Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Lampedusa Migration Network_ Manchester 4th of July 2016

Another exciting forum on Lampedusa happening soon in the UK. Really looking forward to joining this.
Dr Letizia Alterno (University of Manchester) has organized a symposium designed as a discussion-led event which will engage both academia, the general public and refugee participants in a conversation about the disquieting and extremely pressing issues of detention, migration and asylum in the context of Lampedusa, recently identified as a HOTSPOT by the European Commission (See EU Hotspot Approach). The aim is to discuss and investigate the current EU and local policies governing the illegal detention of hundreds of asylum seekers who managed to reach the coast of Lampedusa in southern Italy during the past few months. Planned as a “bottom-up” event aiming to enable refugees into a position of legitimacy, the occasion will provide ample space for refugees to tell their stories about both the crossing and the inhuman conditions of detention in Lampedusa. In case the presence of refugee participants cannot be guaranteed, their written and oral narratives would function as primary informant source to catalyse conversation.

All details here
Registration is fee but required.

Friday, June 10, 2016

My review of Fuocoammare (Fire at Sea) by Gianfranco Rosi

Yesterday evening,  I joined the screening of Fuocoammare (Fire at Sea) by Gianfranco Rosi at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London. I had wanted to watch this documentary ever since its release, as my own research is exactly on the topic Rosi has decided to engage with in this multi-award winning documentary; in other words, the issue of migration on the island of Lampedusa, where the director spent more than one year.
I am afraid that what you are going to read here does not match the praising reviews  that have been written recently on this documentary all over the world (such as the one written by Peter Bradshaw for the Guardian two days ago)
Rosi says he made a documentary not a film...and I have a problem with that! Here we go. 
In my research, I  look for examples of counter representations of migrants and refugees in the so-called 'crisis' where they are NOT depicted as mere masses of nameless bodies and mysterious victims - as we have become accustomed in treatments in the contemporary media  - but where they actually take the word, tell their story, engage with the causes of their desperate passage of the Sicilian channel, and talk back to the European border policy that forces them to undertake these unsafe journeys. I am afraid Fuocoammare does nothing like this. It is, in fact, a missed chance! What Rosi tells us, through an undoubtedly well-shot film with beautiful cinematography, does not add anything to what we already know about the current 'crisis' through the news media. And certainly, it does not raise awareness, as Rosi stated in the Q&A after the screening.
The film mainly revolves around the figure of a little boy who is depicted according to a series of stereotypical gestures and practices that after a while become unbearable. Samuele, this is the name of the boy, apparently spends all his time playing with his handmade slingshot in the wildest part of the island, where, to be honest, I have never seen kids playing, especially not at night, but he might have been luckier than me! We learn a lot about Samuele through long and slow scenes that you desperately and unsuccessfully try to connect to the other main narrative of migration. He has a lazy eye that the doctor treats with special glasses, he is very interested in listening to the stories of fishing from his uncle and grandmother and he spends his time, when not in school,  hunting birds with his slingshot (he ends up chatting with one by whistling: probably the most surreal scene of this film!). Now I want to reassure the reader who knows nothing about Lampedusa that kids there have TV and play video games as well!
This poetic and romanticised representation of the island through the story of Samuele is alternated with scenes of rescue of migrants at sea through the military apparatus, where what we see is not very different from what we have seen many times on TV, while sitting comfortably in our sofas. What differs is the proximity: we see the migrants - still as a mass - very closely, we can even hear their voices, their singing and their desperation is so tangible that you are compelled to cry (well I didn't cry of course, I am used to these strategies of pity that just give you the impression that you are participating in the suffering, albeit at distance). Despite the fact that we are all anesthetized to these kinds of iconic images by now, the film drags you to compassion and pity through a spectacle of suffering that breaks your heart. Luckily there is Samuele who promptly arrives to cheer you up with some funny behaviour such as slurping his pasta at dinner next to his uncle and grandmother, who do not react to his bad manners. I want to reassure the reader again that even in Lampedusa kids would be scolded if they do not show good manners, especially at the table!
