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In Their Shoes
Human beings have migrated since time immemorial, during times of borderless and fenceless territories. Some would say that migration is one of the most fundamental human rights. According to the United Nations, 65.6 million people around the world were forced from their homes in 2016 due to war, natural disasters and persecution. Most immigrants’ decision to immigrate is not made on a whim, after all they often leave everything they know and love behind, such as their homes, families and communities. These decisions are made because of dire need and most of the time they have to be made quickly and abruptly. However, we currently live during times where there is political divisiveness and sentiments of anti-immigrant nationalism are high. In contrast, compassion and empathy are at an extreme low. As migration will most likely continue to increase it is important to bring awareness, empathy and discernment to the plight of hundreds of thousands of people that are escaping unceasingly dangerous situations.
I have chosen to replicate immigrants’ memories of their homeland using freehand machine embroidery to reflect the abrupt and quick decision making many immigrants have to make. I have asked for immigrants to share their favorite photographs of themselves in their homeland and have embroidered a version of these photographs onto canvas remnants. The hasty action of quickly embroidering someone’s memories without previously tracing on the fabric forms an interconnection with myself and the immigrant. The combination of quickly sketching someone else’s memories and the loud sewing machine noise also ads a sense of urgency, reflects the brusque manner in which immigrants often have to leave their homes and gives me the responsibility to record their precious memories. Despite the complex assortment of legal, social, emotional and physical challenges, increasing numbers of people still trade the risks for the chance of safer, better lives for themselves and their families. It is important to acknowledge their hope and the dignity, dreams and sacrifices. The embroidery was made on unbleached canvas scraps. This utilitarian simple weave fabric is reflective of immigrants’ often common human traits of strength, resilience and desire to be a productive member of society. The navy blue cotton thread is a symbol of strenuous hope. Even though people are bombarded with hardships only the ones that keep a sliver of hope will have a better chance of surpassing these tribulations. In other words, hope is their lifeline. Design elements such as the shoes and suitcase are also created with canvas, and navy blue thread to create cohesiveness throughout the project. The red silk cord represents humanity, how all of our lives are interconnected, how we share universal human experiences, and how in unity we are stronger. Silk after all is the strongest natural fiber when dry but loses 20% of its strength when wet. The use of barb wire reflects the fences or territories and the obstacles immigrants face when they decide to leave their homeland and how they feel contained as if they were farm animals. Furthermore, the barb wire, suitcase, shoes, welcome mat with bird spikes represent the struggles of flight, the immigration process, violence, the asylum or lack of it, hostility in host country, assimilation, and the perception of being other within a new culture. All elements are displayed in a continuous circular manner to represent immigration as an infinite, continuous cycle and to communicate the concept of an all-inclusive society.
I would like for this project to strengthen understanding, to stimulate greater compassion and advocacy between displaced people and the communities that receive them by bringing to light the immigrants’ plight and weave it into the fabric of the viewer in hopes they will gain insight into the lives of immigrants. Whether instigated by war, conflict, persecution, poverty or climate change, millions of immigrants are transported from the known into the unknown. Their main desire is to keep their families safe and to be able to reclaim a life of dignity and be productive members of society. Yet there are still so many people that are indifferent to their plight. Indifference certainly deteriorates unity and strengthens sentiments of racial and cultural superiority. We are often in the position to help by the very minimal to express support of immigrants. Is it our moral responsibility to help? If it is in within our desire to help, where do we start? A good first step would be to imagine ourselves in their shoes, think of what would we do in their situation and start a dialogue.
Nota bene: This will be an ongoing project in which I will be accepting photographs from immigrants in their homeland indefinitely for future installations. If you would like to participate please send an email with the photograph you would like to share to firstname.lastname@example.org with the word "immigrant" on subject line.