Timestamp: Thursday, February 6, 2014 - 10:08

All over the world, stable concepts of home and belonging have, for a variety of reasons, become the exception rather than the rule. This has led to dramatic cultural, social and political changes and challenges, but also opportunities. The study of diaspora and migration has therefore evolved into a burgeoning field of research with an urgent practical relevance.

The Marie Curie Initial Training Network CoHaB – Diasporic Constructions of Home and Belonging unites world-leading experts in this field in the conviction that interdisciplinary training as well as international and intersectoral co-operation is key to any productive study of diasporas. Consequently, CoHaB is committed to training a new generation of scholars from various disciplinary backgrounds, but with similar interests in the field of diaspora studies by enabling them to join forces and develop their research projects on a shared platform. To this end, CoHaB offers 12 Early Stage – or doctoral – and 3 Experienced – or postdoctoral – fellowships on various aspects of diaspora in relation to home and belonging.


Timestamp: Monday, April 14, 2014 - 12:53

All over the world, stable concepts of home and belonging have, for a variety of reasons, become the exception rather than the rule. This has led to dramatic cultural, social and political changes and challenges. The study of diaspora and migration has therefore evolved into a burgeoning field of research with an urgent practical relevance. In a wide and sometimes confusing array of approaches it is mainly covered by the humanities and the social sciences.

The CoHaB Network, coordinated by the Chair of British Studies at the University of Münster, Germany, unites world-leading institutions in this field in the conviction that interdisciplinary training as well as international and inter-sectoral co-operation are key to any productive study of diasporas. CoHaB gains scope and momentum by its ‘Network of Networks’ rationale, binding together already existing cooperations. It is based on the resolve to strengthen interdisciplinary research in the field with a view to establishing diaspora studies as a transdisciplinary research area in its own right. Training young researchers on the basis of this conviction means to provide them with the opportunity to conduct their work in a variety of disciplinary environments as well as outside a purely academic context.

Specifically, CoHaB aims at stimulating and facilitating cooperation by negotiating core concepts between the various disciplines involved among the partner institutions. Each of these disciplines has developed its own, highly sophisticated understanding of diaspora studies, and it is high time that these diverse understandings entered into a sustained dialogue. For this purpose, early stage researchers from various disciplinary backgrounds, but with similar interests in the field of diaspora studies, will join forces to develop their projects on a shared platform. This will assist them in opening their projects to a strong, interdisciplinary research environment and in producing tangible results for their own research careers, for the scientific community, and for the general public at large.

We have launched the CoHaB Blog in order to engage with the themes at the heart of our project – issues of diaspora, migration, home, and belonging – from a broader and more collaborative perspective. As researchers working on individual doctoral or post-doctoral projects, we wanted an opportunity to explore these themes in a variety of contexts and registers, as well as exchanging our reflections as they arise from ongoing research. The blog was conceived as a more informal, but no less stimulating, means of exploring the linkages between the CoHaB research areas and broader issues of the diasporic: ranging from critical reviews of media and cultural production, to commentary on current affairs, research-based and methodological reflections, photographs, and more. We hope to share these with each other as well as with anyone interested in the subject matter, in order to further the CoHaB network’s aim of opening up fresh discussions around questions of home, diaspora, and belonging.

Timestamp: Saturday, May 3, 2014 - 16:38

This week, almost seven months after I first arrived in Santiago to conduct long-term fieldwork, the Chilean summer has finally come to an end. The morning air is cool and the leaves have turned yellow, but even more notably, the city has regained that certain buzz that comes after a long holiday. This year, that buzz is carried in part by a number of challenges, two of which could not have been predicted at the beginning of the year.

Street art from Valparaíso’s most celebrated and colorful neighborhood,
Cerro Alegre.

Just a few days ago, the city of Valparaíso was devastated by a massive wildfire, killing more than 10, injuring several more and leaving hundreds homeless. A gem on the Pacific coast, historically one of the country’s most important towns and loved by Chileans and foreigners alike for its rich cultural heritage, its colorful houses and inescapable and massively impressive street art, Valparaíso is a darling to many. Following the fire,campaigns and privately organized collections of food, clothes and other items to aid those affected sprung up within hours.

Tsunami evacuation route signs can be found in various locations in
downtown Valparaíso.

The same was the case when earlier this month a number of earthquakes struck off the coast of northern Chile. The most impactful of these reached 8,2 on the Richter scale, causing at least five deaths and prompting massive evacuations as a response to the risk of a tsunami. Both these instances of recent disaster have been met with relative calm and an impressively swift response of focused effort by people more than eager to help.

