Textile Touches of Escape and Migration
So close, and yet so foreign
So close, and yet so foreign
On the street, and on the spiritual dance scene — this is where “Textile Touches of Escape and Migration” began. The initial ideas…
Who are “we”?
Back in 1989, the slogan ‘Wir sind das Volk’ was heard primarily from the left. In recent years,…
Arrived but not (always) welcome
The arrival of refugees in 2015 was often described in the media as a “refugee crisis.” The actual crisis, however …
You are what you wear
As with almost all encounters, when it comes to refugees and natives getting to know one another, the first impression …
Many paths lead to the changing rooms
There are many situations in which refugees are forced to adopt new clothing. Aid organizations …
why this project?
So close, and yet so foreign.
On the street, and on the spiritual dance scene — this is where “Textile Touches of Escape and Migration” began. The initial ideas that would later coalesce into this art project were flashes from daily life. Recurring again and again. They came and they went, until they finally stuck and it was time to address my own curiosity, skepticism and uncertainty.
The triggers came from afar, and from the right.
Two persons contributed significantly to this project without even knowing it: a woman from my neighborhood and a man from my circle of acquaintances. She arrived here fairly recently , after months of journeying to reach Germany; he was born here. She now lives a few houses down, while he regularly dances contact impro and is part of the local scene. She covers her hair, he votes for the right-wing AfD party.
Concealing clothing and AfD — both quite new phenomena in Germany. Estimates hold that there are perhaps 300 female Muslims in all of Germany who wear a full-body covering, while the AfD recently received 10.3% of all votes in the recent federal elections. So the orders of magnitude are quite disproportionate.
Who are “we”?
Back in 1989, the slogan ‘Wir sind das Volk’ was heard primarily from the left. In recent years, though, the right has picked it up for use on the streets: it means ‘We are the people.’ But who exactly does that mean? Who belongs to this “we”? The 26% of the population who have family roots outside Germany? The people who fled war and violence and who have come to us since 2015? For those on the right, refugees are highly unlikely to be part of the ‘Volk’ they like talking about. But it’s not just the right. The media and broad portions of society reduce people forced to flee their homelands to a caricature of otherness and dire need. A one-size-fits-all image of “refugees” has hardened in many heads, an idea that they aren’t simply lacking protection and safety, but also money and education. More than a few are in fact of the opinion that they also lack (western) values and behavior. This generalization in particular, built atop a large dollop of unawareness, a healthy portion of ignorance and an absurd sense of superiority, is societally acceptable prejudice that is passed from one Facebook or Telegram group to another. It’s a sense that some of the majority in society is concerned about the social state and an unjustified fear of all things foreign.
This despite the fact that all of human history is essentially a demonstration that strange things can become familiar, that those from far away can find a new homeland and start anew. In a search for better living conditions, people — even entire populations — have always moved from one place to another, and will continue to do so. Migration is not an issue that first emerged for humans in 2015. And in the future, it’s likely that more people will leave their home countries and journey toward the EU. Yet many of those people will never make it to Europe. They’ll go underground in their own country, or seek shelter in neighboring countries.
Arrived but not (always) welcome
The arrival of refugees in 2015 was often described in the media as a “refugee crisis.” The actual crisis, however, wasn’t happening in Germany, but rather in Afghanistan, Syria and the overcrowded camp on the Greek coast. It wasn’t people in Germany whose lives were in danger, but rather the people who were fleeing from violence, war and discrimination, those stranded in Moria even as they sought no more than a life in safety.
After a long odyssey, arrived in a new place, they are de facto safe. But what does it mean when a life in your homeland is no longer worth living, when friends and family must be left behind, when the people around you speak another language, have different habits and cast disparaging looks at you? Beyond managing their flight and its causes, the displaced are also confronted with the nature of being the foreign. They have to adapt to the situation into which they have entered, make contacts, learn a new language, find work.
You are what you wear
As with almost all encounters, when it comes to refugees and natives getting to know one another, the first impression — shaped by external factors — is often what counts. Worn cloth pants, brand name jeans, a floor-length skirt or jogging pants — these minor factors nevertheless form an image of the person you are meeting. Even if other aspects should be much more important, the clothing worn on the journey to safety, when arriving and during integration plays a decisive role.
Clothing is like a second skin for people, serving not only as protection, but also as an expression of identity. Both — protection and identity — are essential factors when it’s a matter of escape and integration. Individual garments can be a hurdle, or a benefit, while fleeing and afterwards. Putting on multiple layers of clothing can help protect against rain and cold. On the other hand, it also increases the chances of being clearly visually identifiable as a refugee — a situation that can lead to more assault and discrimination. Persons in dark clothing, by contrast, are harder to see in hiding spots and at twilight, while clothing with many pockets is especially helpful for carrying valuables directly on the body. At the same time, clothing can contribute to an expression of individual identity, or to cast it off and create a new sense of belonging. Even individual garments often shape the appearance so strongly that they can be decisive in finding shelter or being served in a restaurant. In plain terms: clothing can make the difference as to whether someone successfully escapes, or not. And if people fleeing a place have already lost almost everything, then fine clothing is often one of the few things that allows them to maintain some sense of pride.
Many paths lead to 2nd hand stores
There are many situations in which refugees are forced to adopt new clothing. Aid organizations typically maintain a large store of used clothing, often from western Europe — typically straight from the same countries which the refugees are trying to reach. In Germany and its neighboring countries, clothing is sold, worn and donated in much shorter spans than is necessary — and the trend is only accelerating. The remains of this excessive consumption then land, among other places, in the tent camps on the EU outer borders, where refugees wait for aid and to be allowed to continue their journey. In the clothing distribution rooms of the NGOs, you can also find garments originally from Syria or Afghanistan — from the countries of origin for those who are fleeing. If, for example, refugees arrive soaked from rain and the waves of the Mediterranean, then the aid organizations give them dry clothes to change into. The old clothes are then washed by aid workers and made available to others seeking asylum.
All-weather jackets aren’t the only garments that are ‘multifunctional’; in fact, any garment can serve several functions depending on the context. One of these has remained unmentioned to this point. Clothing can also reflect societal structures and criticism, reveal pain and hope, make experiences visible and express emotions. In short: it can be art. And precisely this function is what “Textile Touches of Escape and Migration” picks up on.
The common thread
Art in general and clothing in particular is fantastically well suited to providing emotions, experience and attitudes an uncensored platform and for initiating dialog drawing on these factors. “Textile Touches of Escape and Migration” offers a valve to allow all feelings – positive and negative, from natives to refugees – to be expressed. All sides, all views can be heard and seen equally well here. It is possible to express unpleasant feelings without censorship, since there is no verbal element nor need for action involved. This art project offers all a safe space to process and cope with traumatic events, fears, feelings of unease, doubt and also curiosity, joy and anticipation and happiness.
Because emotions and experiences can often not be grasped unambiguously and because it is often harder to capture them in words, we are using tactile materials for this art project: cloth, paper, buttons, ribbon — anything that can be used to make clothing into artwork is acceptable. Anything capable of expressing emotions and experiences and opening these up to others, is welcome. After all: understanding one another, getting to know one another, is a prerequisite for peaceable coexistence — and ultimately for successful integration that draws on the responsibility on both sides: those seeking protection and the society in which they are seeking that safety.
It’s safe to say that life isn’t always safe
If we ask the woman from the neighborhood with the head covering and the AfD supporter from the dance group as to what they’d like for themselves and their families, the answers would probably be closer than you’d suspect. And even if their fears are very different, their desires would likely be the same at their very cores. Like all of us, they desire a secure life.