Abroad – at home

As part of the programme Universities in ­Dialogue with the Islamic World, the DAAD supports university partnership projects focusing on the concept of “dialogue through cooperation” with special reference to furthering the cultural dialogue with the Islamic world. The Department of Geography (Prof. Rudi Juchelka) maintains this kind of partnership with the United Arab Emirates University, as part of which students examine aspects of economic and urban structural change in alternating summer/winter schools. One of the common themes is the role of working migrants in the Ruhr region and the UAE.

The term “working migrants” is usually ­associated with labour mobility in an industrial context. The post-doc project “Halb Dreck-, halb Götterland”. Artists’ travels to Italy in the 20th century (Dr. Alma-Elisa Kittner, Department of Art and Art History) presents an entirely different aspect of this phenomenon. With the aid of travel grants or residencies, either self-organised or as part of local art projects, artists spend time abroad. Many of them are still attracted to Italy, which has been a favourite destination for such journeys since the 16th century. It is particularly from their enthusiastic reports that we have derived the image of Italy as an Arcadian place to long for. The country has since lost its status as the classic destination for artists. Yet more than twenty nations still maintain study centres in Italy for practitioners of the fine arts – particularly within the context of state-funded cultural representation. Quite a number of artists decide to stay after their term, thus becoming migrants. Very frequently they also are – like workers in industry – motivated in this by economic aspects. Especially for artists with a migration background or from formerly colonised countries, reflecting upon identity and belonging is an important aspect of their artistic positioning: The temporary studio in Italy becomes the site of a person’s own negotiation between his or her oeuvre, biography and role as an artist.

Both literature and visual arts create imaginary places, create ‘the East’ or ‘the South’ from a ‘Western’ point of view. The project Lost and found in translation: Japan in photography as displayed in museums, initiated by Dr. Madoka Yuki ­(Department of Art and Art History) intends to examine how images of Japan in photographic collections in American and German museums manage to translate the foreign culture, how they mediate the perception of Japan and in the process create ‘Japan’ as a category. This is done in a multilingual study of Japanese photographic history (Japan, USA, Germany).

To travel, to leave one’s home, to emigrate: Especially crossing the Atlantic Ocean for a long time meant, in the European view, the departure to a better place. The “Black Atlantic” (Paul Gilroy), however, stands for the African diaspora and the systematic enslavement of African men and women. To analyse the Atlantic as a transnational migratory space of both persons and things between Africa, Europe and the Americas in terms of a “transcultural art history of modernism” is the aim of several interconnected publication projects on the Black Atlantic by Prof. Gabriele Genge (Department of Art and Art History): Multilingualism is thus meant in a figurative sense, opening the subject to the plurality of visual media and their colonial/postcolonial negotiations ­between a western concept of the image and non-western magic of the object and fetishism. The cultural relations between the USA, France, Germany and Senegal, especially in the context of Négritude and decolonisation, form the background of this study.

People who have grown up multilingually and – whether through intentional or unintentional migration or even capture – have had to change their adherence to a certain religion, a specific cultural or social context and/or ethnic group in the course of their lives form the subject of the research project Renegade characters and mediators in the area of conflict between migration and multilingualism (Prof. Barbara Buchenau, Elena Furlanetto and Courtney Moffett-Bateau, Department of Anglophone Studies). Two monographs are planned; the results are part of the preliminary research funded since 12/2014 by an initial grant from MERCUR.

The literary processing of migration and exile, emigration and flight in a European context is examined in the project German and Yiddish-speaking emigrants and refugees in London, 1848 – 1945: Literary and Cultural Perspectives undertaken by Prof. Christoph Heyl (Department of Anglophone Studies). It addresses the self-­images and outside perspectives (especially in English, but also in German and Yiddish texts) and cultural memories preserved in visual media, music and modernist literature.

The very opposite of foreign parts, of the ‘other place’, is ‘home’. Based on interviews they conducted, students of Art and Art History have produced short films on this subject (BEING AT HOME, Prof. Susanne Weirich and Johannes Bucholz). In videos lasting three minutes they have realised their ideas and wishes concerning home, origin, retreat and region. These film montages they directed themselves lead through individual spaces which can be physical as well as emotional, fictional as well as real, fantastic or animated, remembered or invented. The photos in this research report are video stills taken from the short films.