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In Transit
in Migrants shaping Europe, past and present

This image-rich piece presents the small experimental installation, “In Transit: Arts and Migration Around Europe,” from the Nasher Museum of Art, 2018: the collective work of faculty and students at Duke University. Traversing many time-periods, from the early thirteenth century to the current-day, the objects propose different ways that migration may be represented and expressed across various cultures around Europe. Through multiple perspectives, “In Transit” broadens our understanding of the history of migration by juxtaposing present-day artworks with those of early modern cultures. It extends the maps and its usual routes, from the ideological East–West axis, to that of the global South northwards. The “In Transit” works, made with paper, textiles, metal, and digital pixels, present artworks that are an integral part of people’s everyday actions: a painting of Abraham Cresques’s 137–80 Catalan Atlas next to Pedro Lasch’s video installation, Sing Along or Karaoke Anthem (2015); Jacques Callot’s etchings of the Bohemians (c. 1650) juxtaposed with Annette Messager’s woolen weaving of Two Replicants Together (2016). Together they materialize the lives of those who leave their homes – whatever their reasons – to flee persecution, to overcome economic hardship, to pursue a better life for themselves and their families. As a whole, the installation shows how artists respond to the movement of people over centuries, capturing the dilemmas of displaced individuals that are often their own. It creates new profiles of migrants.

How to compose a cultural history of migration around Europe through the visual and material arts? The following ensemble of artwork offers one experimental answer developed by a group of faculty members and students at Duke University. It presents a portion of a small installation on view at the Nasher Museum of Art during the autumn of 2018. This was the fruit of a collective debate that also engaged colleagues from the Americas, Europe, and Africa. Historian Pierre-Olivier Dittmar brought his thinking on premodern attitudes of tolerance and xenophobia to bear on our question. Art historian Laura Weigert introduced tapestries as a key model of mobility in early modern cultures. Michael Gerli focused attention on the visual evidence of the early modern banishment of Spanish Muslims, and their diaspora in North Africa; while curator Sara Raza spoke to the range of contemporary art in that region and the Middle East. Sociologist Piotr Plewa enriched our project by examining questions of migrant labor with us. Writer Hisham Matar offered his inimitable voice relaying Bedouin poets and his sharp eye on Jacques Callot's engravings. Students in seminars on migration taught in Spanish and French contributed their translations and critical view. Over some three years, In Transit drew on various vantage points to identify who and what represent migrant art, to delineate “Europe” as one constantly changing human field of migration – in the twelfth century, when men of science traveled between the Maghreb and the Iberian peninsula, and in the current-day when activist-artists move between West African and European communities.

Selecting objects began to answer our question in concrete form, and in a variety of media. Barthélémy Toguo's artwork was chosen because of the politically provocative ways it represents routes between Cameroon and France today, and Annette Messager's textile installation linked closely to the region of Pas-de-Calais. We chose the engravings of Jacques Callot in North Carolina collections because they delineate a precise, early modern picture of men and women in flight from war in northern Europe. Pedro Lasch, a globally engaged artist in our midst, joined our collective and contributed his video work. All these pieces began to trace a widening scope of “Europe” that migration creates.

“In Transit” was designed as a small installation. The eight pieces are laid out in a way that tests a technique developed by curator Jean-Hubert Martin. His notion of carambolage, from the effect of billiard balls hitting off one another, creates encounters between objects rarely seen side-by-side. Such unexpected contact between things can give viewers a sudden shock. Does this trigger a change in outlook? The technique that has become familiar now is often combined with a historical carambolage, one placing objects of different times side-by-side. In one room, we spatialized the diptych that structures this comparative volume as well.

The portion of the “In Transit” installation that follows juxtaposes early modern artwork with that of contemporary artists. Callot's engraved Bohemians encounter Messager's fabric Replicants. Toguo's New World Climax woodcuts from 2011 are set across from Muhammad ibn al-Fattuh al-Khama’iri's astrolabe from Al-Andalus in Spain, which are paired with the fourteenth-century Catalan Atlas, one of the earliest maps drawing on Muslim science and accurately representing the Sahara. Furthermore, the sequence of artwork serves to accentuate the creations of Arab and Black artists in the history of those migrating around Europe. In this way of seeing, history and human geography are deepened.

