Bouchra Khalili: The Mapping Journey Project

I am fascinated by museums and art galleries. It’s a chance to discover history, the future and experiences far from my own. The countless hours spent wandering around beautiful paintings and sculptures color my worldview in eclectic ways!

I recently had the pleasure of viewing The Mapping Journey Project by Bouchra Khalili currently showing at the Museum of Modern Art.  Have you ever heard stories from people who illegally cross borders in search of better or safer circumstances? Our society has become desensitized when it comes to seeing the news stories about boats capsizing and refugees drowning in their quest for a better life in Europe or anywhere else. Stories of people suffering have just become part of the daily news – the emotions that come with the plight stripped away. The crisis is far removed from most people’s experiences but what happens around the world impacts each one of us one way or another. That’s why I was very excited to learn about this exhibition that comes at a timely moment.

In this exhibition Khalili, A Moroccan- French national presents a series of video stories narrated by eight individuals who were forced by political and economic circumstances to travel illegally to countries across the Mediterranean basin. She collected these stories between 2008 and 2011. After a chance meeting, she would invite each person to narrate his/her story, while using thick permanent marker to trace his/her journey on a map of the region.

Khalili travelled to Marseilles, Ramallah, Bari, Rome, Barcelona and Istanbul – the main corridors of human trafficking and trade to collect these stories. She walked around each city with maps and permanent markers waiting for the right moment to meet the subjects of her project. The videos do not at any point show the people’s faces; all you can see is their hand tracing the journey while they tell the story. The stories are presented on individual projector screens.

All the stories are sad and detail long arduous journeys, sometimes involving walking for days, taking the bus, smuggling cars and even aeroplanes. Some of the journeys spanned more than 5 countries as each person made their way from their home to this new place where they hope to call their new home.

The issue of refugees and asylum seekers is an issue close to my heart. What I liked about this exhibition was its simplicity and how it visually took you through the journey as the people traced their journey on a map. It offers a critical perspective on migration and displacement and what is happening around us.

The exhibition runs through Sunday, August 28 so if you are in New York, pass by to see it for yourself if you can.

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