Materialising Immigrant Anamnesis

Categories: 01 Nov 2012

The meaning of material posessions at times of life transition, such as the situation of immigration, is crucial for the reconstructing self identity in accordance to the fluid in-transit status of undocumented African migrants.

For several months I have carried out a slow process of collection, digitisation and delination of the meanings embodied by material objects such as photographs, documents or other tokens carried along by African immigrants on their way to Europe. The insights gained suggest novel ways to be sensitive to the many and often unexpected contributions brought by an object’s materiality in practices of remembrance. At the same time they set off the significance of remembrance for the upkeep of the migrants’ daily sustainance.

African immigrants were asked about the objects they brought with them, what they left behind, and the importance of these possessions. The analysis focused on the type and value of the objects, the loss felt from leaving possessions,  and the ways in which these objects were a social and cultural resource. The possessions that immigrants selected were important because they represented significant life experiences.

The value of these objects were expressed in terms of three categories of experiences: existential, social, and cultural. The predominant type of possession were collections of ‘cultural objects’. Immigrants also brought memorabilia emboding memories of past experiences. The objects immigrants brought were a means of re-constructing a self-identity in accordance to their new status as an immigrant in Europe. Possessions were also a social resource, connecting immigrants to significant others in Africa.

The permanence of the material possessions also enabled immigrants to import, maintain, and pass on objects that represented and contained a family or cultural heritage. These objects however are easily susceptible to loss, wear or (un)intentional destruction – therefore their preservation through digitisation was deemed an essential and helpful practice.