PRINT December 2019


Marwa Helal

As the [art] world makes room for the displaced within its spaces, The New Nomadic Age: Archaeologies of Forced and Undocumented Migration (Equinox), edited by Yannis Hamilakis, is a necessary read for those interested in digesting and constructing our respective stories with integrity. As Hamilakis writes in the introduction, “[The texts] are not just about migrants: they concern everyone, as the migration phenomenon reshapes the contemporary world overall.”

An incredible transdisciplinary and transcultural study of the global phenomenon of migration, the collected texts cover a wide range of political, cultural, and geographical sites and subjects, bringing together essays, documents, and photographs from such places as Mexico, the US, Finland, Palestine, Syria, India and Pakistan, and Australia. The contributors tackle complex topics such as “surveilling surveillance,” the drawings and gardens of refugees, the relationship between belonging and belongings, and more.

The book also interrogates our complicity in how the migrant is often perceived as either a threat or a figure lacking agency, transforming these toxic misconceptions by foregrounding the migrant-refugee experience—and the inclusion is devastating. In one incredibly moving chapter—one among many—“Orange Life Jackets: Materiality and Narration in Lesvos, One Year after the Eruption of the ‘Refugee Crisis,’” Nashrim, a young Syrian girl who migrated from Turkey to Lesvos, says:

For some people life jackets prove we are the devil in their house, and for some they stand for humanity and the right to live in dignity. As for myself, I don’t want to see a life jacket in my life. Even when I see this vivid orange colour somewhere else, my mouth turns bitter like I have swallowed sea water. My breathing becomes heavy like I am drowning. No more life jackets, ever again, I hope.

Timely, and an interdisciplinary prototype, this text should be necessary reading for curators, editors, and educators.

Marwa Helal is the author of Invasive Species (Nightboat Books, 2019).