Each piece is accompanied by a brief commentary. Together as a group, they cover the areas examined in the volume: from regions identified today with the global South, and from cities and countryside associated with northern Europe. Through visual languages, they express something of the range of migrant cultures explored in the chapters. The early and premodern pieces visually “translate” the long critical view of contributors. The contemporary pieces respond to the movements of today's migrants in multiple directions south and north, across “Europe.” As a whole, the set of eight works offers a visual counterpoint to the chapters.

Cornered, the installation of Raquel de Salvatella de Prada, was first exhibited with the Nasher installation, in the Rubenstein Arts Center nearby. De Salvatella de Prada depicts West African migrants on their way to Spain via Melilla in Morocco. Visitors who came to see it moved back and forth between the artwork in the two venues, mimicking the motion of many migrants. Together the two installations stand as a fitting conclusion to the volume as a whole.

Figure 9.1 Muhammad ibn al-Fattuh al-Khama’iri (Spanish, active 1200s), Astrolabe, 1236–37. Brass. Adler Planetarium, Chicago, Illinois, M-35.

Figure 9.2 Philippe Danfrie (French, active 1500s), Jehan Moreau (French, active 1600s), Astrolabe, 1584 (designed) and 1622 (printed). Wood, paper, brass. Adler Planetarium, Chicago, Illinois, W-98a.

These intricate instruments are called “star-taker,” astrolabe, in Arabic and all Romance languages, including English; they enable users to locate celestial bodies and tell time by measuring the angles of an object's elevation in relation to gravity.

The thirteenth-century astrolabe, made by Muhammad ibn al-Fattuh al-Khama’iri was used in Al-Andalus, the Muslim caliphate on the Iberian peninsula. Its Arabic inscriptions engraved on the edge of the main disk offer a user's manual in miniature: how to determine Islamic prayer times; how to locate the direction of Mecca, Islam's holiest city, as well as other places significant to the Muslim world across southern Europe, the Maghreb, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Levant.

The model of an astrolabe, fashioned out of paper and wood as well as metal, in a sixteenth-century Parisian workshop substantiates the wide circulation of the instrument. Translated through Latin as well as Roman numerals, and given a human face, this instrument was taken up by other European cultures. In this hub of scientific experimentation, the object was put to use by astronomers and navigators.

Together this pair of astrolabes display the technological ingenuity of early modern inventors in the Arabo-Muslim south moving northwards, responding to the necessity people felt to place themselves in maps of time and space.

Figure 9.3 Barthélémy Toguo, The New World Climax, performance, 2011. Courtesy of LeLong Gallery, Paris.

Figure 9.4 Barthélémy Toguo (Born in Mbalmayo, Cameroon, 1967), The New World Climax – Guantanamo Republic, 2011. Woodcut on paper. Edition 1/1. Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University 2014.25.1. © 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

Figure 9.5 Barthélémy Toguo, The New World Climax – Illegal, 2011. Woodcut on paper. Edition 1/1. Gift of Tom and Elizabeth Caine, 2014.25.3. © 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

Barthélémy Toguo, a Cameroonian artist working in France, carved the wooden stamps for these prints by hand over many hours. The stamps are enlarged replicas of the ones used by customs officials, with one difference – the stamp handles are faceless and featureless human busts. When they are used to make prints, the human-stamp hybrids imprint judgements and designations in permanent ink.

The carved stamps allow easy replication of the prints. And yet Toguo prints just one copy of each, putting his toeprint in the lower right corner much like the thumbprints on travel documents.

Guantanamo Republic designates Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp, a military prison established by America in Cuba in the wake of 9/11, an independent republic. Suspected terrorists are brought to the detention center to be imprisoned, and are sometimes tortured for information. Like America's banana republics, Guantanamo Bay operates on its own terms, under its own laws. Guantanamo Bay has also been imprinted with another, Colonization Imperialism.

Illegal, unlike these two, is a reversed print. The word “illegal” is printed backwards, as though it is stamped on the viewer. In rough, simple ink, it mechanically designates the viewer as “illegal,” just as immigration officials might. Its stamp works in several languages.

