3 Bread and Salt

Published on 21 June 2013

Bread and Salt: Stories of Artists and Migration is now available to download here. This page is a record of the original idea, which has moved on a good bit since its first conception in February 2011.

Bread and Salt Cover lo-res

Bread and Salt: the original concept

It's a Wonderful Life

MARY: Bread… that this house may never know hunger. Salt… that life may always have flavour.

Frank Capra, It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

Heading for the border

Human beings have been migrants from the start. Forced out by nature or oppression, drawn on by better lands and hope, they walk: not for nothing is life called a journey. There is nothing older under the sun than people leaving, and people arriving.

You must not molest the stranger or oppress him, for you lived as strangers in the land of Egypt

Migrants take what they can save, what may help them on the journey: clothes and food, the flavour of home; perhaps a photograph, if they have one; small treasures. Their lightest burdens are their embodied stories, songs and dances, dreams, ideas and images, rituals of their culture.

Two hours later, they walk in the clean, self-possessed corridors of Flughafen München. Late Sunday sunlight glints on brushed metal handrails and signs for passport control. They join the line: Gastarbeiter. Through the glass, the officer looks carefully at the documents presented, one by one, and then carefully into her father’s eyes.

Migrants stand at the border, arrayed in poverty, empty-handed. Who imagines their riches, except them?

Ordinary migrants

Both my parents have been migrants, in different ways, for different reasons. My father became stateless to avoid conscription in a civil war: he’d seen enough fighting by 1945. My mother exchanged country, language and nationality in search of an ideal.

An exile’s presence, tolerated, feared, despised or welcomed, at least implies admiration for his host. An exile’s child is a confusion to everyone and herself, full of irrefutable, irredeemable claims.

Migration is not unusual: scratch about in family history and it will often turn up. After all, Europe is just returning to its natural patchwork of peoples and cultures, after a century of genocide and ethnic cleansing. Whether a migrant past is hidden or worn as a badge of difficulty overcome depends on today’s attitudes to today’s migrants.

Weighing human value

Many Western countries place the protection of liberty and self-improvement at the heart of their founding myths. The idea of providing a haven from religious or political tyranny is embedded into their faith in progress.

‘Give me your tired, your poor,
your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…’

It gained renewed impetus after the Second World War, when millions of ‘displaced’ Europeans needed homes, while the idea of political ‘asylum’ reached the height of its moral authority in the subsequent ideological struggle between superpowers. Now, as the new world order unravels, migration is political dynamite – the blowback of globalisation, facilitated by the same means of rapid travel and communication.

WASHINGTON 18.10.11 – The Obama administration set a new record for deportations, removing nearly 400,000 undocumented immigrants in the last fiscal year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced on Tuesday.

Huffington Post, 18 October 2011

There are good migrants and bad ones. London has more French residents than Lille – but it’s okay, they’re young professionals, invisible among the financial service workers. Equally invisible is the night-time army of Ghanaians, Somalis and Filipinas who clean the offices for survival wages they save and send home.

A total of more than 30,000 new non-UK nurses have registered in the UK in the last three years. The Philippines, South Africa and Australia have been the main sources.

James Buchan, 2002, International recruitment of nurses: United Kingdom case study, Edinburgh

Immigration authorities award points to those with skills but without the right passports or money to relocate unaided. Rich countries strip-mine poor ones of their educated workers, packing them off after the copper and the coffee.

We brought Mum over for the wedding and she was thoroughly impressed by Scottish industry. She wondered what was wrong with Africa and I told her it was a long story.

 Samson Kambalu, The Jive Talker, or How to Get a British Passport (2008)

The 2010 Global Trends report shows that 43.7 million people are now displaced worldwide – roughly equalling the entire populations of Colombia or South Korea. But what if migrants have other assets, other gifts and contributions to offer? What if they have other sources of power than cash and citizenship? Human culture and creativity can enrich a host society and empower those who, from hope or necessity, find themselves building new homes. Bread & Salt documents and celebrate the artistic lives of those who cross borders, those who create new art from their experience of migration, those who endure and resist in the truth of their imaginations.

Meetings and letters home

Bread & Salt is structured around a series of meetings with people who have moved to different European countries from other parts of the world, and who have continued their artistic practice in their new homes. That practice may be professional, or undertaken for its own sake, privately or in community contexts. One of the tensions Bread & Salt explores is how people are accepted as professionals by cultures that are very different from their own.The meetings are social, over a cup of tea or a meal, walking in a park or attending a show. In each case, they focus on an individual story, not just of migration but of an artistic journey and how the one has supported and enabled the other.

How did artistic talent emerge and flourish? How is art changed by its new context? Is practice valued or rejected, easier or more difficult in this new environment? Has artistic practice been an avenue for participation and inclusion? Has it been a hard-won luxury or a necessity for survival? And, above all perhaps, how does art empower a person to define themselves rather than simply be a subject of other, possible hostile, description?

The only present reality for the migrant is work and the fatigue which follows it. Leisure becomes alien to him because it forces him to remember how far away he is from everything that he still believes to be his real life.

 John Berger, A Seventh Man (1975)

Meetings have taken take place in Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Britain; others have crossed borders with Skype.‘Bread & Salt’ is supported by the Treaty of Utrecht in the Netherlands. It will be published in 2012 in English and Dutch.

There is no plan. Like migration, the project depends on networks, contacts, doors that open or don’t. Unlike the other Regular Marvels already under way, Bread & Salt is open-ended and may go through more than one cycle. The experiences it deals with and the issues it raises are unlikely to be exhausted soon.

François Matarasso

20 December 2011

One comment

  1. Thank you bringing this to light and I wait to see how the future develops for those who are given a voice.

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