NO LIMITS? Overcoming the Grey Areas

Florencia Young and Marula Di Como
Florencia Young and Marula Di Como | © Migrantas

More than sixty million people around the world are fleeing from war, persecution and poverty. Many who start out full of hope do not reach their destinations. They are halted by political, geographical and economic borders. What do these borders look like? How dissimilar or perhaps how similar are the local circumstances in different places in the world? What can art contribute to global discourse? The event NO LIMITS? by the Goethe-Institut and the Münchner Kammerspiele seeks out new structure of solidarity in a changing world, live and simultaneously via videoconferencing in Munich, Mexico City and Istanbul. Among the participants are the artists’ collective Migrantas with Marula Di Como and Florencia Young from Mexico City. Using pictograms, the two artists want to give refugees and immigrants who were forced to leave their homelands a voice in the public space.

The Migrantas collective has been in existence since 2004. What was the idea behind it?

Our first project was Proyecto Ausländer 2003, in which we illustrated our own experiences as immigrants in pictograms; simple graphic portrayals that are universally understandable. Later, we organized urban actions in Buenos Aires and Berlin. But then we had to ask ourselves, can we two as artists with our specific view really broadly portray how immigrants feel? What pictograms could represent the emotions of people who have left their homeland? That was the beginning of the Migrantas collective.

We are on our way with: water, happiness, coat, good memories, brush, cream, tears, love, gloves, bonnet, hope, trainers We are on our way with: water, happiness, coat, good memories, brush, cream, tears, love, gloves, bonnet, hope, trainers | © Migrantas It was important to us to be able to exhibit our work in the public space. We managed to do so first in Buenos Aires and then also in Berlin. The Neukölln Cultural Office and the Berlin Senate Administration for Academics, Research and Culture supported our first major campaign. The pictograms were positioned at bus stops and various other public places.

You work together closely with immigrants. What have you experienced through this cooperation?

When we hold a workshop, our first question for the participants is, “What do you want to say to the people who live in this city? What story, what experiences?” We are convinced that the more we know about one another, the better we can understand each other. So, dialogue is extremely important. Then we create our pictograms from the drawings made by the workshop participants.

Often, the participants are afraid and they think they’re not able to express themselves with drawings. But those fears soon fade. You don’t need to be able to draw. Stick figures are good enough.

No Limits! is now being held simultaneously in Munich, Mexico City and Istanbul. Do different cities in the world promote different artistic approaches?

Every city tells the story of its present situation, and they can be quite different from one another. The situation in Mexico, for example, is very different than the situation in Istanbul or in Germany. Here in Mexico there are many immigrants who came here to work. This is not only since last summer, but has been going on for decades. In Istanbul and in Germany the situation with the Syrian war refugees who want to come to Europe is quite urgent.

The stories and experiences that the people bring with them are, however, not so very different. We encounter many universal moments. The stories of people from El Salvador reporting about their dramatic or arduous journeys to Mexico City often are very similar to those of the Syrians.

Border. Because of violence Border. Because of violence | © Migrantas Supporting immigration and integration, intercultural dialogue though art – it’s a nice idea, but can it be implemented in reality?

Anyone who is waiting at a bus stop and sees such a pictogram is forced to ask themselves questions. “What does that mean? What are they trying to tell me?” We try to incite a thinking process in people, to elicit reactions – in everyone. Whether they’re positive or negative; everyone has their own opinions. And that’s a good thing.

We can really reach everyone with the pictograms. We are convinced that there is not just black and white. Many people are more likely in a grey area; they are sceptical or anxious because they do not understand exactly how people feel and how they are faring here. These are the people we want to reach. That is why the public space is so important for our projects.

Events like NO LIMITS? give us the opportunity to report about what we and our contemporaries in the art world are doing to make a difference. We want to build bridges between the refugees and immigrants and society. We want to overcome the borders and limits in people’s minds.

Katrin Baumer conducted the interview.