Alia Syed and Nadia Perrotta’s exhibition in the Stuart Hall Library responds to themes of migrant experience in John Berger and Jean Mohr’s novel A Seventh Man. Watch a video (below) about Alia Syed’s site-specific film installation On a Wing and a Prayer, currently on show until 31 May 2016.
John Berger and Jean Mohr’s book, A Seventh Man, first published in 1975, is an intense exploration of the individual and collective experience of migration from departure to work and return but which also has timely resonances with the hopes and fears that are driving the movements of current migrants and refugees
The exhibition features Syed’s new film On a Wing and a Prayer, created especially for the library, and will continue to evolve over its duration. The film imaginatively recreates the journey undertaken by Abdul Rahman Haroun who in August 2015 walked the entire 31 mile length of the Channel Tunnel in a bid to find asylum in the UK. He was arrested by the police and charged under the 1861 Malicious Damage Act. His trial is ongoing. For this installation the film is inserted into a book (a register of ships, evoking other migrations) and accompanied by maps of London and England overlaid with graphs visualising patterns of migration drawn from Berger’s book.
The exhibition also features Traits and Lines #1, an artist’s book created by Nadia Perrotta telling stories collected through interviews of migrants from her native southern Italy to the UK as well as with migrants from West Africa to Italy. The book is presented as parallel English and Italian texts and overlaid drawings. In the text she draws on her own experience of migration and with helping Anglophone communities from West Africa settle in Italy. The interviews provide the source material for a video work, I Hope for Something Good (2015), which builds to a cacophony of overlaid voices in multiple languages. Perrotta has also crystallised objects washed up on the Thanet shoreline that are evocative of the journeys undertaken.
The exhibition is part of a larger project, Migration Dreams and Nightmares, led by sociologists Nirmal Puwar and Mariam Motamedi Fraser from the Methods Lab at Goldsmiths and includes a concurrent exhibition at Goldsmiths, University of London, as well as three seminars focusing on ‘the ways in which dreams, hopes, promises and aspirations are enfolded into the experiences of migration; specifically the connection between migrants’ dreams and the nightmarish qualities of migration.’
A recording of the opening panel discussion with the artists and Nirmal Puwar (Reader in Sociology, Goldsmiths) and Ashwani Sharma (Principal Lecturer in Media and Cultural Studies, UEL) is available below.