The film relies heavily on the spectacularisation of suffering together with the sensationalism of the rescue operations carried out by a military apparatus that appears in all its gloriousness and majesty in order to cope with the 'massive' invasion of people they need to rescue, while still protecting the borders from their arrival. Military figures are of course wrapped in white hazmat suits, there is not a corner of their body that can be 'contaminated'. Migrants in the film are named through numbers, checked for scabies and, unfortunately for the rescuers, almost all of them are soaked with gasoline that passes through the protective suits they are wearing. Rosi even accesses the 'detention' centre where migrants are 'stored' for an undetermined period in Lampedusa before being sent to other centres in Italy. Not many people have access to this very controversial space that has been under lots of criticism for the poor conditions in which migrants are kept. Don't worry, Rosi does not show any of these unpleasant images! Rosi's visit to the centre only produces a beautifully shot scene of a football match in the darkness as to suggest that despite their trauma, the migrants still have joy and love life. What a reassurance!
Other topical moments in this film are the scenes showing another main character, Bartolo the doctor, who seems in charge of absolutely everyone's health on the island: visiting migrant pregnant women, carrying out autopsies on migrant wretched corpses and even checking Samuele's health when he goes with concerns about his hyperventilation and anxiety. Now, again, I want to reassure the reader that in Lampedusa there is more than one doctor!
Bartolo is probably the figure whom Rosi confides in in order to create a link between the humble story of the Lampedusan inhabitants and the 'tragedy' of the migrants. Otherwise I cannot see any other ‘meaningful’ link.
Now why am I so hard on Rosi's film? Well I think as an intellectual who decides to engage with a pressing issue such as the Lampedusa and migration one, you cannot limit yourself to producing a poetic and sentimental film that asks the viewer to 'stay human'. This is NOT what we need, not anymore! We have had enough of sentimentalism and the humanitarian approach is not helping us understanding the real implications of this cruel and complicated story where we are all involved. We need to dismantle the paradox of a militarised/humanitarian travesty that has chosen Lampedusa as its ideal stage of a made up crisis. Why are these people escaping? why are we not making their passage safe, while at the same time spending millions in order to rescue them from the perils of this very passage? Why not showing Lampedusa for what it is: the centre of a border spectacle about which the inhabitants are very aware; people who are resisting the travesty, who are concerned and reject the growing militarisation of their land, people who are tired of the politicians and celebrities parading on the island, inhabitants who do not want a Nobel prize for peace. Lampedusans want instead the EU to come to terms with its responsibility about a crisis that it has fabricated and to let the island deal with its old problems: lack of a proper hospital and playgrounds, run-down schools, disappearance of fishing etc. 
In his film, Rosi shows migrants’ corpses (lots!) through long shots that are probably meant to beautify death, but how is this raising awareness? If, as a filmmaker, you show corpses of people who cannot  consent to your act of spectacularisation of his/her suffering, then you have the duty to engage with the reasons for his/her very suffering, rather than spending more than half of film’s running time to show a completely unrelated story of a child and his family, whose characters are mere caricatures that satisfy the anthropological expectation of the audience (especially an international one) who want to look at a ‘Sicilian’ story! (I am Sicilian myself, this is probably why I felt particularly annoyed by this insistence).  
At the Q&A after the screening I asked Rosi why he did not engage with the paradox of the border spectacle happening on the island and after labelling my intervention as too political and ideological, he said that with this film he did not want to do propaganda only raise questions, and he added that if I wanted to see a political documentary I should watch Michael Moore’s works. But Rosi, there is no way you can make a DOCUMENTARY about Lampedusa without being political and without engaging with uncomfortable issues, otherwise you make a film (like Crialese did with Terraferma) which is what Fuocoammare essentially is!
Lampedusa is much more that what Rosi has shown (or actually has NOT shown) in Fuocoammare. Too bad he did not challenge the spectacle especially since so many people on the island itself do so on a daily basis (see for instance what the local collective Askavusa does in this regard and read their review of Rosi’s film); too bad he did not show Lampedusa as the vibrant place it is in the name of an act of aeasthetisation that preserves the idea of an uncontaminated beauty of a far away picturesque island, a beauty that unfortunately is nowadays heavily endangered by the presence of military radars that are there to, presumably, protect us from the invaders, the same we need to feel pity about because after all…we need to stay human!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Refugee Week Launch at Southbank Centre (London)_19 June 2016

