Project pictures the plight of immigrants

Berlin-based artist collective “Migrantas” has been exploring the effects of immigration since 2004. For their latest project, they invited multilingual children to think about what the different cultures in their lives mean to them. Jessica Ware reports.

Project pictures the plight of immigrants
Photo: Kollektiv migrantas/Photograph: Lutz Matschke

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.

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

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Where to celebrate Diwali 2022 in Germany

The holiday of Diwali kicks off on Monday. Here's where you can celebrate all around Germany.

Where to celebrate Diwali 2022 in Germany

With over 100,000 Indians in Germany, and over 175,000 people of Indian descent, it’s little wonder that Diwali – the famous five day Hindi festival of lights starting this year on Monday October 24th – is being celebrated all around the Bundesrepublik

READ ALSO: Indians in Germany: Who are they and where do they live?

Even the House of Parliament in Frankfurt is honouring the holiday for the first time with a special reception on October 30th.

Diwali takes its name from the clay lamps or deepa (the event is sometimes called Deepawali) that many Indians light outside their home. With the days shortening in Germany, there’s all the more reason to celebrate light — especially over lively music, traditional dance and authentically spicy Indian cuisine.

We have rounded up some of the top events to celebrate around Germany, both the week of Diwali and afterwards, stretching into mid-November. If you have an additional event to suggest, email us at [email protected]

October 24th in Heidelberg

Happen to be in Heidelberg? Then it’s not too late to head to the Sweet Home Project, which will be cooking up a storm starting at 6:30pm. The menu includes an assortment of Indian sweets and savoury dishes. The collective only asks that participants bring along a candle (and a hearty appetite).

If you miss this event, and are still craving some (really) spicy traditional cuisine, the Firebowl Heidelberg is hosting a Diwali party on October 29th, replete with lots of food and drink and Bollywood beats the whole night. 

October 29th near Frankfurt

For those who fancy a Feier with a full-buffet, this celebration in Dreieich delivers through an all-you-can-eat dinner with traditional fare. Starting at 5pm and stretching into the early hours of the morning, the festive feast includes traditional Bollywood music by Derrick Linco. There’s also a dance party for kids, who receive free admission up to seven years old and €25 up to 14 years. Normal tickets go for €40 per person.

A previous Diwali celebration of traditional dance and music in Dresden. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Sebastian Kahnert

November 4th near Düsseldorf

On November 4th at 6pm, the Deutsch-Indische Gesellschaft Düsseldorf will be hosting a family-friendly party in nearby Ratingen with classical Indian music and dance, a huge dinner and Bollywood music led by DJ SA-ONE. Tickets cost about €40 each, but children under six receive free entry. 

November 5th in Bonn 

The Indian Students Association of Bonn-Cologne will be hosting its biggest event of the year: for €10, event goers can try an array of Indian food, play classic games and tune into cultural performances. 

READ ALSO: Moving from India to Munich changed my life

November 12th in Essen 

Whether you like traditional bhajans or meditative ragas, this concert will capture many of the classic sounds of Indian music with artists such as Anubhab Tabla Ensemble, Debasish Bhattacharjee and Somnath Karmorak taking center stage. The performance starts at 5pm and costs €10. 

November 12th and 13th in Berlin

Indian food fans will get to enjoy 12 stands devoted to Indian cuisine and products, all coming from the local Indian community. The weekend-long festival will also include stand-up comedy from the Desi Vibes Comedy Group. Karaoke fans will also enjoy singing along with the Sounds of India group, followed by an after party on Saturday. All this only costs €2 at the door.