Overhead projector. It was a panel painted with white acrylics, and on top of that I painted the map. I did a small scaled stencil of the countries to put it on the Overhead projector and be able to project it to the previously painted panel. That worked as a screen since I wanted to project the colors and I knew I needed a clear screen to have bright colors. The colors are Gel Filters “to paint light” and it was all hanged with transparent thread. The figures are carved the same way as the ones used for the original map that I did for Omar.
Transition by Omar Haidari
From the Artist:
In recent years, hundreds of thousands of Afghans have fled Afghanistan because of fear of poverty, war, race, religion, nationality, and their political opinions. Germany considers Afghanistan a safe country and Afghans are considered second-class asylum seekers. The current German policy forces thousands of Afghan refugees to fake their stories and their identities as well as deal with the pre-existing problems and challenges during the entirety of their risky migration route. Passing through this migration route is just as risky as living with all the problems and challenges in Afghanistan.
The title for my artwork is "Transition." It represents the transition of memories and identities throughout the migration route. I planned to draw this map to explain and give awareness to the situation that Afghan refugees are going through. This map is the migration route for the majority of the refugees who start their migration journey from Afghanistan to Europe, mainly Germany. The three figures on each map with different colors on their head represent the effects of the migration route, culture and lifestyle differences they experience during this journey and their short stays in each country and how they are adapting and dealing with all the differences.
I used the bandages to present the inner and physical harms they are going through, bandages that are only used to cure the injury. I used my blood to manifest the physical harm and inner identity/memory conflict they will face on the journey. With the continuation of their journey from Afghanistan, they will eventually be safe from the physical harm but the inner identity crisis will always remain a paradox for them. The bandages stay until the end of their journey, they manifest the existence of the hidden injury underneath. They represent the level of severity of this dilemma (forged forced identities). The bloodstained barbed wires are places where one out of ten refugees lost their lives in this journey, mainly in the border between Iran/Afghanistan, Iran/Turkey and the cruel ocean border between Turkey/Greece, which has swallowed thousands of humans in the past couple years. This dilemma of not being related continues even after their migration journey has ended and it becomes part of their identity, an identity that they cannot escape. My Afghan passport on the right is the start of this transition and the blue travel document is the outcome and result of these unfortunate struggles and risks.
This artwork is based on the research I did in my last two semesters and the volunteer work I have been doing over the past two years with different organizations that help the refugees in Germany with the complicated asylum process. I have interviewed and listened to hundreds of the stories and experiences that Afghan refugees have been through and along with my own experience as a refugee this has convinced and inspired me to create this work and make people aware of the situation.
The exhibition text for this work is taken from conversations I had with my mom in last two years over the phone from Kabul Afghanistan.
Ghost by Rafat Alkotaini