Counterpoints Arts is delighted to collaborate with Southbank Centre for the launch of Refugee Week in London on 19 June as part of their world famous Meltdown festival – curated by Guy Garvey.
Under the heading of Refugees Welcome, there will be an entire day of free activity at Southbank Centre involving Refugee Week partners. Musicians, poets and dancers will pop ­up across the site, and the marketplace will host activities and craft workshops.
The activity will culminate in The Boat We’re In, a concert inspired by the Red Cross produced album The Long Road and featuring Led Zeppelin lead singer Robert Plant, Meltdown Director Guy Garvey, Mercury Prize nominated folk singer Nick Mulvey, Radio 6 Music favourite Nadine Shah, northern soul singer Josephine Oniyama and the Southbank Sinfonia.
Across the Royal Festival Hall there will be small boats installed as part of a project working with refugee communities.
More programme detail will be announced here shortly.

Preview of Fuocoammare (Fire at Sea) by Gianfranco Rosi_London 2 June 2016

In collaboration with BFI, Counterpoints Arts presents a Refugee Week Preview of Fire at Sea. Directed by Gianfranco Rosi, Fire at Sea is a powerful and beautifully-shot documentary film focusing on the experiences of Lampedusans as they struggle to deal with the thousands of North African and Middle Eastern refugees arriving daily to the island.
The film won the Golden Bear at the 2016 Berlin Film Festival and marks a new wave in documentary film-making that directly engages with the refugee crisis and its victims, many of whom have perished in the Mediterranean sea.
This documentary follows the life of 12-year-old Samuele, a local boy whose life is entrenched in traditional island culture. It thoughtfully examines to what extent the daily lives of Lampedusans are affected by the arrival of refugees, using the perspective of the island doctor to serve as a bridge between each side.
‘Rosi contrasts the tough but essentially content, settled conditions of the Lampedusans with the terrifying uncertainty experienced by the incomers.’
Fire at Sea is a delicate testimony to the struggle of refugees and will provide an important contextualisation of the current refugee crisis ahead of Refugee Week (20th-26th June 2016) as one of many events organised throughout June.
The screening will be followed by a panel discussion (guests to be confirmed).
Tickets available on the BFI website.

Watch the film’s trailer here.

Papers. Festival of the art, culture and architecture of refugee crisis_ 12 June Barbican Centre, London

This critical celebration will examine the creative and urban culture which has emerged from refugee camps across Europe. It will bring together refugee artists, musicians, poets, chefs and builders with a programme of discussions taking place on multiple stages throughout the day.


A mix of short presentation and panel discussion with some of the world's leading thinkers on refugee camps and migration. Panels will examine the built responses which have emerged from camps in Calais, Dunkirk, Lesvos and Pikpa culminating in an open plenary discussion with all participants.


Music, film and discussion. This stage will incorporate a mix of live and recorded music with short films ma...de about and by those at the epicentre of the crisis.


The Barbican's vast glass house will host a wide variety of art pieces and installations. It will become a gallery of the rich mix of strange and powerful art which has come from or been made in response to refugee camps. At the heart will be the Blue House by the artist Alpha - an art school and gallery rescued from the Jungle in Calais and rebuilt for the first time in the UK specially Papers.


Hanging above the tropical plants of the jungle-like conservatory is the terrace, a platform which will play host to a mix of built prototype demonstrations, makers and food. The Kent Refugee Action Catering will be running a micro restaurant showing their work with asylum-seeking boys in Folkstone.

Line up to be announced.

Curated by Robert Mull with The Worldwide Tribe, Phineas Harper, Daniela Puga, Grainne Hassett, Jake Raslan, Jayden Ali, Esme Mull and Cindy Palmano.

Papers is part of the London Festival of Architecture 2016
Facebook page of the event 

TICKETS available here

The Migration Museum Project presents: Call me by my name: Stories from Calais and beyond 2-22 June 2016

The Migration Museum Project presents: 
Call me by my name: Stories from Calais and beyond

The Calais camp has become a potent symbol of Europe’s migration crisis. Public opinion on this ever- evolving shantytown and its inhabitants is polarised: to some a threatening swarm seeking entry to our already overstretched island-nation, to others a shameful symbol of our failed foreign policy. Amid such debate, it is easy to lose sight of the tens of thousands of individuals who have found themselves in limbo in Calais, each with their own story and reasons for wanting to reach Britain.
Call me by my name: stories from Calais and beyond is a multimedia exhibition, taking place in a momentous month that sees both the EU referendum and Refugee Week. It explores the complexity and human stories behind the current migration crisis, with a particular focus on the Calais camp.
The exhibition features compelling works by established and emerging artists, refugees, camp residents and volunteers. These include a powerful new installation by award-winning artist Nikolaj Larsen, street art from Majid, drawings of Calais by illustrator Nick Ellwood, art and photography by camp residents, and an installation of lifejackets embedded with the stories of their wearers. It will serve as a forum for a range of discussions, film screenings and performances, including a poetry evening hosted by Michael Rosen. There will also be an opportunity for visitors to leave their responses, which will become part of an art piece by artist-in-residence, Cedoux Kadima.
The Migration Museum Project would like to thank the following donors for their generous grants and support, without which we would not have been able to stage this exhibition: Londonewcastle, Arts Council England, ESRC, Open University, COMPAS and all of the generous contributors to our crowdfunding campaign.

All details here

Frontiers and borders of superdiversity: theory, method and practice_University of Birmingham 23-24 June 2016

The Institute for Research into Superdiversity (IRiS) at the University of Birmingham is organising the second international interdisciplinary conference on superdiversity. The aim of the conference is to map the state of the art in knowledge on superdiversity and reflect on the analytical and heuristic uses of the concept, its potential and limits.

The conference includes an exciting line-up of keynote and plenary speakers:
Prof Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (journalist, writer, University of Lincoln)
Prof Gurminder Bhambra (University of Warwick)
Prof Dan Hiebert (University of British Columbia)
Prof Nira Yuval Davis (University of East London)
Jonathan Xavier Inda (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
Prof Angela Creese (University of Birmingham)
Prof Adrian Blackledge (University of Birmingham)
Dr Susanne Wessendorf (University of Birmingham)

All details (including how to register) here.