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Harnessing Visibility and Invisibility through Arts Practices: Ethnographic Case Studies with Migrant Performers in Belgium

CEDEM—Centre for Ethnic and Migration Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Liege, Bâtiment 31 Boîte 24 Quartier Agora—Place des Orateurs, 3 4000 Liège, Belgium
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Received: 13 February 2019 / Revised: 26 March 2019 / Accepted: 1 April 2019 / Published: 4 April 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Arts and Refugees: Multidisciplinary Perspectives)
PDF [2805 KB, uploaded 4 April 2019]


This paper endeavors to understand the role of arts in migration-related issues by offering insights into the different ways in which artistic practices can be used by migrants and investigating migrants’ differing objectives in participating in the arts. Through the exploration of the initiatives of undocumented and refugee migrants involved in artistic groups in Belgium, this paper compares the motivations of the performers and concludes that art can operate as an empowering tool for migrants as it constitutes a space for agency, notwithstanding the specific scope of which it is contextually charged. It allows migrants to render themselves visible or invisible, depending on their contrasting motivations. The creative productions of the first group, composed by members of “La Voix des sans papiers de Liège”, a collective of undocumented migrants, corresponds to an explicit effort of political engagement in the local context. The other examples are of undocumented and refugee artists joining musical groups with no specific aim of promoting the cause of undocumented and refugee persons. The choice to be involved in such groups highlights their desire to be, in some ways, invisible and anonymous while participating in this collective of artists. Through these examples, we see that art offers opportunities for migrants to actively participate in the socio-cultural and political environment in which they reside and to claim various forms of official and unofficial belonging whether it occurs through visibility or invisibility. View Full-Text
Keywords: arts; migration; Belgium arts; migration; Belgium

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Damery, S.; Mescoli, E. Harnessing Visibility and Invisibility through Arts Practices: Ethnographic Case Studies with Migrant Performers in Belgium. Arts 2019, 8, 49.

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