Another line from the poem, “When home won’t let you stay,” is the title of a new exhibition opening 23 October at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston.
Featuring 40 artworks created by 20 key artists, When Home Won’t Let You Stay: Migration Through Contemporary Art looks at how displacement, migration and immigration has inspired the works of artists over the past 20 years. The pieces tell some of the stories of the 70.8 million people have been forcibly displaced worldwide, according to a United Nations Refugee Agency statistic.
“This isn’t a survey on the complicated topic of migration, displacement and immigration of people,” said co-curator Eva Respini. “Instead, we wanted to have a focused look through this moment right now. It’s a signpost of these ideas always through the lens of art and artists.”
The first thing viewers see upon entering the exhibition is Woven Chronicle, an artwork by Indian artist Reena Saini Kallat, created between the years 2011 and 2016. It’s a wall map made of yarn, tracking the global routes where migrants have traveled; from contract workers to refugees and asylum seekers. Though the artwork was completed in 2016, the artist keeps updating it to trace new routes.
“Over the years, I’ve tried to incorporate changes by updating the research,” said Kallat, who has updated the map with the territorial split between Sudan and South Sudan. “Even though the work is not meant to be an illustration of the numbers of refugees, as we have more data coming in, I keep trying to update the information we have in the archives,” she adds.
The Kurdish artist Hayv Kahraman is showing Bab el Sheikh from 2013, an oil on wood wall piece showing a person either descending or ascending a staircase. As a refugee who left Iraq as a child, then moved through Europe and then the US, it’s what co-curator Ruth Erickson calls “a memory of home, reflecting on her own experience as a refugee”.
The Palestinian artist Mona Hatoum is showing Exodus II from 2002, a sculpture that connects a pair of suitcases with strands of hair, suggesting separation from familial roots.
Also on view are landscape photographs by the California-based artist Richard Misrach, who documented the 2,000-mile border between the US and Mexico for his series Border Cantos from 2004 to 2016.
The Irish artist Richard Mosse is showing a three-channel video called Incoming, which was created between 2014 and 2017. “It tracks the route of refugees from North Africa and Middle East to Europe, mostly over water, landing on shores of southern Europe and making their way through refugee camps,” said Respini.
One of the most recurrent images in the exhibition is the sea. “The site of the sea, the migration route and the refugee camp all play a role here,” said Erickson.
The Moroccan artist Yto Barrada is showing works from her series, A Life Full of Holes: The Strait Project, which the artist created between 1998 and 2003. Today, this part of the Mediterranean sea, the Strait of Gibraltar is the route to the south of Spain’s Andalusia region, which sees more migrant arrivals than anywhere else in Europe, making it especially timely.
The Dutch photographer Rineke Dijkstra is showing works from her Almerisa series, which sees her photographing a Bosnian refugee woman over the course of 14 years, first as a child, and now as a mother.
There’s also a new site-specific, community project by the Boston-based artist Anthony Romero, who collaborated with the immigrant community in east Boston. “He did a series of listening sessions, which are immigration stories,” said Erickson. “These audio recordings are a kind of community archiving for east Boston residents, story sharing.”
It’s no coincidence that the museum overlooks the Boston harbor, which faces the Atlantic Ocean. “It’s a big theme that comes out of our desire to think about our museum site-specifically,” said Respini.
“We’re perched on the Boston harbor, and everyone who visits us can see a dramatic view on top of the water. We’re dealing with perilous crossings over sea, a middle passage, we thought it felt right for our building, it’s so prevalent today.”