Everyone should be looked at with the same eye.
In mid-2013, together with our associates, we started visiting centres for asylum seekers. We went there to socialise and talk with people from the Middle East and Africa. Our intention was to design different forms of research, which would introduce new contents into their everyday lives. We wanted, through cooperation with migrants, to bring their experience closer to our citizens, especially those from communities where migrants were accommodated.
At that point, the number of migrants in Serbia was far lower than today and the problem was not visible and was not discussed in public. There was a debate in society about who deserved our help and whether someone was using “our good will”. We wanted to change the public opinion about migrants of that time, as they were treated as “statistics” that both cost and threatened us.
We did not want to look at migrants as victims, but as brave people who had taken a big risk and decided to flee from war and misery. We wanted to know everything about their previous life experience, what their journey had been like, but also about their wishes, hopes, fears, problems and plans.
We would meet over coffee and Turkish delight, food and dancing. We organised bazaars, so the distribution of humanitarian aid looked like a festive fair, where people had the opportunity to choose for themselves little things necessary for everyday life.
Our associates from “Škart” Art Collective – Đorđe Balmazović and Dragan Protić talked with migrants about their unusual journey and sketched their stories into a form of a map. They asked them why they had embarked on such a journey. What kind of trouble did you have? How did they cross the borders? How much did they pay and who did they pay to? What were their experiences with the police and citizens?
Group 484 associates, Snežana Skoko and Ivana Bogićević Leko wanted to know the thoughts of these people, their hopes, wishes, dreams, what kind of life they wanted, but also what they lacked at that moment. They talked about customs, about how similar and different we were. Together they compared recipes, sayings and proverbs, ways of entertainment, dressing up, sewing. The desire for a normal life: peace, security, dignity, for seemingly insignificant little, everyday things that was present among everyone. These stories have been shaped into documentary-exhibition activities.
The resulting works have become part of the exhibition on the life and journey of asylum seekers and migrants “The Border is Closed” organised in cooperation with the Museum of African Art .
The exhibition consists of illustrated migrant maps (Škart) representing life “in transit”, pillows and blankets decorated with messages and thoughts to the loved ones (Snežana Skoko and Ivana Bogićević-Leko), interactive application “Virtual Fence” which puts the player in the position of migrant whose mobile phone has been stolen and cannot access their Facebook account and e-mail (Luka Knežević Strika). In addition, there are stickers with proverbs and sayings from migrants home countries that we have collected through interviews with asylum seekers, as well as badges with wishes and hopes for a better life; authentic audio recordings of interviews with people from the asylum centres; as well as the game “The Border is Closed”, conceived by migrants, after which the exhibition was named. After the Museum of African Art in Belgrade, the exhibition has been on tour at museums in several towns in Serbia and the region, with a special focus on the communities in which asylum seekers and migrants are accommodated.
“The Border is Closed”, apart from the artistic, has the educational and activist character. It was our goal to make the museum a place of activism and social engagement, a place from where a change in society starts. We also believe that the social change does not exist without an impact on the educational process and values system of students, and thus the exhibition is also present in schools.
Consequently, the exhibition “The Border is Closed” has become an integral part of our seminar for high school teachers “We and the Others”. The seminar has been realised over the years, and today parts of the exhibition are included in the seminar as educational material for reflection on migration, discrimination, stereotypes. Together with teachers, we work on the development of knowledge among students about other cultures, as well as the establishment of the value system which clearly condemns all forms of fascism and intolerance. We are engaged in the deconstruction of stereotypical images of others and those who are different, who are often seen as the enemy, intruders and evoke the fear of the unknown. In addition to our “old” associates, there are new ones: Biljana Đorđević from the Faculty of Political Sciences and historian Nemanja Radonjić.
The exhibition “The Border is Closed”, through its presence in museums and schools, continues with its educational mission.