• Germany's news in English

Project pictures the plight of immigrants

The Local · 7 Nov 2011, 15:09

Published: 07 Nov 2011 15:09 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

After a week of reflection, children aged nine to 11, together with the women behind Migrantas, took photographs of their daily school life and made a cartoon-like video.

An exhibition of their efforts opened last Wednesday at Berlin’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt. The video will be displayed on screens in the city’s U-Bahn metro trains through November 9.

The Migrantas collective formed seven years ago, when artist Marula Di Como and graphic designer Florencia Young joined forces with sociologist Estela Schindel to create a place where primarily women could step back and explore what being an immigrant means to them.

The three women hailing from Argentina were joined later by German urban planner Irma Leinauer and another Argentinian, journalist Alejandra López. However, the language of the Migrantas project is neither German nor Spanish – it’s the pictogram.

The group’s latest project, “Europa-Kind + Europa-Schule: Bilder der Vielfalt,” veered away from their usual demographic of women’s integration groups or language classes, and entered the classrooms of three state-run bilingual schools in Berlin.

As the ultimate outcome of their workshops, the pictograms are developed from sketches done by women or children. The focus rests less on the aesthetic, but more on the message that they intend to convey.

Certain themes seem to run through the 70 pictograms that have already been exhibited in cities around the world. Loneliness, confusion, being overwhelmed are some of the negative ones, but pictograms depicting the learning of new skills, making new friends and feeling accepted also feature heavily.

Di Como already had experience in using pictograms and approached graphic designer Young to help make them into images suited for eye-catching public display. They created the final pictograms together.

They have so far appeared on billboards, public transport, bags and postcards, in an effort to speak to the millions of immigrant women living in Germany.

“We are not a feminist group, but have just found that in some groups of women, having no males present makes it easier to talk about certain topics,” Young told The Local.

“When running the workshops we’ve seen recurring themes of children, families and the future, which I think are female issues,” added Di Como.

They produce simple and poignant cartoon-like images, which are open to interpretation by everyone, independent of language. And so far, the group has worked with people from 72 different nationalities, each with a different background, social standing, and story to tell.

“The Migrantas philosophy is that we don’t have something to say, but something to show,” Young explained. “We expose the results of a project and everybody interprets it differently. There’s no pre-planned statement to our pieces.”

The group’s latest project received €17,800 from the Berlin Culture Fund to work with children at the Turkish-German Aziz-Nesin-Grundschule in Kreuzberg, Spanish-German Joan-Miró Grundschule in Charlottenberg and the Italian-German Finow-Grundschule Schöneberg.

“We started the week by introducing ourselves and our backgrounds, then encouraging the children to do the same,” said Young. “What was especially interesting was that even the teachers didn’t seem to know much about their pupils’ heritages.”

Nine-year-old Anna, a pupil at the Joan-Miró Grundschule said she hadn’t thought before about whether she was German or Spanish.

“I found it really cool to make videos and take pictures,” she told The Local. “I don’t think about the fact I am German and Spanish, for me it’s normal. I’m just both.”

Her acceptance of other cultures and the normality of being bilingual shined through in the pictogram-style video, a refreshingly innocent tribute to having mixed-heritage.

Story continues below…

This positivity is something that Migrantas are keen to convey. “We don’t just deal with integration problems, we want to show migration in all its diversity, so both the negative and positive aspects,” said urban planner Leinauer.

However, when asked whether a specific pictogram had spoken most to the Migrantas women, Young explained that the collective’s logo – a woman standing, head hung, with a suitcase reading, “Why? And what for?” struck a chord.

“It doesn’t matter if we are educated or not, have citizenship, or where we are on the financial spectrum. We are all still immigrants,” she said, adding that “the idea of not belonging is the umbrella under which we all stand, that’s why Migrantas started.”

However, Migrantas are using the concept of not belonging as a step into the exploration of mobility, migration and trans-culturalism, and in turn helping them to become the norm in Germany.

“I think it’s a positive thing, having more than one culture is something that is added to us and our children when you look at it positively,” Leinauer said. “As an immigrant, you have more than one reality. You can switch between the two as you please.”

Jessica Ware

Related links:

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

19:56 November 7, 2011 by crm114
ooohhh sweet !

will come back to them in 20 years time and ask the same questions?
01:15 November 8, 2011 by ChrisRea
¦quot;We are not a feminist group, but have just found that in some groups of women, having no males present makes it easier to talk about certain topics. We¦#39;ve seen a preoccupation with children, families and the future, which I think are female issues¦quot;

That's a pretty discriminatory attitude. Would it be OK to say then that, for example, business, politics and providing for the family are male issues? Also that in some companies having no female present would make it easier to talk about certain topics?

If Ms. Young is to promote acceptance, I think she should take a look to herself first.
07:37 November 12, 2011 by Mokor
OK, she tried.

In the most common sense of art, it should be understandable, but well, it is called "contemporary" art, so she expressed the contemporariness, in her own understanding.
Today's headlines
Outrage over ruling on 'brutal' gang rape of teen girl
The now convicted suspects, sitting in court in Hamburg. Photo: DPA.

A 14-year-old girl was gang-raped and left partially clothed and unconscious in freezing temperatures. Now prosecutors are appealing the sentences for the young men found guilty, most of whom will not set foot in jail.

Dozens of Turkish diplomats apply for asylum in Germany
Demonstrators holding a giant Turkish flag protest against the attempted coup in Istanbul in July. Photo: DPA.

Since the failed putsch attempt in Turkey in July, Germany has received 35 asylum applications from people with Turkish diplomatic passports, the Interior Ministry confirmed on Wednesday.

Hertha Berlin fan club criticised for 'anti-gay banner'
Hertha BSC beat FC Cologne 2-1. Photo: DPA

A 50 metre fan banner apparently mocking the idea of gay adoption has overshadowed Hertha BSC's win in the Bundesliga.

Germany stalls Chinese takeover of tech firm Aixtron
Aixtron headquarters in Herzogenrath. Photo: DPA

The German government on Monday said it had withdrawn approval for a Chinese firm to acquire Aixtron, a supplier to the semiconductor industry, amid growing unease over Chinese investment in German companies.

Politicians call for tough sentences for 'killer clowns'
File photo: DPA.

Now that the so-called 'killer clown' craze has spread from the US to Germany, elected officials are drawing a hard line against such "pranks", with some threatening offenders with jail time of up to a year.

Nearly one in ten Germans are severely disabled
Photo: DPA

New figures reveal that 9.3 percent of the German population last year were considered severely disabled.

The Local List
Germany's top 10 most surreal sites to visit
The Upside-Down House, in Mecklenburg–Western Pomerania. Photo: Olaf Meister / Wikimedia Commons

From upside-down houses on Baltic islands to a fairy-tale castle near the Austrian border, Germany is a treasure trove of the extraordinary.

Bavarian critics back Merkel for Chancellor again
Photo: DPA

The Christian Social Union (CSU) have long delayed backing Angela Merkel as their candidate for Chancellor in next year's general election. But now key leaders are supporting her publicly.

Four taken to hospital after hotel toilet bursts into flames
File photo: DPA.

Four guests at a Nuremberg hotel were taken to hospital due to smoke inhalation early Monday morning after a toilet there burst into flames.

Creepy clown scare spreads to Germany
Two of the clowns were apparently equipped with chainsaws. Photo: Pedro Pardo / AFP file picture

Police said Friday five incidents involving so-called scary clowns had occurred in two north German towns, including one assailant who hit a man with a baseball bat, amid fears that Halloween could spark a rash of similar attacks.

10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd