Schlagwort-Archive: Kritische Methodenanalyse

Invaders? Migrants? Refugees?

The Migration Museum in Adelaide and its diverse communities: “Reasons to Remember” in solidarity through difference

Since 2012, Western Europe has had to reflect on its openness towards newcomers. Some political leaders have capitalized on the influx of refugees to praise the model of a modern secular state with Christian morals, and called for a protection of national security against non-Christian dwellers. Others have advocated for more welcoming policies, still without questioning the concept of borders and citizenship. In the public sphere, many have also expressed their solidarity to displaced people, often reminding that some populations within Europe were also forced to flee and relocate, like the Jews during the Nazi Reich, or German settlers in Poland after the Second World War, to name just two.

On the other side of the planet, in Australia, recent migration movements have also stirred political responses: the federal government has engaged into forceful upstream campaigns at home and abroad to dissuade people intending to enter the country. At the same time, the Australian foreign policy and its military violently keep refugees at bay by interning them in offshore camps located on surrounding islands or even on foreign territories like Papua New Guinea. Yet, Australia has been a country of arrival for many different communities during its modern history.

Entrance to Migration Museum; (c) Sarah Fründt 2017

Museums are sometimes seen as old institutions, displaying dusty objects that only interest a selected few. However, they do have an important societal function, as they often present debates and help shape public opinion on contested issues. The Migration Museum in Adelaide, and its take on migration, proves an interesting point in case. It reminds us of all the different contexts presented above and proposes a multidirectional perspective on migration and settlement. In the following, I will explore in more detail how this is done and what kind of trajectories are drawn between different experiences of displacement and oppression.

Who is a migrant?

Comparing experiences of migration and exile is productive for a broader understanding of a world of borders that affects many different communities in different ways. It also helps reflect upon the use of certain wordings. Take the word ‘refugee’ for example: in 2009, it was used by journalists for internally displaced US Americans as a result of Hurricane Katrina, and taken as an insult by many of those who had to leave their homes. They argued that this denomination sounded as if they were not full US citizens. In Germany, ‘Flüchtling’ (refugee) is largely used in mainstream media, while many NGO activists more often opt for ‘Geflüchtete’ (the one who fled), arguing that the suffix -ling might infantilize the concerned individuals. Finally, a stark distinction in European political discourses is still made between “refugees” and “migrants,” allowing arbitrary deportations of those who flee from non-statist violence, corrupted regimes, dire living conditions or poverty.

It is with a look at this problematic terminology that the Adelaide Migration Museum begins its informative panels: “We have many words to describe those who leave one country to live in another. Emigrants are those who have homelands, immigrants are those who have newly arrived. We also speak of colonists and pioneers who came in the first years of the new colony. Settlers are immigrants who ‘settle down’ and establish themselves in their new country. For Aboriginal peoples, all the newcomers were invaders who took their lands. The word we use depends on the story we tell and who is telling the story. There are many stories, many objects and many voices in this gallery.” The museum thus enables visitors to understand from the beginning, that each term implies a slanted perspective on history, and that the museum has allowed different perspectives to find their place in telling stories of migration to the Australian continent.

Invasion/Migration: “(a)salt waves” and “aggrocultural advances”

In the so-called settler colonies like the USA, Canada, Australia or Aotearoa New Zealand, the histories of pristine “settlers” have indeed acted as bulwarks for the mythical births of those nations. Too often have Indigenous peoples been relegated to the status of natural beings, justifying the exploitation of their lands, genocidal policies and segregationist fencing. The entrance hall of this museum features a serial work of art by Darryl Pfitzner Milika. Seven of his paintings capture watersheds of the invasion of Australia by White settlers: after the “(a)salt waves” and the “aggrocultural advances”, Aboriginal Australians have had to suffer from nuclear tests in the bush, the stealing of their children, and continuous discrimination. On the opposite wall, the map of Aboriginal Australia issued by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies reminds of the actual diversity of languages and cultures of Indigenous Australians despite the flattening of all those differences under one English word: “Aboriginal.” The map also pictures the voyages undertaken by James Cook, Abel Tasman, Matthew Flinders and others as arrows approaching the shores of the continent, refusing the narratives of “discovery” whose maps had pictured Australia as Terra Nullius,[1] bare of borders and peoples (see image).

