Memory work and Migration: Exploring the body as a living archive of intergenerational memories
How does a perspective on the body as a living archive of intergenerational memories inform approaches to migration and memory? How can an embodied and creative approach to ‘memory work’ help uncover, archive, and work through such memories? And how can this type of ‘memory work’ help migrants themselves redefine a sense of identity to live a better life?
Supporting migrants in processing traumatic memories has been at the forefront of policy priorities since the beginning of the migrant crisis. Discussions tend to develop medicalized and pathologizing approaches to trauma, focusing on first generation migrants’ memories of life-threatening experiences and cognitive-based therapy solutions. Such accounts, however, miss some of the complexities that link migration and memory and overlook alternative approaches beyond the cognitive.
This project is built on the idea that memories of migration are not only related to catastrophic events but distilled through time and in multiple generations of migrants’ everyday lives. They also transcend the traumatic, traverse places and spaces, are felt and produced through the body, and (re)created intergenerationally. ‘Memory work’ (Ricoeur 2000) – as the labour of retrieving and processing memories – is central to the definition of generations of migrants’ senses of identity and can also be done using various methodologies.
This project aims to forge new ways to approach ‘memory work’ for migrants beyond first generational cognitive-based trauma, for the benefit of memory, migration scholars, policymakers, and migrants themselves.
What will the project involve?
The project will ask three main questions:
- How does a perspective on the body as a living archive of intergenerational memories inform approaches to migration and memory?
- How can an embodied and creative approach to ‘memory work’ that transcends the cognitive help uncover, archive, and work through such memories?
- And finally, how can this type of ‘memory work’ help migrants themselves redefine a sense of identity to live a better life?
To address these questions, this project intends to put into conversation the ‘memory work’ of two second generation Iranian migrants and scholars at the University of Bristol and their respective families. These scholars will each focus on specific migration-related memories central to their respective families’ senses of identity and histories. They will use embodied and creative approaches to facilitate this ‘memory work’. First, each of them will work with artists who centre the body (a dance choreographer, and theatre director). Second, each of them will use autobiographical documentary filmmaking to engage with this ‘memory work’. They will reflect on these simultaneous processes by continuously exchanging skills, knowledge and findings.
The project will involve creative workshops. The intention is for the academic-filmmakers to hold 6 filmed workshops (3 each/dance and re-enactment) with the artists. Following this they will begin the process of filming. This will involve the academic-filmmakers filming and editing, an exchange session between the academic-filmmakers, and an advisory online session between the academic-filmmakers and the advisors. After which, the team will finalize the edits on the films and plan and hold an exhibition event for the screening.
Who are the team and what do they bring?
- Negar Elodie Behzadi (Human Geography, University of Bristol) is a researcher and feminist political geographer. Her research explores questions of exclusion and marginalization from an intersectional perspective. Her more recent work has focused on identity, memory and exclusion amongst the Iranian diaspora in France from an auto-ethnographic perspective. Her work also explores the potential of visual, embodied and art-based methodologies in studying these themes.
- Nariman Massoumi (Film and Television, University of Bristol) is a researcher whose practice focuses on histories of colonialism and migration with a specific emphasis on the British/Iranian context through ethnographic and archive-based documentary film practices. He has published on the intersections of diaspora, autoethnography and domestic ethnography in documentary filmmaking.
- Ingrid Keusemann is a dancer and choreographer. After a first training in ethnomusicology, Ingrid studied contemporary dance at the Laban centre for movement in London. Since 1987, Ingrid has worked and lived in Paris where she has engaged in creative projects that link music and dance. She has taught dance and choregraphed more than thirty pieces. Ingrid’s artistic work has variously explored the link between memory and the body.
- Lizzie Minnion (Film Production, University of Gloucestershire) is the Creative Theatre Director at Postcard Productions and a professional film editor. Lizzie’s practice and research explores processes of narrative creation as an empowering experience. As a drama practitioner and director, she has a particular interest in enabling people to tell their own stories.
- Susanne Franco (Performance Studies, Ca’Foscari University of Venice) is an Associate Professor whose research expertise focuses on dance and theatre history, and the history of the body. She will bring her reflection on the body as archive to critically advise on the project.
What is to come?
The researchers and creatives intend to co-produce:
Two short autobiographical self-reflective documentary films that document the ‘memory work’ the scholars will each engage with.
An event exhibition including photography, performance and film that draws on research findings generated by the project.