Figures 9.6–23 Jacques Callot (French, 1592–1635), Les Grandes misères de la guerre / The Miseries of War, 1633. Etchings on paper. The Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 2004.15.1.1–18 and Bibliothèque nationale de France. Courtesy of gallica.bnf.fr. 9.6Frontispiece / Frontispice 9.7Recruiting Troops / L’Enrôlement des troupes 9.8A Battle / La Bataille 9.9Foraging: Stealing Food from an Inn / La Maraude 9.10Pillaging a Country House / Le Pillage d’une ferme 9.11A Convent: Looting, Arson, and Rape / Dévastation d’un monastère 9.12Looting a Village / Pillage et l’incendie d’un village 9.13Soldiers Turned Bandits / L’Attaque de la diligence 9.14Capture of the Bandits / La Découverte des malfaiteurs 9.15Various Military Punishments / L’Estrapade 9.16Execution by Hanging / La Pendaison 9.17Execution by Firing Squad /L’Arquebusade 9.18Punishment for Sacrilege: Burning at the Stake / Le Bûcher 9.19Punishment: Breaking a Man on the Wheel / La Roue 9.20Crippled Veterans in the Hospital / L’Hôpital 9.21After the War: Veterans Beg on the Street / Les Mourants sur le bord des routes 9.22Peasants Take Revenge on Soldiers / La Revanche des paysans 9.23A Good King Punishes Evildoers and Rewards Good / Distribution des récompenses

Jacques Callot returned home to the Thirty Years War raging across France, Flanders, and Germany. He created this series of etchings in response to this conflict that pitted mercenaries hired by France against his own people in Lorraine. Callot drew what he saw, etching a graphic short story in a sequence of episodes, on copper plates. In the first ones, his vertical lines of soldiers’ pikes raised and spirals of gun smoke draw us into the chaos of battle. He focuses his drawing on all those victimized, expulsed from inns and churches, violated in their homes. His etching spares nothing: panoramas of towns ransacked, miniatures of individuals suffering at the hands of mercenaries run amok. During this time, the public viewed the assault on clergy, women, children, and travelers as particularly vile. Callot pioneered an art of representing ordinary people caught in the crossfire of political conflict. His friend, the printer Israël Henriet, who had his name etched on the series, produced multiple series of prints. These small works on paper migrated far and wide, transmitting scenes that depict why so many in Lorraine had to flee.

The story of their disenfranchisement gains momentum with tableaux of poor country people, deported from villages, assaulted along their get-away routes. In the corner of these scenes, Callot introduces an onlooker – a goat or a spy in the trees whose line of sight directs our own toward the ongoing strife. The military men, drawn spreading destruction wherever they go, are, in turn, rounded up. At the core of the artist's graphic story: these condemned men are no less the victims of war than those they brutalized. Callot's drawings fix our eye on public spectacles of execution. These include a riveting etching of men, “hanging like unfortunate fruit in that tree” that inspired generations of artists and printmakers in many cultures. His figures are recognizable here and now in another more familiar African-American history of violent migration.

Callot represents the devastating consequences for all who endured this war, at the gateway of a town, in the open road. The genre scene of daily life practiced by many artists becomes, in his hands, a portrait of the homeless. The two final etchings reveal Callot's ultimate innovation: an explosive counter attack, “the peasants’ revolt,” depicting the insurrections across northern Europe, followed by a calm scene of king and loyal men who seem to impose order from on high. The sequence creates an uncommon critical vision. What “Callot does” and “Israel accomplishes” – as the inscriptions say – suggests why countless early modern people were forced to move, dispossessed.

Figures 9.24–26 Pedro Lasch (American born in Mexico City, Mexico, 1975), Venice Biennale Sing Along or Karaoke Anthem, 2015. Video (color, sound), 7:21 minutes. Courtesy of the artist. 9.24Mexican-Israeli flags 9.25Israeli-Palestinian flags 9.26Sing Along Karaoke Anthem at the Venice Biennale, 2015

For the 56th Venice Biennale & Creative Time Summit (2015), artist Pedro Lasch created Venice Biennale Sing Along or Karaoke Anthem as a continuation of his larger Abstract Nationalism project (2001–present). The looped video presents five national flags, each representing a different country – the United States, Mexico, Israel, Palestine, Italy, and China – in succession. The stars and stripes of the American flag, for example, appear, transforming piece by piece into the vertical green, white, and red of the Mexican flag. And so on. Each national symbol metamorphoses into another.

