Decolonising stories of displacement and belonging

A seminar with Natalie Nesvaderani (Cornell) and Dr Sukhmani Khorana (WSU)

Thursday 19 March

1 – 3pm

Room 310, Morven Brown

Presented by the SAM Media Futures Hub and the School of Social Sciences

Discussant: Dr Caroline Wake

Presentation details:

Decolonizing Stories of Displacement: Interrogating the Category of “The Refugee” 

The category of “the refugee” is fraught. Evocative of rock-bottom destitution, “the refugee” is marked as someone who is deserving of recognition and state protection. The category is critical to localized and globalized forms of human rights advocacy. At the same time, it obscures histories of peoples’ relationships to land and their movements across regional terrains long before the development of nation-state borders. The goal of this workshop is to generate a discussion among participants about the category of “the refugee” in their specific field sites and research settings through a decolonial lens. How do you deploy the category in your work, what are its limitations, and what forms of political imagination become possible by contesting it?

Natalie Nesvaderani is a PhD Candidate of Visual Anthropology at Cornell University. She is currently a Newcombe Doctoral Fellow for her research on the ethical dimensions of humanitarianism and advocacy work with Afghan refugee youth in Iran. Through community-based collaborations with Iranian NGOs, cultural centers, and displaced youth, her work disrupts mainstream narratives about migration. She organizes with Ethnocine, an ethnographic filmmaking collective committed to pushing the boundaries of documentary film through intersectional feminist and decolonial practice. She is a co-producer for the podcast and pop-up event series, Bad Feminists Making Films, spotlighting intimate discussions with feminist filmmakers. Before starting her PhD, she was awarded a Fulbright to work as a legal advisor to unaccompanied refugee children in Cairo, Egypt

Natalie is the recipient of a UNSW International Doctoral Practicum Fund scholarship.

Co-creating belonging through safe spaces in migrant community projects: A decolonial approach?

This paper reflects on belonging as a ‘feeling of our times’, albeit a political one that attempts to move past a superficial libertarian focus on harmony. Instead, through the case study of a recent migrant community project with a creative outcome based in South West Sydney, I examine what belonging looks and feels like when the focus is on co-creating cultural safety through approaches that favour reciprocity and creativity. This lens on belonging also reverses the discursive construction of new migrants as those requiring integration initiatives to fit in, or of certain others in need of de-radicalisation. Instead, it asks – what will make them feel safe enough to invest in local and national communities?

Therefore, this paper spotlights the following aspects of ‘belonging’: a) it is more effective than ‘identity’ as a point of solidarity in the 21st century; b) it needs to be seen as a ‘reciprocal affect’ and not just as an individual feeling to make solidarity possible; c) its manifestation in the local and/or the creative is a way to ground and enable reciprocal affect, re-conceptualise and co-create belonging that is more culturally mobile while being safe. These conclusions are illustrated through the feedback obtained from the participants of the project, as well as from audience members present at the screen and industry mentors who facilitated the technical workshops. As such, the paper re-conceptualises belonging from the ground up, and considers whether this is a decolonial approach.

Sukhmani Khorana is a Vice Chancellor’s Senior Research Fellow at the Young and Resilient Research Centre at Western Sydney University. Previously, she was a Senior Lecturer in Cultural Studies at University of Wollongong. Sukhmani has published extensively on diasporic cultures, multi-platform refugee narratives, and the politics of empathy. She holds a current ARC Linkage grant (with the Museum of Victoria and The Australian Centre for the Moving Image) examining the role of television in the experience of migration to Australia. She is the author of The Tastes and Politics of Inter-Cultural Food in Australia (RLI).

Discussant: Caroline Wake is Senior Lecturer in Theatre and Performance in the School of the Arts and Media. In broad terms, she researches the relationship between politics and performance and within that she has several interests. Firstly, in theatre and migration, including the participation, representation and self-determination of refugees and asylum seekers in contemporary performance and visual art. Secondly, documentary theatres including autobiography and performed oral history. Thirdly, in the cultural afterlives of performance, including reviews, photographic and filmic documentation, archives, and representations of performance in other media. This work has been published in her edited book, Visions and Revisions: Performance, Memory, Trauma (2013, with Bryoni Trezise) as well as in journals such as Theatre Research International, Text & Performance Quarterly, New Theatre Quarterly, Modern Drama, International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media, and History & Memory.

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