At the same time, newly inaugurated (for the second time) president Michelle Bachelet is facing a public hopeful but skeptic that she can bring about the changes so many hope for. In Santiago’s central Parque Forestal, Chile’s long tradition of public protest is being kept alive by people who come together by the thousands to demand free education, the legalization of marihuana, justice for those who suffered under Agosto Pinochet’s dictatorship in the 1970s and 80s, better protection of the environment and of the rights of Chile’s indigenous Mapuche population, just to name a few of the most pertinent causes represented on the streets of the city.

The socalled “March of All Marches” gathered a large number of groups
and organizations calling for political change in central Santiago last

It seems that wherever I look, people are taking action in Santiago, doing what they can to take care of themselves and each other. Within the Palestinian diasporic community, which is at the center of my research here, many have initiated aid campaigns as individuals or as organizations for those affected by the disasters in Valparaíso as well as in the north,and the social media have overflowed with calls for action and information on how and where to help.

Medical supplies are being prepared at Santiago’s Club Palestino for
shipment to hospitals and medical clinics in Gaza.

At the same time, the Palestinian cause never leaves the picture. Yesterday I met with a small group of those engaged in the community at Santiago’s Club Palestino to sort and arrange piles upon piles of medicine and hospital supplies collected as part of a campaign and soon to be shipped to Gaza. Just next week, the same young people who have been filling my newsfeed on Facebook with calls for aid to Valparaíso and the north will carry out the first Israeli Apartheid Week in Chile, planned to take place all over Santiago and feature a range of activities.

Without a doubt, the buzz is bound to continue for a while to come.

Timestamp: Saturday, May 3, 2014 - 16:45

In the middle of a wonderful month in Chennai with the L.V. Prasad Institute. Myself, on the far right, with two of my CoHaB research colleagues on my left.

October 1, 2013 was the day when I, along with my two Marie Curie CoHaB research colleagues, flew out from the Mumbai airport and made our way to Chennai’s L.V. Prasad Film and TV Academy. The item on our official agenda, which was supported by Centre for Advanced Studies in India (CASII) and the Marie Curie Initial Training Network Diasporic Home and Belonging Project (CoHAB-ITN), was for the three of us to receive training in film and filming. Hands-on-experience with cameras, video-cameras, sound equipment, constructing a storyline and experience with direction made up the practical training of how to make a film.

We were taught how to analyze a film act by act, and often discussed and contextualized themes in the films we watched together. While based in Chennai for the month we had the opportunities to see places in and around the city like Bessy beach, Marina beach, Fort museum, St.Thomas Basilica. Our travels outside of the city took us to Mahabalipuram, Pondicherry and Auroville.

Stories, written into stone, in Mahabalipuram

What I learned over the course of the month was that to understand film better it was necessary to function within film but also outside of it. I sat in on lectures that broke down the various parts of films into areas like film analysis, sound, editing, cinematography and how they work together to create the entity of a film. In addition to this, my understanding of film was further developed through discussions on world history and conflict, music, health, attitudes towards life, impacts of economies on academic thought, finding ways to remain challenged, and to be able to laugh at one’s self. By getting more familiar with Chennai and its surrounding areas, for example, I was better able to contextualize references made to Tamil Nadu in film discussions; and by getting to know new people in Chennai and hear their personal stories I was better able to not only expand my appreciation of individual experiences, I was also able to put together a script of the short documentary film I made while in the city.

Surrounded by beautifully warm colors, during a stroll in Pondicherry.

I had been very excited to come to Chennai for this technical secondment, arranged by Dr. Sridhar Rajeswaran at CASII, Dr. Nilufer Bharucha at the University of Mumbai and CoHaB, in collaboration with the director of the L.V.Prasad Academy, K.Hariharan. Before reaching Chennai and starting this practical training I had already decided in my mind that this month of film training would be an experience to remember. I was wrong; it was going to be much more than that, because this experience exceeded my expectations. Indeed I learned many new things about films and how to understand and deconstruct meaning within them. I even made my first film; a short documentary about an Indian diasporic individual, her family and their journeying between their current and previous homes. Making a film was a very exciting first for me and it also taught me that films, regardless of whose creative ideas shine brightest or who has veto power at the end of the day, are more about collaborating with a team to complete the film. The unexpected lessons from this month came in the way of inspiration and feelings of hope after our daily conversations with Hari, as we called him, the director of the L.V. Prasad Academy.

In Auroville, enjoying a home grown lunch from the community gardens.