Beneath each flag, the lyrics of that country's national anthem also appear in the language of the country that follows – “The Star-Spangled Banner” is sung in Spanish, the Mexican anthem in Hebrew, the Israeli in Arabic, the Palestinian in Italian, and the Italian in Chinese. Subverting easy expectations, each visual/audio transition speaks to the powerful and complicated experience of diaspora, migration, and belonging by drawing from the rich and often contradictory emotional associations each person brings to these anthems. When first exhibited in Italy, audiences sang along to the work's musical track. Here, readers can imagine their own voices raised in song, responding to the anthems sung by a single professional soprano and recorded for viewers at the Nasher Museum.

Figures 9.27–30 Jacques Callot (French, 1592–1635), Les Bohémiens / The Bohemians, seventeenth-century. Etching on paper. The Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 60.16.17–20. Public domain. Bibliothèque nationale de France. Courtesy of gallica.bnf.fr. 9.27Departure / L’Arrière-Garde 9.28The Advance Guard / Les Bohémiens en marche 9.29The Stopping Place / La Halte des Bohémiens 9.30Preparations for the Feast / Les Apprêts des Festins

Callot devoted this brief sequence to one travelling people: the Roma, who lived in relative freedom across the early modern continent. Other artists, such as Caravaggio, and writers, portray them as exotic men and women – Egyptian fortune tellers, or suspicious, seductive foreigners who would steal your money. Callot, by contrast, depicts them as families in scenes of everyday life on the road. All is movement in the first pair of etchings; neither departure point nor destination of these migrants is visible. The figures carry on, separated from the towns in the background. In the second pair, everyone comes to a halt. Close to an inn, or at a camp site in the middle of nowhere, they shelter; a woman gives birth under a tree; others cook; still others play with their dogs.

Callot offers an unusual collective portrait of Europe's major nomadic peoples, often called Bohemians during his time. The four etchings were so compelling that they drew the attention of an anonymous writer; a poem was added to the sequence, capturing the sense of adventure these nomads embodied. Callot represents a way of life, of those “who carry with them only things of the future.” For this artist, who traveled to work in the South, in Rome, as in the North, these etchings highlight his affinity with those who chose not to settle down.

Figure 9.31 Annette Messager (Born in Berck-sur-Mer, France 1943), Two Replicants Together/ 2 répliquants ensemble, 2006. Fabric. Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York/London/Paris. © 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

Two faceless humanoid columns of bound fabric huddle together in this corner installation. The colors and patterns of their “bodies” collide visually – Annette Messager constructed them from scraps. Both ordinary and fantastical, they wear startlingly black witchlike hats with long fringes that mask what could have been their “faces.” The pair of figures are thrown together, and lie at their “feet,” prostrate, limp and disordered.

The installation's title refers to the replicants from the neo-noir film Blade Runner (1982), bioengineered mechanical beings who perform tasks that their human counterparts cannot, or will not, undertake. Messager, a native of the French region Pas-de-Calais, is compelled by the migrants fleeing war and poverty in East Africa and Kurdistan for camps in Calais. Her work calls viewers’ attention to migrants in relation to workers in the failing textile industry in northern France and Belgium.

Figures 9.32–33 Anonymous, painting of the Atlas Catalan, c. 1959. Abraham Cresques (Majorcan, 1325–87), Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, c. 1375. Ink, pigment, and gold leaf on vellum. Collection of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. www.loc.gov/item/2010587630/ (accessed April 6, 2022).

This anonymous artist, working in Franco's Spain – and against its repressive regime – painted a map drawn by an early modern cartographer working in the kingdom of Catalonia. This Jewish man of science depicted the world as known to him; the first two panels represent a Mediterranean-centered geography in accurate detail. From the Sahara in the South, ringed by the yellow Atlas mountains, to islands and peninsulas in the North, the artist surveys a vast area. The painting builds on geographies in the line of Abu ‘Abdallah Muhammad al-Idrīsī, one of the first to trace the contours of land and Mediterranean sea precisely. It shows them to be in closer conjunction with these pioneering Arabo-Muslim traditions of mapping than with Christian ones in Spain, Italy, and France, which configured the known world symbolically with Jerusalem at its center. Cresques also depicts human geography. The coastlines teem with port cities, the interiors with pennants flagging political strongholds, the Muslim Al-Madina, as well as Granada facing off with the Catalan kingdom in Valencia, and further north and east, the French court in Paris, and the papacy in Rome. The map plots pathways for merchants, suggesting considerable contact southwards. Several well-defended cities with turrets and high walls were destinations; if they were not yet reached, they were sought after.

