Monday, 2 March 2009


I started my initial research into the migration to Germany from the former Yugoslavia, because of my grandparents. They left in the late 60’s the socialist Yugoslavia to work in the Federal Republic of Germany, my grandfather continued to work within his trade as a blacksmith, working in a factory producing car parts for the booming German car industry at the time. My grandmother started working first at a factory making stock cubes (the photograph is from a staff gathering at that factory), then she changed several jobs in the catering industry until she settled in a position of a waitress/manageress in the hotel, largely catering to the trucks passing by.
My grandparents were part of an organised labor migration, the German government in 1968 signed an agreement with the Yugoslavian government whereby workers can come on a limited period of time to work in Germany, and then return to their home country. The labour migrants were called ‘gastarbeiter’ or ‘guest workers’. Initially they came from Italy (1955), Spain and Greece (1960), followed by Turkey (1961), Morocco (1963), Portugal (1964), Tunisia (1965) and Yugoslavia (1968). Dates refer to agreements signed between the government of the West Germany and those of the guest worker countries. (Mattes and Ardem: Gendered Policies - Gendered Patterns: Female Labour Migration from Turkey to Germany from the 1960s to the 1990s)
“Guest workers began arriving in the aftermath of World War II, before the last traces of the physical destruction had been cleared away. But the seeds of their recruitment were sown in advance of the official treaties by the demographic catastrophe (well over three million German male casualties) wrought by the conflict itself", writes Rita Chin in “The Guest Worker Question in Postwar Germany’, 2007
My grandparents, like many guest workers came to Germany with an idea to stay a couple of years, then return home. My grandmother said that they wanted to build a house back home, and after they've done that, the grandchildren came, so they needed to help out financially our parents, and so all of these reasons meant that in the end they stayed 22 years, until they were in pension. They returned in the 1990, to Slavonski Brod in Croatia (border town with Bosnia & Herzegovina), and then the civil war started.
I am pleased to write that my grandparents are alive and well, and still living in Slavonski Brod, but that through their experience I came to continue my inquiry into the nature of migration, of returns and dreams of returns, of home and belonging (in 2003 I curated an exhibition Leave to Remain which looked at migration and displacement experience in the UK
I was curious about the fact that my grandparents lived in Germany for so long, and yet there lives there were so temporary, unrooted in the society in which they played a big part (at the least in the economic success of Germany). I began to draw parallels between their migration and mine: I caught myself thinking that I won’t necessarily return to Bosnia or Croatia, but I will move on from London, from the UK, and realise that a part of me is still temporary, still in movement, still unsettled. I wonder if perhaps this part is necessary for me to not feel trapped in particular cultural expectations, or it keeps me in a certain state of flux, which thou liberating on one hand is unsettling on the other.

My aim is to understand more what the experience of my grandparents has been for other guest workers and migrants and I have spent now 4 weeks in Berlin, exploring, reading about a specific German historical, social and cultural context and relationship to migration but also speaking to many women about their experience of migrating to Germany. I am also exploring different ways of looking at migration aware of a danger that lies in the gaze being directed only on the migrants, in the process of which making them into a separate, exotic ‘other’ that needs to be studied, through a kind of colonial-anthropological gaze. The question (and the challenge) that emerges is how to represent migration without taking on the hierarchical position of the one representing?

The residency is funded by the British Council and it forms part of an exhibition curated by Peter Cross titled “Journeys With No Return” scheduled to take place in Berlin in 2010.

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