Blog post by Sebastien Bachelet, University of Manchester, UK and Mariangela Palladino, Keele University, UK
Overcrowded boats capsizing in the Mediterranean Sea feature regularly in the news. Yet, the discrepancy in the coverage and rescue efforts deployed for the boat carrying 750 people seeking safety which sank off the Greek coast, and the fate of the Titan submersible, is a stark reminder that vividly illustrates how some lives are more grievable than others.
Talks of a migration ‘crisis’ moreover overlook the responsibilities and effects of European states’ hostile migration policies and violent bordering regimes. Public debates seldom scrutinize the political construction of migrants as illegal and undesirable, nor do they provide sufficient insights into people’s lives beyond abstract labels, especially south of the Mediterranean Sea, where European politicians propose to build asylum-processing centres.
In this blog post, drawing on our Identities article, ‘Être vraiment vrai’: truth, in/visibility and migration in Morocco’, we focus on migration, creative processes and advocacy in Morocco, to demonstrate how narratives of migration that challenge expectations and demands for authentic and truthful migrants’ accounts can disrupt dominant and harmful forms of representation.
Morocco is an (ambiguous) strategic partner of the European Union and its member states in the ‘management’ of migration. Since the consolidation of Europe’s external borders in the 1990s, Morocco has seen growing numbers of migrants departing and transiting from its territory (notably from the Maghreb and sub-Saharan African regions) to reach Spain unofficially. It has developed its own repressive border strategy, criminalizing irregular entry. In documenting abuse from authorities, scholars and activists have denounced the wider stigmatization of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa.
Multiple racialized histories in post-colonial Morocco and the Maghreb region, as illustrated by the spate of racist attacks in early 2023 against migrants across Tunisia, coalesce with the construction of spaces of mobility from which black bodies are violently excluded. This was brought to international attention by the June 2022 tragedy at the Spanish-Moroccan border.
In contrast to narratives vilifying migrants, we have engaged with Moroccan practitioners, activists and artists (including migrant people) in projects deploying participatory, arts-based methods. Drawing on the synergies between artistic and qualitative research practices, such projects seek to facilitate the exploration and sharing of maginalized stories. Although there is no magic recipe to flatten inequalities, participatory arts-based projects hold the promise to challenge hegemonic forms of representation marked by abjection which marginalize the voices, experiences, rights and lives of migrants.
Dominant media are saturated with images of migrants who are made hypervisible; border technologies like radars contribute to this relentless detection and exposure. At the same time, border politics mean that they are invisibilized, forced to live in the shadows to avoid harm. Their lives are also significantly impacted and shaped by truth demands from authorities. Migrants have to adapt and satisfy eligibility criteria to fit certain categories (e.g. refugee), to access protection. They have to expose wounds, provide consistent and credible stories, have their identity (e.g. age) validated.
Our project ‘Arts for Advocacy’ (2016-18), in partnership with Morocco-based NGOs, sought to deploy participatory arts-based research to facilitate creative engagement and support advocacy initiatives in Morocco. The project was concerned with truth and visibility. We explored how audio and visual accounts which challenge truth demands, can disrupt politics of in/visibility to which migrants are subjected.
We engaged a group of citizens from sub-Saharan countries living in Morocco and Moroccan citizens; supported by two visual artists and a theatre practitioner, we facilitated sessions with participants using video, photography and movement to focus on the construction of narratives and truth.
This participatory project did not elicit accounts akin to the whole, self-disciplining truth that migrants are urged to present when the authenticity of their stories is scrutinized (e.g. asylum claims). It departed from confessional accounts of migratory experiences, and encouraged participants to express a plurality of reflections that eschewed expectations of unique, linear, coherent and provable narratives.
This process led to an exhibition ‘Migration. Récits. Mouvements.’ in an established gallery in Morocco where the fragmented and polyphonic creative visual and audio material carved out a space for themselves. The exhibition required the public to acknowledge and engage with migrants’ lives, emphasising that spectators were also participants in complex intercultural encounters unravelling everyday in Morocco.
The reflections and collaborations fostered through the project have furthered debates and praxis on transgressing truth demands and the politics of in/visibility. Creative processes do not offer straightforward solutions for empowerment and political recognition. They nevertheless offer tools to challenge dominant politics and aesthetics of migration. In recent years, strengthening the connections between researchers, practitioners, activists and artists in Morocco and across the Maghreb region through the use of creative methods has generated important insights, notably through the MADAR network.
While the arts can be co-opted to sanction existing politics, Morocco has seen multiple initiatives seeking to deploy participatory, creative tools to foster public debates and transform practices. One notable example is the project ‘Look at me’ by Moroccan cultural organization Minority Globe. Through photographic workshops with Moroccan and migrant populations, the project establishes a ‘migrant archive’ with a community that is often invisible and in movement. It deconstructs established codes in the representation of migration, partaking in transformative aesthetic practices reshaping politics of visibility in the public space.
In bringing together different actors and practices, creative projects south of the Mediterranean Sea hold the potential of speaking truth to the working and effects of contemporary migration politics, with relevant insights for similar dynamics across Europe and beyond.
Image credit: Yvon Langué. Used with permission.
Read the Identities article:
Bachelet, Sebastien and Palladino Mariangela. (2023). Être vraiment vrai’: truth, in/visibility and migration in Morocco. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2023.2233857 OPEN ACCESS
Read further in Identities:
Towards the elsewhere: discourses on migration and mobility practices between Morocco and Italy
Transnational social fields in forced immobility: relations of young Sub-Saharan African migrants in Morocco with their families and friends
Europe and the migrant’s gaze: three approaches to migration in research and film
The views and opinions expressed on the Identities Blog are solely those of the original blog post authors, and not of the journal, Taylor & Francis Group or the University of Glasgow.