Shedding one or two tears when one wishes another farewell is something I have done; but I shed a few more than two tears on my last day at the institute while listening to our last heartfelt story of the month from Hari. I was quickly reminded that whatever the training or education might be, for me, it ultimately is an issue of who is doing the training and how. During several moments in our training at the film academy I felt sincerity and joy both from my own interest to learn about film and by the teachers’ interest to teach and encourage us to realize our own strengths. The incredible sense of ease I felt at the institute from Hari, Anand, Narayan, Subramaniam, Grace and the other wonderful instructors and staff really enhanced this month for me. Being so involved in stories, by listening, telling, making and watching, simply made my month. The stories were often heartfelt, sincere and captivating, and whether it was related to a film or a personal experience I was reminded that in order to tell a story that resonates with people it is very important to be able to also understand dynamics outside of film and filming that make people tick – it is important to understand the audience. What made me leave Chennai with a heavy and very full heart was that I was not sure if I would meet such a person who was such an inspiring storyteller, who almost always appeared to be full of life, laughter and ease. Hari, the director of the institute took the three of us under his wing, despite his incredibly busy schedule, and taught us in classes with us students, gave us lectures, screened films with us, took us around and outside of the city, checked-in on us when we weren’t well and connected us with other people that would help us with our specialized training. I had a heavy heart because I did not want to leave such an a wonderful time in my life; but I left with a full heart knowing that if I could meet someone else who recognized the beauty in other people, who celebrated life and shared joy and knowledge with others then there were more people like this that will be crossing my path. After all this is only Act One, in the big picture of “Ruby’s Film Adventures”, there are still many more characters to be woven into the storyline.


Timestamp: Saturday, May 3, 2014 - 16:46

Being an international researcher in Mumbai certainly has its challenges, especially having shifted my entire family to join me here. That being said, we are incredibly grateful for the local people who have welcomed us into their lives.

This week was the Hindu festival of Holi, which celebrates the triumph of good over evil and the welcoming of spring after winter. Having watched such films as Outsourced and  Ramleela, my husband and I prepared ourselves with older clothes and containers full of the powdered colors to throw at any sneaky neighbors who may be waiting around the corner to throw water or colors on us. We even gave our children pep talks to be brave, fortify themselves and get ready to throw some colors themselves. They chose their favorite colors, Michael bright pink and Toby bright yellow, and we stepped out of our flat. I could not be more amazed at what happened next.

On our way down the stairs to exit our building, the neighbor below us popped her head out to ask if we were going “to play Holi.” When we responded yes, she excitedly ran back in her flat while we prepared ourselves to gave colors or water thrown on us. She came back out with a huge smile, and gently rubbed rangoli colors on each of our cheeks, wishing us a “Happy Holi.”

Once down stairs, the doorman of our building, soaking wet and covered in purple, asked if we had come to play Holi as well. When we said yes, he asked if he could play with us. My husband held out his bowl of deep green rangoli. Our doorman rubbed the green on Jordan’s face and head then heartily clapped him on the back with a huge bear hug.

I shouldn’t have been so surprised the reality of our Holi celebrations were much more tame than what is shown in the movies. Granted, we could have paid for that experience and gone to a Holi party on Juhu beach with professional DJs or paid for a slum tour and throwing of the colors in Dharavi to experience the movie-like celebrations. Yet,  we did not want a contrived spectacle. We wanted to celebrate with our neighbors and the students at the University of Mumbai.

The welcome we have had from locals to participate in customs and celebrations that are unlike our own has been incredible. Whether it was attending poojas for the Ganpati celebrations, visiting with the local goats assembled for Eid, or this year’s playing Holi, our neighbors have been incredibly welcoming and enthusiastic to share their lives and beliefs with our family. Now, three days later with our faces and fair hair still stained purple, green and pink, we are would like to wish everyone a Happy Holi!

Timestamp: Saturday, May 3, 2014 - 16:55

Ever since my current research has triggered an exploration of how the idea of ‘home’ can function as an idiom for belonging, or vice versa, I have become increasingly sensitive to how multi-layered representations of home circulate in individual and collective narratives. Clichés may have their inversions, but also, it turns out, their unexpected adherents. A recent art exhibition shown in Tate Modern’s Project Space – a curatorial collaboration between Tate and the Belgrade Museum of Contemporary Art – pricked my interest in how individual modes of narration may interact with cultural representations. Titled Inverted House, the joint show by artists Tina Gverović and Siniša Ilić is the result of a residency, which aimed to “create a new site-specific installation that responds to the building, its collection and its public, focusing on the role of the museum in a wider global context” (exhibition notes). The institutional language of the ‘residency’ is important here, but so are, to my mind, the multi-level implications of dwelling with which the show engages, whether these were fully intended or not. While the exhibition never explicitly addresses the question of home (or homing), the links that the artists consistently draw between material ‘houses’ and the show’s themes of simultaneous processes of construction and disintegration, produces a deep sense of those imagined spaces of familiarity and foreignness which home so frequently implies.

Tina Gverović and Siniša Ilić
Inverted House 2013
© Tina Gverović, Siniša Ilić & Tate
Photo: Olivia Hemingway for Tate Photography

Inevitably, the museum as an institution and a material space takes centre stage, absorbing those associations with global power relations which are implied by any collaboration between the two art institutions. The Belgrade museum has been shut for several years, pending a stalled renovation; the Tate is one of the most visited museums in the world. But the exhibition also plays around with broader expectations around what an ‘inverted house’, when produced by an artist from Croatia and an artist from Serbia, might look like. The artists’ statement claims that “the interior of the Project Space is a temporary context, a micro space which deals with the personal and geopolitical result of instability, disintegration of solid ground and dependence upon fragile states”. Yet there is little indication that the ‘house’ in question has ever represented a space of stability only now undergoing a painful disintegration; no indication that the past was ever anything but a fragile state, even if it once seemed certain. On the contrary, the house constructed for the duration of the show is both that which is being inverted and what the inversion is constructing in its wake.

Significantly, despite the reference to the geopolitical scale, there is no outright reference to anything but the micro-level within the show itself. Even the physical scale of most of the works implies a contained, localised aesthetic. In Ilić’s paintings, red- and blue-hued silhouettes take part in seemingly arcane rituals, standing huddled in groups or missing from open, loosely defined landscapes. Their actions seem ineffable, until one spots a suspiciously laptop-shaped object. Alongside them, Gverović’s delicate abstracts combine an out-of-time, faintly Japanese aesthetic, with precisely drawn geometrical shapes reminiscent of computer-drawn designs. Both convey a sense of poise easily disturbed.

Tina Gverović
Parastates: Meltdown Shelter-Red 2013
© The artist
Photo: Marko Ercegović

I was less convinced by the larger project of the re-organisation of the exhibition space, a physical installation meant to evoke a room being both made and unmade – to me, it felt quite precisely and carefully completed. But any lack in the physical space under (re-)construction was mitigated by the works exhibited in the back room, containing short fictional stories of construction and disintegration. It is also the only space in the exhibition where the history of former Yugoslavia is referenced to outright. One of the stories goes:

People build for different reasons and have different attitudes toward the building process itself. Some time ago I talked to a friend whose family home is in an area just outside the city that was often subjected to air strikes. His four brothers and three sisters, who all live in different countries around the world, would come together each time the house was destroyed in an air strike to rebuild it from scratch. In the end, they had to rebuild their house four times. He spoke of his attitude changing each time they had to do so. His siblings lived so far apart from each other that they were hardly ever in one place at the same time, so it was nice to have a chance for the whole family to be together in one place. In terms of the house itself – each time it was rebuilt they thought it became increasingly modern.

There are layers here: of a vaguely cinematographic filter, the image of a house being continuously re-built by scattered siblings as something which could be equally at home among Emir Kusturica’s larger-than-life Balkan ciphers or in the steadfastly unfailing black humour of Tanović’s No Man’s Land (2001). The silver lining of air strikes is that the family gets to spend some time together – who could ask for more in an age of migration? At the same time, the work slyly questions our willingness to nod along with this interpretation, to be complicit in the image’s cinematic absurdity. There is something there, also, about the passage of time: does a house become increasingly modern simply by virtue of its continuous reconstruction? When is the point of modernity reached? This point re-appears: another fictional anecdote tells the story of a site next to the Dubrovnik cathedral, where, during the war, people began to leave their old furniture and collect new as a way of reinventing themselves. “Ironically, the site became known to the locals as IKEA.”

The question of temporal causality, of what comes before and what comes after, harks back to the delicate paintings exhibited in the previous room, but also to the exhibition’s overarching sense that one’s past, which may have always felt stable, occasionally comes to be narratively re-cast as always fractured, as bound for dissolution, air strikes, and eventually, optimistic rebuilding. My reading of the inverted house, then, is as an image which questions those assumptions we make when we expect to know, ahead of time, what it is that is being inverted. Whose imagination feeds into the interpretation of what a house means? In this sense, the show succeeds in playing with expectations around the representation of home as a sense of knowing one’s past, present, and even future, adding in the global dimension of both the production and circulation of these representations. This global dimension, in turn, always has a necessary local interpretation. After all, there is something also to be said about the condition of dwelling ‘in residency’ in an area of London increasingly dotted with luxury riverside apartments, at a time when most councils are failing to provide adequate affordable housing for their constituents. This is the kind of multi-sited and multi-directional theoretical lens which I aim to hone in the process of my own ongoing research a lens which cannot be left out of our analyses of how home and homing are imagined on various levels of representation.

Inverted House was shown at Tate Modern 22 November – 13 April 2014

Timestamp: Monday, May 5, 2014 - 22:22

I flew in on an October afternoon to the hot, humid city of Mumbai. It was the first time, and I was in awe of the haphazard way the city is pieced together like a rainbow jigsaw puzzle. Fully expecting to be overwhelmed by the heat, the crowds, and the noise, I exited the airport and was met by a University of Mumbai representative. While the heat did not disappoint, the crowds at the airport were largely controlled, and in no time I was on way to my new home with the first of many bottles of water in hand.

After spending a couple of days at the University to address some bureaucratic necessities, I was taken to Snehasadan 12. As a researcher currently focused on the adoption in literature, I felt well versed in plight of orphans and underprivileged children in India. I had done my homework, and thought I was prepared. Snehasadan is organization devoted to improving the lives of street children, and currently operates 15 homes. In these homes, children of all ages are food and clothing, access to education, and a stable and welcoming home environment for as long as they need or want it.

As it turns out, I was not met by the poverty and squalor I had been preparing for. I arrived in Mumbai ready to be saddened, amazed, and overcome by grief and sympathy. I did not know a lot about Snehasadan before moving to live with them, but I knew that I was going to live with the nuns who run a home for boys, and I was cautiously optimistic but ultimately somewhat fearful. Instead, I was met by family, community, and humanity. I was met by family, community, and humanity.

Even the children who had what to me, seemed like the most challenging backgrounds were respectful and fiercely protective of the Sisters and the smaller children. I was welcomed into the home immediately. The Sisters in the house were attentive to my needs, and very helpful. Of course, I tried to make myself a help rather than a hindrance, but it took me a few days to adjust to the routines of the home and the strict schedule kept by both the Sisters and the children. Everyone there works very hard. I put a lot of my energy into helping the boys practice their English and prepare for their exams, particularly the younger ones. With the older children, I talked a lot about the places I have been, and about my home in Canada. Many of them asked if they could come back with me. As a special treat, I arranged for some of the older children to Skype into the classroom of a rural Canadian school with the students of one of my University friends. The differences were astounding, and I think that both sides learned a lot.

After a few days in Snehasadan 12, I was taken to visit some of the other homes that the organization runs. I went to see several homes for girls, and came to understand some of the differences between operating a facility for girls and boys. I also went to the contact center. The contact center is a fascinating place. Located behind Mumbai’s famous CST station, the contact center is where social workers bring the children the round up around that station to decide how they can best be helped. The individuals employed there assess the needs of each child, and decide what type of help they can offer. Sometimes, children are returned to their natal families with some additional supports put in place. Sometimes, children are sent to homes like Snehasadan, or other homes to meet their specific needs, such as those for young mothers, HIV positive children, or those with other pressing health issues.

After 10 days that felt simultaneously like forever and a very short time, I moved on from Snehasadan. I returned to living at the University campus, and began a placement with Majlis, a legal and cultural organization in Mumbai that deals with identity politics and women’s rights. Starting with the culture department, I watched some of their many documentaries and short films about the development of Mumbai to a world-renowned film hub, as well as some works about feminism in the city. Majlis culture helped me to understand how so many people ended up in the streets of Mumbai: the draw of the bright lights of Bollywood attract both young and old.

After a few days with the cultural department, I then began to work with the legal department, in both the domestic violence and sexual violence divisions. Relatively unfamiliar with the Indian legal system, my days with Majlis were largely spent gaining an understanding of how the organization works, as well as their plans for the future. I also had the opportunity to accompany some of the lawyers to the various courthouses throughout the city, which not only enlightened me as to how the law functions in various different ways and the interactions between law and the different locales of the city, but also served to help familiarize me with the different neighbourhoods of the city.

All in all, CASII’s numerous connections in the city of Mumbai helped me to network with the right individuals to further my knowledge in the areas of adoption and the rights of street children, feminism and the law, and the film industry in India. The semi-structured program that was developed personally for me, as  well as the constant support and flexibility made my transition into India as seamless as possible, and provided me with numerous opportunities to reflect on my own subjective positions in relation to my work and those it may affect.