Propelled by the sometimes opportunistic, sometimes desperate desire for better living conditions, migrants leave one land to occupy another. This act is inherently transgressive; whether this transgression is justified as “progress” or used as fodder for persecution depends on who controls the historical narrative. In recent work, artists Zineb Sedira, Allan deSouza, and Mary Evans express both the instability of the migrant as a cipher and the anxieties that the migratory experience creates. The current global refugee crisis has fanned the flames of xenophobia and virulent nationalism in Europe and the United States, and these works offer a rebuttal to degrading rhetoric and imagery that stigmatizes the migrant. Sedira’s 2008 photographs and 2009 videos of a Mauritanian ship graveyard evoke desperate emigration as well as economic stagnation and environmental degradation. DeSouza’s World Series (2011), inspired by Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series (1941), suggests bodily movement within a matrix of geopolitical, state-controlled, and natural environments, while referencing historical precedents such as Columbus. Evans’s series Please Do Not Bend (2015–16) is a touching tribute to the resilience of Africans and their descendants who have migrated, voluntarily or by force, over the centuries. In Evans’s Thousands Are Sailing (2016), anonymous silhouettes of brown bodies are in a liminal space, unmoored from one nation and locked out of another. Migration is an unstable experience, and an equally unstable subject. These works reclaim the imagery associated with the “abject immigrant” to restore their agency as well as their humanity.
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Monique Kerman; The Aesthetics of Migration in an Age of Anxiety: Zineb Sedira, Allan deSouza, and Mary Evans. Nka 1 November 2019; 2019 (45): 114–126. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10757163-7916916
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