Dissertation Essay

Diaspora Decoupling and Representation

Introduction

The Diaspora Decoupling and Representation exhibition is hosted by The Turner Contemporary in Margate. This exhibition aims to bring together a collection of works from John Akomfrah, Mona Hatoum, Emily Jacir and El Anatsui. Being Decoupled from and representing their Homeland through their artwork provides the common thread of this exhibition. . As a way of addressing of the consequences of decoupling, Diaspora Artists seek to provide an unequivocal representation of their communities and homeland. This forms a contrasting view that opposes the negative portrayal of these communities that is often portrayed in the media.

Diasporas are migrant communities of people who have forsaken their homeland either by force or by choice. They hope to improve the quality of life for themselves and have been increasingly discussed by the global media. False impressions and misconceptions of these Diasporas are often created by misrepresentation in the media.

By definition, a Diaspora is a transnational network of dispersed subjects, connected by ties of co-responsibility across the boundaries of empires, political communities or (in a world of nation-states) nations. Diasporas are thus de-territorialized, and yet complexly spatialized, imagined communities whose members conceive of themselves, despite their dispersal as sharing a collective past and common destiny, and hence also a simultaneity in time. (Waller and Linklater, 2004)

On the surface, it appears that migration has only begun in recent years; nevertheless, people have migrated across the globe throughout the ages. With the rise of globalisation, migration has become an increasing phenomenon that has come about as a result of the world becoming more accessible.

People who experience life from within a migrating community may encounter issues of identity, through the experience of associating with more than one identity. They identify through their experiences as an individual while possessing a shared sense of belonging to their Diaspora. Over time individuals who have migrated begin to identify with their host population also.

Having de-coupled from their homeland, a Diasporic community becomes autonomous. Individuals within the Diaspora maintain that sense of belonging by understanding their roots and being part of their community.

There are many artists in the world today who deal with issues of Diaspora and Migration through a representation of their disassociated culture. They live separate from their homeland but continue to be rooted in their core traditions and beliefs. The experience of dualism can bring about a sense of isolation and loneliness, being connected to their homeland, yet decoupled and separate. A sense of longing may exist for their past lives, their early community and their long-established routines and traditions. Diaspora Art echoes this sense of rootedness and represents a remembrance or homage to those traditions and beliefs that are at the core of their being. Producing Diaspora Art enables the decoupled to portray a more positive image of their culture and heritage than is presented in the media.

Cultural constructions are avenues for understanding how a group understands itself and wishes to present itself to others. At times when Lebanese and Arabs are considered by mainstream media representations and political discourses in their host societies as terrorists, conflict-ridden, and religious fanatics, these cultural representations gain consequence in understanding the ways in which members of the Diaspora engage with these negative constructions and wish to alter them for more positive portrayals in their host societies. (Abdelhady, 2011)

Some artists use ethnographic research to create artwork, observing a community as an outsider. Spending time with the Diaspora promotes a clearer understanding of their distinct position in today’s society. Through the observation of their daily lives, the observer gathers information about their behaviours, beliefs, attitudes, language and traditions.

When Ethnographic Research is undertaken, the observer can find they empathise strongly with the Diaspora. They can become conditioned by the group culture and begin to develop the same cultural tendencies. Their relationships are strengthened without actually becoming a part of the group.

A Transient Community can sometimes lack a collective identity or historical event that establishes a unified bond. They preserve their cultural heritage and collective identity through the re-invention of old or the establishment of new traditions is commonplace.

The Slave Ship was first exhibited in 1840 and was painted by J.M.W. Turner. Originally titled Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying this painting was an early representation of the African Diaspora. Depicting a ship full of African slaves forced to abandon their homeland Turner was as abolitionist who believed that slavery should be prohibited across the world. He was a frequent visitor to Margate and stayed in the same boarding house every time he visited.

The Turner Contemporary, Margate is built on the site of this boarding house. This Gallery has influenced the regional regeneration of the local area. It is located in the heart of a diverse multicultural community with geographical proximity to Dover. The Turner Contemporary provides a relevant backdrop for the Diaspora, Decoupling and Globalisation exhibition.

The artists taking part in this exhibition, John Akomfrah, Mona Hatoum, Emily Jacir and El Anatsui have no direct links to Margate, nor J. M. W. Turner. However, many of the issues raised by these artists relate to the ongoing discussions in the media around the subject of Diaspora. Issues which have a direct relevance to the immediate community of Margate and the Dover area. The artists all share a similar historical connection to the subject of Diaspora, being decoupled from their homeland. They produce artwork that engages with the issues of Diaspora and the collective cultural memories juxtaposed with the personal experiences of the individuals of the Diasporic Communities across the world.

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