Map of Aboriginal Australia (c) Sarah Fründt 2017

There is still strong resistance from Australian descendants of Europeans to critically engage with their history as ‘invaders’ – let alone as ‘settlers.’ In politics and mainstream culture, ‘invasion,’ ‘discrimination,’ ‘genocide’ and ‘disenfranchisement’ are terms that are still rarely used when telling the history of the country. Less than a hundred metres away from the Migration Museum, the neighbouring State Library and its pompous Morlock wing still presents a myth of the “discovery” of the Australian continent by European ships, a viewpoint on history that is still largely taught in schools as well. In this regard, the Migration Museum offers a more refreshing stance on the history of settlement in Australia.

Dictation tests in Hungarian for immigrants to Australia

Later, those settler colonies like Australia have also experienced incoming populations. These newcomers – no less “new” than what settlers were a few centuries earlier – have in turn been victims of racist policies of restricted naturalisation, as well as discrimination for being non-British dwellers. Later in the gallery, the era of the White Australia Policy (1901-1973) is addressed. The museum shows the similarities in status between non-White settlers and Indigenous people, reminding that “some British subjects, such as those from India, Ceylon or Fiji, were thought to be ‘aliens’. The Naturalization Act of 1903 stated that no ‘aboriginal native of Asia, Africa, or the Islands of the Pacific, excepting New Zealand’ could be naturalized. Southern Europeans too were considered less desirable immigrants and in the 1920s Australian authorities limited the entry of people from Malta, Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia and Albania.”

„White Australia Walk“; (c) Sarah Fründt 2017

To illustrate this racist policy, museum visitors are invited to experience this discrimination at the border by putting themselves into the shoes of twentieth century immigrants with different backgrounds and taking the “White Australia Walk” (see image). The enforcement of the Immigration Restriction Bill in 1901 imposed arbitrary language tests to immigrants that could “exclude anyone whom immigration officials thought unsuitable.” The dictation tests given to an individual could indeed be in any European language. With that absurd (but devilishly efficient) method, an immigrant from Japan could be given a test to prove his/her non-existing skills in Hungarian, and be accordingly refused entry into the territory, or deported. This test was used up until 1958. Faced with many of those dead-ends, visitors are invited to reflect upon the unabashed mechanisms of discriminative power at the border. Even if the interactivity proposed by this “game” is limited and quite simplistic, the idea of translating the frustrating experience of migrants through role-playing relies upon feelings of empathy that might contribute to raising awareness on the racist delimitation of the Australian nation at its margins. In a similar vein, the BBC (“Syrian Journey”) and the UNHCR (“Against All Odds”) have also used the format of so-called ‘serious games’ to point at the barriers of Fortress Europe that refugees from Syria are facing.

While non-British immigrants could not obtain the status of citizens of Australia, Aboriginal people also continued to be cast out, and had to wait until 1965 to be able to vote in all federal states. In the first part of the museum’s permanent exhibition, I was also puzzled by the fact that graphs showing the partition of the Australian population in ethnic or linguistic groups did not feature any information on the number of Aboriginal people in the population. This absence was explained later: only in 1967 did a change in the constitution enable the inclusion of Aboriginal people in the census; a late, but important recognition of their citizenship in their own land.

A participatory museum

Up until the end of the twentieth century, museums allocated little room for minority groups to express their particular perspectives. These quintessentially European institutions provided one perspective only: they mostly praised the achievements of white men of science who, despite their achievements in the quest for knowledge, also perpetuated clear-cut oppositions: ever since the Enlightenment, the perspective of rational, modern Europe would generally exoticize foreign nations, and/or relegate them to the realm of nature, to a backward past, which was especially the case for Indigenous peoples and women from the Global South.

Entrance to the Community Space; (c) Sarah Fründt 2017

Recently though, some museums have discovered that they inhabit spaces where multiple communities coexist, and that these communities have a say when it comes to occupying the public sphere. The Migration Museum is a “participatory museum,” the director, Mandy Paul, asserts. “It is embedded in durable work with communities at its core, and it is normal practice for us ever since the beginning” (the museum was founded in 1986). A community space is indeed left at disposition for community-based exhibitions. Unfortunately, “the sole statement that the forum is open mostly attracts nostalgic, fairly homogeneous and structured groups who do not thoroughly engage in questioning their own identity,” Mandy Paul observes. As a result, the museum has now decided to proactively reach out to other communities that did not or could not present an exhibition of their own. All in all, those special community-based exhibitions have been largely contributions from members of particular linguistic, national or religious groups in South Australia, such as, for instance, Russians, Latvians, South Bhutanese people, or Muslim women. But the museum also recently hosted an exhibition on the local LGBTQ community, thus addressing ‘diversity’ in its full sense, not only referring to a given region of origin, but considering broader dimensions of the term regarding gender and sexual preferences. This reminds us that museums also bear a social responsibility in the public sphere: by engaging with diverse local communities, opening up their space to different voices, and integrating diverse views on race, class, gender, religion and identity, museums can question normative frameworks and, as cultural institutions, act for social cohesion by promoting diversity.

