Curator’s Note

By Imogen Bakelmun

Over 272 million people currently live in a country other than that of their birth. Some move in search of better opportunities, for others extreme poverty, insecurity, natural disasters or war have driven them from their homes.

To leave home, to be displaced, and to relocate yourself in new cardinal coordinates induces the construction of a series of new borders to negotiate, both internally and externally.

Geographical and administrative borderings emerge upon departure, in transit and on arrival as nation’s lines are crossed, border checkpoints encountered and immigration policies enforced. To navigate yourself within new societies, new cultures, moving amongst new people, means to undertake a series of relational borderings. You re-situate yourself as borders emerge in the form of language barriers, social norms, cultural histories, in the people you befriend and people who reject you, the services and opportunities available to you, in the places you live and work. You are bound by both external and internal borders, by limits and lines of belonging. At the most internal level, in your sense of self, new borders are constructed as you transition into your new identity within your new coordinates, moving from citizen to foreigner, insider to outsider.

Gender contours these borderings.

New kinds of borders emerge whether you are a man, woman, gender non-conforming, whether you are cis-gendered or transgendered. Gender influences reasons for migrating, who migrates and to where, how people migrate and the networks they use on their journeys, the opportunities and resources available at destinations, and relations with the country of origin. It shapes how we travel, how we navigate our bodies in movement with other bodies and impacts the health risks, vulnerabilities and perceptions we experience. 

Our ability to achieve our full human rights, including our right to health, is also entangled within these borderings. From dialogics of disease to medicalised prejudice, to the pervasive myth of ‘health tourism,  the UK’s hostile environment stance, resident to indefinite leave to remain, through to distrust in health systems, both gender and citizenship status impact access to health services and the pathways of care within them. COVID-19 has only exacerbated these inequalities within our health systems.

The works presented in Borderings take us deeper into this complex landscape.

In Sabrina Richmond’s powerful monologue Inside my insides, we are situated in a medical encounter. As we move through pain articulated at cellular, social and historical levels, we are encouraged to interrogate the body as a site of trauma and to consider the potential of decolonial approaches for healing.

Edin Suljic’s photo essay A Suit of a Happy Soul threads together a tale of community through the act of tailoring a suit. As we scroll through images of migrant tailors at work, Edin’s voice calls on us to consider what makes a happy life, as he weaves together images and philosophical reflections on what it means to belong within the social fabric.

Anan Tello’s impassioned short play Diagnosed with Syria takes us once again to the GPs room. Here, a Syrian refugee refuses to stay silent and passive as she vehemently takes control of the 10-minute consultation. Defying the GP’s casual diagnosis of Syria, she demands to be seen and to be heard as a person with agency.

In Bumi Thomas’ evocative visual soundscape We Come, we are dislocated into a space of becoming. Engulfed in a cacophony of London sounds and the hypnotic smoke-like swirls of colour, we are guided by incantations of solidarity that acknowledge both the struggles of displacement and simultaneously the opportunities for a better world.

Rana Ibrahim’s Red Coat explores the complex ways we learn to understand and navigate gender. Threading, stitching and glueing together a chaotic collage of theoretical, cultural, historical, biological approaches to gender, she encourages us to be more open and brave in accepting others and learning from different experiences.

Selam Mengistu’s video essay ...where are you really from? oscillates between Selam’s standup set and cafe day job to comment on the ways we try to articulate ourselves through dividing differences. Blending comedy and self-reflection, her video playfully interrogates the various identity structures that shape our realities.

Ghafar Tajmohammad’s “You need to cut your hair, you look like a girl” draws on the rich cultural heritage of ornamental rugs in Afghanistan to play with gendered stereotypes and norms. Overlaying his geometric designs with flowers and threads, he encourages us to consider what it means to navigate gender across different cultures.

In Yasmeen Audisho Ghawri’s monologue The Head-Vagina Axis we slip between the realm of the conscious and the world of the corporeal to explore the intricate ways our bodies and minds are shaped and re-shaped by displacement. As vignettes from Yasmeen’s past are drawn together, we are invited to question what it means to be a body and a self in movement.

We encourage you to explore the original artworks and the accompanying text penned by the artists themselves, and to become reflective on your own borderings and the ways you exist contours the lives of others. 

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