CFP: Envisioning Asylum / Engendering Crisis

Special Issue of Research in Drama Education 23.1 (2018)

Co-editors: Dr Emma Cox (Royal Holloway, University of London) and Dr Caroline Wake (University of New South Wales)

In 2008, Research in Drama Education published a special issue, ‘Performance and Asylum: Embodiment, Ethics, Community’, featuring essays on the participation and representation of refugees in a variety of artistic forms and genres. Ten years on, another special issue is not only necessary but urgent. This 2018 issue of RiDE will investigate the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ and its relationship to theatre, performance, visual culture, and politico-legal enactment more broadly. We welcome international submissions from a wide range of contributors (refugees, artists, advocates, scholars) on a diversity of practices (professional and participatory theatre, performance, live art, film, media). We encourage written and image-based responses to recent events, as well as those that historicise current debates, from a variety of disciplines, including theatre and performance studies, visual art, cultural studies, cultural geography, law and anthropology.

Contemporary images of refugees carry traces of prior ‘crises’, whether intentionally or not. Photographs of traumatic population exchanges in the aftermath of the Greco-Turkish war emerged nearly a century ago; images of Jewish refugees stranded on the SS St Louis more than seventy years ago; and footage of ‘boat people’ fleeing Vietnam almost half a century ago. More recently, the media broadcast the Great Lakes refugee crisis when over 2 million people fled the Rwandan genocide. The iconic image of our own time—Nilüfer Demir’s photograph of Alan Kurdi lying prone and lifeless on the shore at Bodrum in September 2015—had an immediate impact. It triggered a fifteen-fold increase in donations to migrant aid organisations, a crisis in the Canadian election, and a shift in Canadian and European refugee policy. The image was everywhere: cropped by photo editors; analysed by critics; rendered into sand sculptures and cartoons by artists; and re-enacted by protestors. In some cases, images of these re-enactments, especially Ai Weiwei’s, prompted almost as much controversy as the original photograph. But whatever our opinion of these images, their effects would seem to lack durability: the signing of the EU-Turkey deal, consigning many refugees to endless limbo, came barely six months after Kurdi’s death.

Still, intense and divergent responses highlight the stakes of image making with or about refugees, particularly with the body as subject and object. What are the responsibilities of artists in these contexts? Where might we pinpoint the continuities between photojournalism and art making, and where the disjunctions? What are the specific questions we need to be asking about different representational practices? Such questions are fraught given the density of connective tissue that binds artistic, journalistic and politico-legal domains regarding asylum, as well as the direct way in which representation informs debate over the roles and rights of governments and border agencies.

One of the aims of this special issue is to trouble the glossing of current forced movements of people as ‘the migrant crisis’, to contest the singularity implied by the definite article. In Europe alone, experiences of recent migrant flows are far from uniform, yet political leaders insist on ‘definite article’ refugee politics. As a gesture towards problematising such shorthand, we map this special issue’s key questions on to a prised apart vocabulary:

‘The’: What work does the definite article perform? What are similarities and differences in artistic and activist work happening across Europe and beyond? What do assertions about the uniqueness of our era mean for historicisation and cultural memory? How are artists and asylum seekers collaborating across borders and indeed contesting the singular notion of the political border? How do borders themselves ‘perform’ in times of mass migration?

‘Refugee’: From this word, we ask about the assumption and disavowal of adjudicated refugee status, the temporality of refugeehood, and its entanglement with moral judgements. How does the process of seeking asylum become a performance of identity? How does performance both perpetuate and complicate the identity categories associated with forced migration?

‘Crisis’: From whose vantage point is crisis named? How does artistic practice respond to and represent the idea of crisis? Do crises have temporal or spatial limits, or momentary suspensions? If so, do these limits and suspensions look like clapping crowds in Germany, or impassioned political statements in the UK or Canada? Is crisis crystallised by a pile of life jackets on the Aegean island of Lesvos?

Please send proposals of approximately 300 words to both Emma Cox (emma.cox@rhul.ac.uk) and Caroline Wake (c.wake@unsw.edu.au) by Friday, 28 October 2016. Full articles will be due on Friday, 28 April 2017, for publication in volume 23, issue 1, 2018.

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