Eighteen memorial plaques

The reality of cosmopolitan metropolises like Sydney or Melbourne, and the increasing number of foreign students enrolling in Australian universities shows that, despite great efforts to limit immigration, the Australian population[2] grows more and more diverse. Confronted with multiple audiences, the Migration Museum in Adelaide has taken on the task of addressing them. It confronts and remembers a generally racist history of white domination in a multidirectional way. Multidirectional memory designates forms of collective memory that express solidarity with different histories of oppression instead of competition.[3] Groups that only wish for the prevalence of certain traumatic histories over others operate in forms of memory that are, in the long run, counter-productive, because they often tend to sacralise a given history while belittling other contexts. Emphasizing difference and solidarity rather helps all kinds of populations to talk about their past in relation to each other.

Memorial Plaques at Museum entrance; (c) Yann LeGall 2017

The entrance yard of the Migration Museum proposes an example of this kind of multidirectionality: on the wall eighteen memorial plaques are displayed. Each refers to a singular context of persecution that has forced populations into exile. Jews, Palestinians, Istrian Italians, Donauschwaben, Bosnians, Croatians, Serbs, Pontic Greeks, Slovenes, Hungarians, Poles, Ukrainians, Estonians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Tatars and Bashkurts, Vietnamese and Filippinos, victims of the British child migration schemes and victims of the Armenian genocide, are all remembered next to each other.

Detail of Memorial Plaques; (c) Sarah Fründt 2017

The Museum’s explanatory plaque reads: “Many of our immigrants were forced to leave their homelands and seek refuge in Australia. The Migration Museum wishes to thank those who […] have shared their Reasons to Remember.” The presence of those different – but sometimes related or even entangled – histories of exile can be criticized for flattening scales of importance and suppressing the significance of numbers. At the same time, this helps shedding light upon the actual weight of exile in individual and collective (familial) experience. It also points at various governments that have compelled people to leave their homes, some committing crimes against humanity, some simply enforcing discriminatory policies.

Acknowledgement to the Kaurna People; (c) Sarah Fründt 2017

The interior of the museum shows that emigrating to Australia and settling down there has never been easy. It also addresses the suffering of Aboriginal Australians under European-Australian rule. Outside, those memorial plaques occupy a space that stresses both the similarities and the differences between those histories of migration. Next to this wall stands an acknowledgement to the Kaurna people, the local Aboriginal community and rightful owners of the land. Visiting the Migration Museum and experiencing its community-based approach is edifying: not only do multiple histories of oppression and exile start to appear connected; our awareness on continuous strategies of exclusion, deportation and discrimination is raised.

[1]      In Latin: “nobody’s land.”

[2]      Here I refer to people living on the Australian continent, not Australian citizens.

[3]      See Michael Rothberg, (2009). Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization, Stanford University Press; (2011); and from the same author, “From Gaza to Warsaw: Mapping Multidirectional Memory,” Criticism 53:4 (Fall 2011), 523–548.

Review: The Weber World Café

What to think of the Weber World Café?

Usually I would not write a review on the format of an event on this blog, as the connection to museums and sensitive objects seems weak. However, I was invited as a science reporter to do just that, and initially I was planning to write on the topic of the event – which would have fit – but after giving this some consideration, I decided to concentrate on the style which I found rather more important (although it does not fit my usual topics). I would like to thank the Max Weber Stiftung, the Forum Transregionale Studien, ArtHistories and the Staatliche Museen Berlin for this opportunity to take part in a very special experience that has provided me with a lot of “food for thought” over the last weeks. I am still not entirely sure what to make of this and will share a few of my thoughts here.

Originally world cafés as a format were developed by two business consultants. The idea was to create a form of workshop that would allow, for example, staff members of different departments of a certain company to exchange their perspectives on certain problems as well as their different solution approaches in a safe environment. By ignoring hierarchies and usual peer groups, its aims were to foster wider cooperation, find common aims and hitherto unknown connections, discuss topics and thus ultimately find creative solutions to real problems the company would be facing. By including everyone, paying attention to all staff members alike and bringing them together in unexpected ways, it was also often tried to increase personal engagement with the company and open participation in structural or personal changes the company would have to engage in. How can this be transferred to a more open format as it is used in the Weber World Café?

