I’m in Rio, but my thoughts today are in Denmark, where a new law has passed, designed to make it very difficult, if not impossible, to be a refugee in the country.
The new law is approving seizing values from refugees. What does it really mean? I came to Denmark as a refugee with my parents and my brother for 22 years ago because of the war in Ex. Yugoslavia. The map bellow shows with the red line the route we took. A more direct way was not possible because countries like Germany have at that point closed their borders for Bosnian refugees.
I was trying to imagine what the police would have been able to take away from my family if the law being passed now, was existing back then when I came to Danmark. What did we actually bring when we first came? We did not have much when we crossed the border. The money we had was used on getting to Denmark. We did not have any expensive jewelry either. The only value I can think of, but which does not have a material value for others than my family, is the private photo album. Photos from my brother’s and my childhood, our happy family life moments before the war, places we went to visit on vacations and people we were used to be surrounded with.
This was the real value for my family and me. It was what we shared and carried on in our memories about the place we were coming from. It also carried hope about being able to construct something similar in the new place we were coming to.
I came to think about a project Thierry did in 1999 called “Territorial Landscape.” It was an art project aiming to actualize archives and re-contextualize images from private photo albums belonging to immigrants from different cultural backgrounds living in Denmark. Thierry would put immigrants’ personal photos, from the time, when they were living in their home country, next to newer photos of the same immigrants, now living in Denmark. The immigrant and the artist chose the photos together and the artist then decided the conceptual and the visual format: which was four pictures put together in a cross line. In each layout included two pictures from the past and two from the present.
Showing images from before and after a person starts a new life in Denmark next to each other opens up for some interesting comparative observations and discoveries about the life the immigrants had before they became immigrants. The diversity in the motives underlines that immigrants are not one homogeny group of our society, but individuals with very diverse cultural backgrounds. Pictures become small windows to different cultural universes. The combination of images also visualizes traces of hopes, dreams and expectations immigrants have when they leave their previous lives behind and start following an idea of a new reality in Denmark.
Most of the immigrants had brought very few pictures with them from their home country, often without negatives, made each of the photos a very precious and valuable object. The participating immigrants gave away photos from their albums as a gift to the artist. There was a certain closeness in the meeting between the artist and the participants. Maybe it has to do with the fact that Thierry himself is an immigrant in Denmark and has a different dialog with the participants than a Danish-born person might have. There might be a moment of recognition that created an intimacy between the artists and the subject matter that we very seldom see in common analytic research methods. Entering the private sphere of the group of people one wants to investigate means a willingness from the artist/investigator to become close, create an honest exchange and even friendship.
My family history is connected to many other foreigners’ histories, and we are an important part of the Danish history. The Danish cultural heritage is something I feel I’m contributing to by living and working in the country. Foreigners are actively and with vigor keeping Denmark in shape. So why does the way to speak about refugees in Denmark today, sound like speaking about a disease? As if it was something we have to eliminate as efficiently and fast as possible. It is of course not acceptable and wrong, and I don’t agree with it. I think people moving from one place to another in search for safe life, should be an organic circulation in our common world that should be our shared territory. As in any other context, circulation should be connected to energy and life. It should not be stopped but used to move forward the stream and create vital development for everybody.
But why does Denmark want to promote itself as a closed country? I don’t find any rational answer or explanation to this question. I could imagine that the unfriendly attitude and laws will make refugees avoid Denmark. It might momentarily stop refugees from coming, but the refugees and foreigners are not going to disappear. On the contrary, we will probably see more and more refugees in the future running away from not only the wars but also from other catastrophes provoked by pollution and climate change. The refugees are the result of the way we run our world. Business negotiation, global political decisions, wars, commercial interests, etc. are all part of the same power and money game. We cannot be part of something without facing its consequences.