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New film about our recent library exhibition

Alia Syed and Nadia Perrotta’s exhibition in the Stuart Hall Library responded 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, which was on show in spring 2016.

For more information visit

Artist of the week: Margareta Kern

Margareta Kern participates in Counterpoint, an exhibition at the Rochelle School, Shoreditch, as part of Platforma Festival from 29 November – 4 December. She was also part of Contrapuntal Perspectives dialogues, as part of which I was in conversation with TJ Demos and Oreet Ashery.

Counterpoint is a group show and multidiciplinary event dedicated to Edward Said’s idea that, on account of their awareness of different realities with respect to culture, nationhood, language, identity and the law, refugees and migrants can create a uniquely plural vision of society.

The works included in the show span a variety of media, examining ideas around issues of exile, migration, displacement and identity. Margareta Kern is showing a video work in this exhibition called Guestures/Gostikulacije created this year.

Double-screen video-installation GUESTures | GOSTIkulacije

Double-screen video-installation GUESTures | GOSTIkulacije, is part of a series of works that stem from artist’s long-term ethnographic, archival and historical research and interviews with the migrant worker women in Berlin, who were part of an organised mass labour migration, from the socialist Yugoslavia to West-Germany, in the late 1960′s. 

Inspired by the principles of the verbatim theatre and its political potential, the video GUESTures | GOSTIkulacije was filmed with actress Adna Sablyich in artist’s studio in London, basing her performance on audio-recordings of conversations between migrant workers and the artist. The resulting work both follows and subverts the impulse of the verbatim style to achieve a certain ‘ideal’ authenticity of expression through the use of documentary material. On two equally sized rectangular screens we can simultaneously follow two complexly linked contents; on one we see the artist creating the film-set, a kind of ‘fictional’ framework for these women’s stories, intervened occasionally by archival footage from German factories in which these women worked, whilst on the other we are solely focused on the actresses performance. The desired effect of the Brechtian ‘distancing’ of the narrative is additionally achieved through occasional subtle interventions by the artist herself, from significant pauses in the interpretation of the text, to the sudden inclusion of the artist’s voice replicating parts of the interview. Each part of the video, is as much a portrait as it is a space of experimentation with the questions of voice, testimony and narrative; document/ary, performativity and the historical imaginary. 

Margareta Kern’s artistic practice engages with the social and political sphere through multi-layered and inter-disciplinary projects. Kern is interested in the relationship of performance, narrative and participation to documentary and experimental image making, as well as in the relationship of art and activism.

Informed by contemporary ethnography, Kern’s work to date has engaged with intimate spaces and narratives, and with questions around visibility, power and representation. She recently organised a series of events, terms & conditions, with Iniva  ranging from talks and discussions to workshops and walking tours, explore the impact of neoliberal capitalism on migration and labour with a focus on the social and economic injustices, inspired by Iniva’s three year project At the Intersection: Art & Economies. You can watch video clips and listen to auido recordings of several of these talks online.

Also showing alongside Margareta Kern is another artist who has previously worked with Iniva, Oreet Ashery who created a piece for Progress Reports.

The venue for this exhibition is: Club Row, Rochelle School, Arnold Circus, E2 7ES.

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Margareta Kern asks ‘Who are the migrant workers today?’

The first session of the ‘terms & conditions’ series focused on the question ‘Who are the migrant workers today? (mapping precarious labour)’ using it as a way into opening up the complex landscape of increasingly precarious labour market, where the most vulnerable, particularly migrants, are exposed to abuse, de-skilling and low pay under employment and dangerous working conditions.

Images from ‘Who are the migrant workers today’

The session opened with Dr Faiza Shaheen, who is an economist and the senior researcher with the New Economics Foundation, whose research and work is specifically focused on economic inequalities. She is the author of the report on the effect of the immigration cap ‘Why the Cap won’t fit’, which can be accessed here.  Faiza brought really important stats into the picture –starting with the pay gap which is still present, male £8.56 and female £7.66 per hour, which showed how the labour market is deeply affected by gender as much as by migration, she also showed visually through her charts how the high salaries are getting higher and for those already on the low pay, they are getting even lower, the effect of it being, as Faiza used the term hollowing out of the middle.

Kevin Ward, Professor in Human Geography at the University of Manchester, and director of cities@manchester mapped ways in which the labour market in the UK has changed in the last thirty years, with the restructuring of the public sector, expansion of low paying, poor quality private sector industries, and the turn towards contract and temporary labour market through the formalization of informal internal arrangements, ‘contracting-out’, all this resulting in increase of ‘non-standard’, often insecure or precarious employment forms, which affects those on the lower end of labour market, such as, but not exclusively, the migrants most. The term that Kevin used particularly stuck with me – workplace/out of place.

Jose Louis Sanches, from the Latin American Workers Association (LAWAS) introduced us to the work of the association –a migrant-led, self organising group of Latin-American working mostly in the service sector especially cleaning. Through self-organisation, education, collective actions and campaigns, the association’s mission is to expose and challenge exploitation and victimisation at the workplace. Jose Louis spoke of his own experience of working in the service industry, for employers such as west-end theatres and hospitals, who were paying below minimum wage, and would not meet the basic standards of health and safety. He also spoke of the deeply unjust practices of blackmail and threats of deportation by employers, using the precarious immigrations status of their employees would lower the wages and health & safety conditions. Jose Louis was part of the group of migrant workers who were detained, and six of his colleagues were deported, but with the support of LAWAS, other groups and IWW, he managed to get a solicitor and was released from detention.


To find out more about LAWAS, please see LAWAS organises language exchange classes (English-Spanish), so if you are interested in joining-in please come every Saturday, from 10am to 12pm, Room L123b, London Road Building, 100-116 London Road, London South Bank University, SE1 6LN.

Precarious Workers Brigade, a UK-based growing group of precarious workers in culture and education, after a brief introduction, created three working groups, in order to discuss and organise a response to three issues/questions. One group worked on a response to the new troubling development of the Arts Council becoming a ‘Designated Competent Body of the Home Office’, with the power to ‘assess applications from artists applying for Tier 1 visas to enter UK on the basis of their exceptional talent’. Second group talked about ways in which cultural sector workers can forge solidarity links and campaigns with workers in other sectors, and the third group discussed ways in which ‘embarrassment’ can be used as a campaigning tool.

To find out more about the collective Precarious Workers Brigade and to join in, please see

The combination of talks, discussions and workshop shifted the event into more of a hands-on session, with the issues we started mapping turned into questions around how do we address these unjust conditions, how to build solidarities and networks that go beyond our immediate concerns, but are linked by deepening of precarious conditions in which we labour and live.

Find out more about terms & conditions - there is also audio recordings of the speakers and photos of the events available on the project web page.