In practice a world caAll images: Sarah Fründt (2015)fé is formed by several tables all of which have their own moderator. Participants walk from table to table – similar to speed dating – and have a certain time at each table in which they can discuss a topic (guided by the moderator) until the time is over and they have to move to a different one. Each table has a paper table cloth on it and participants are invited to write and draw their ideas and associations.

In case of the Weber World Café that took place in Berlin on 11th June 2015 the general topic was “Museum, Power, and Identity” – broken down into eight table topics (you can see more on the moderators and topics of the table here). As a participant you would manage to see four of these, so you either had to decide early on what interested you most – or you just let yourself drift. I voted for the first and visited the four tables that caught my interest: ‘Cultural Heritage, Belonging and Ownership’, ‘Decolonizing knowledge’, ‘Object biographies’, and ‘The Archive and the Unconscious’. All of these topics entail an ocean of knowledge, they could each be considered headlines for long-term scientific debates with entire libraries written about them – how can they be broken down to a table topic? Sadly my very personal and subjective answer is: they cannot. Whereas some discussions started off promising, they usually ended rather sudden – either by people having to leave the table, a comment by IMG_3310someone not really related to the previous discussion and thus cutting of the line of thought, a question for clarification that led into a different direction or by the realization of some experts (not necessarily the moderators) that it was just impossible to explain the topic in a reasonable way within a few minutes only. Some discussions were too basic for some while too scientific/theoretical for others, some moderators started off with a small presentation, others with an initial question, but especially in the third and fourth round it was noticeable, that they had given that question or the presentation more than once already and were not completely eager to engage with it again. I think the original idea would be to just continue where the previous discussion group left, but at least in case of my tables this was not followed through. In general, I guess that most of the moderators were new to the format and were trying to do their best – but they lacked the experience how to actively moderate such a form of half repeated discussion and direct it into new ways. I talked to a few of them later and some admitted they had been curious to the format but not entirely sure what to expect – in the original format the moderators would need to be the most experienced ones and would usually require a lot of preparation (in particular with regards to the right questions that would spark interest and start a discussion). Many participants I observed also never said a word and left the discussion to the “loud ones” – much as you know it from high school.

IMG_3311All this being said, there were still some interesting thoughts and connections being made – even on topics that I am very experienced with – so I can see how this is supposed to work and I assume that it DID work for many participants as well. The interesting part about the world café format is that everybody will naturally experience it very differently as nobody follows exactly the same “stream” through the room and has the same knowledge, background, ideas about topics than someone else. So this is some very subjective criticism that I have to offer and I am sure many others would have had a much more positive experience. The fascinating part for me was, though, how many people you got to know in a rather personal way via the constant changes and in the aftermath I had many notes of names and topics I wanted to check later or find out more about. In general, there was an amazing amount of very interesting people from all disciplines, backgrounds and many national origins and I do have to congratulate the organizers for bringing together such an eclectic mix of fascinating people. I do think that from a networking and connecting people perspective, this is a very successful format. I would however question its validity when really trying to discuss a more complicated topic like this one – museum, identity and power is huge, and I think it might serve the format better if a somewhat smaller topic would be chosen that could actually be broken down into several table questions. In its richness, this topic was too diverse and confusing. Originally the world café was also initialised to work towards concrete ideas, creative solutions, processes etc., but in this case the café just ended. Although there was a wrap up session in which people tried to sum up what had been discussed at the tables, in the back of my mind I still had the nagging question: so why did we do this?

However, I would still love to try again next time – maybe with a topic that I do not know so much about? I think this format has the potential to give you a perfect and interesting overview on perspectives about any topic – but maybe it needs to be a topic that actually really has not had much resonance in your brain yet? Or you need an audience (like in a company) that forms an actual group? Or you need at least something of an aim?

Bring the next one on. I am not done with this quite yet.


All Images: Sarah Fründt, Berlin, 2015


Other people have written on the Weber World Café and they have come to some very different conclusions, thus underlining my argument that this is a very subjective experience. So for the full picture, check out their reviews, too!

Kristina Engels: Scientific Serendipity and the Museum Without Objects – The 3rd Weber World Café in Berlin Dahlem

Damián Morán Dauchez: Wozu denn das Weber World Cafe 3?

Also interesting: the organizer’s perspective:

Gesche Schifferdecker: World Cafés – auch was für die Geisteswissenschaften, Reflections on the WeberWorldCafé