Culture  Telling the stories of migration

Journeys and the global movement of people have always been a significant part of human experience.

As a concept, however, the term “journeys” is incredibly broad. It simultaneously connotes the idea of exploration, immigration, and forced migration.

The “Journeys” exhibition, which opened at the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) last Wednesday, is accompanied by a book, also titled Journeys, that aims to concretize this polyvalent premise. The book adds a sense of specificity to the exhibition’s exploration of the manner in which human migration has shaped the physical and cultural spaces we inhabit.

The book consists of a series of narratives, rather than critical essays, that provide individual perspectives on the themes elaborated in the exhibition. In many ways it acts as a counterpoint to the somewhat abstract and depersonalized approach of the exhibition itself.

The authors commissioned for the book were given a series of strict instructions, referred to as dogma. These requirements included the usage of the present tense, with no title, in any language, and with one main protagonist – loosely defined as “an individual, a family, a town, a building.”

In a phone interview, curator Giovanna Borasi explained that since the exhibition covers such a broad theme, she “wanted to find very specific stories to try and do the opposite exercise. In conjunction with the exhibited works, this allows one to generalize from the very specific.” Borasi views the relationship between the book and exhibition “like that distinction between story and scene. The scene is the setting, the photos, documents, that explain how and where the story takes place.”

One thing that stands out about the book project is that, unlike much of the literature that accompanies exhibitions in the world of art and architecture, it is not academic. It does not present arguments, viewpoints, or explicit political biases. Indeed, Borasi stated that the exhibition aims to be “dry” and that she wanted to do “the exact opposite of what one sees in migration museums.”

“I wanted to take out the emotional aspect of these kinds of stories, ” she continued. One can see this reflected in the dogma of the book’s stories, which, untitled and without illustrations, avoid the trappings of sentimentalism.

Although providing an intensely individual perspective, Borasi was careful to organize the stories in Journeys to avoid advocating specific causes or peoples. “I didn’t want to connect the exhibition with any specific group or ethnicity, so I tried to establish a rule – no photos of people.” Although the source material that Borasi was drawing from necessitated that some pictures of people slipped into the exhibit, her point is clear – whatever political reading one might take away from the exhibit is not obvious on the surface. Instead, Borasi emphasized, the book and exhibit look at migration as a whole, and specifically “the very positive changes that migration can bring about, and how different ideas can trigger certain things and result in a shift in another culture.”

The variety of places and times represented in the exhibit and book points to migration as a universal experience, which enables the viewer to “connect pieces together in order to look at them differently in terms of how they reflect contemporary issues.” In this sense, Journeys presents its different stories of migration, and the mixing of cultures that results from it, as a positive experience: a stance that unfortunately remains controversial in many areas of society.