The atlas takes the form of a portolan chart, a navigational map based on compass directions. When its long panels are placed flat on a surface, the map has no single orientation. Approached from multiple vantage points, it signals varying paths and gives multiple perspectives.

The two panels, out of six, represent African, European, and Levantine regions. The only human and animal figures represented are placed south of the Mediterranean, in Guinya [Ghana]. The atlas introduces rulers such as Mansa Musa, reigning over the Empire of Mali in Tembuk [Timbuktu] with golden crown, scepter and orb. Since the Majorcan monarch had commissioned it as a gift for the French king, it was intended to expand his perception of human culture. For many viewers, it outlines the routes that were opening up for early modern peoples.

Works consulted for the 2018 installation

Butler, Judith and Athena Athanasiou (2013) Dispossession, the Performative in the Political. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Berzock, Kathleen Bickford , ed. (2018) Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time: Art, Culture and Exchange across Medieval Saharan Africa. Chicago and New Jersey: The Block Museum and Princeton University Press.

Dittmar, Pierre-Olivier (2018) “Peoples from the East, Monstrosities from the West.” www.youtube.com/watch?v=bE2E7GX6R2Y (Accessed September 18, 2018).

Faegre, Torvald (1979) Tents: Architecture of the Nomads. New York: Anchor Press.

Fancy, Hussein (2016) The Mercenary Mediterranean. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Farley, Helen (2009) A Cultural History of Tarot. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Fauvell-Aymar, François-Xavier (2013) Le Rhinocéros d’or: histoires du moyen âge africain. Paris: Alma.

Gerli, Michael (2017) “The Expulsion of the Moriscos,” The Routledge Companion to Iberian Studies. New York: Routledge, pp. 184–200.

History of Cartography (1987–2015) J. B. Harley and David Woodward , eds. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Il Libro dei vagabondi (2003) Camporesi, Piero , ed. Milan: Garzanti.

Images de pensée (2011) Marie Hau de Caraës , ed. Paris: Musées nationaux.

Images et Révoltes dans le livre et l’estampe (2016) Yann Sordet , ed. Paris: Éditions des Cendres.

Insecurities: Tracing Displacement and Shelter” (2016–17) New York: MOMA.

Martin, Jean-Hubert (2016) Carambolages, Paris: Grand Palais.

Matar, Hisham (2016) The Return: Fathers, Sons, and the Land In Between. New York: Random House. (2017). La Terre qui les sépare, Agnès Desarthe, trans. Paris. Gallimard.

McIntosh, Gregory (2000) The Piri Reis Map of 1513. Athens: University of Georgia Press.

Messager, Annette (2015) Dessus Dessous, Paris: Éditions Dilecta.

Persona grata; L’art contemporain interroge l’hospitalité” (October 2018). Exposition, Le Musée d’art contemporain du Val-du-Marne, et le Musée national de l’histoire de l’immigration, Paris.

Plewa, Piotr (2007) “The Rise and Fall of Temporary Foreign Worker Policies: Lessons for Poland. International Migration 45, no. 2. pp. 3–36.

Raza, Sara (2016) “But a Storm is Blowing from Paradise: Contemporary Art from the Middle East and North Africa.” Exhibition. New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

Refugiés, Cinq Pays, cinq camps (2016) Paris: Editions invenit.

Toguo, Barthélémy (2013) Print Shock, Milan: Silvana Editoriale.

Weigert, Laura (2015) “Review Essay, The Interwoven Globe: The Worldwide Textile Trade 1500–1800.” Art Bulletin 97, no. 3, pp. 342–5.

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Migrants shaping Europe, past and present

Multilingual literatures, arts, and cultures

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