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sábado, 24 de febrero 2024
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Art heals, unites and transforms

By Andrea Carolina Vargas Malagón, Journalist

Painting, dance, theater, clowning, games and countless other artistic expressions help migrant communities build networks and improve the lives of those who experience uprooting and must adapt to a place that is not their own: This is TransMigrArts' bet.

The Arts for Peace 2022 Itinerant Workshop, coordinated by UdeA, saw the participation of 27 social leaders related to migration or displacement experiences. Photo courtesy: TransMigrArts

Moving to a different country or city, leaving behind a life and starting anew in a completely unfamiliar environment with different customs and habits, often triggers a sense of uprooting— a feeling of not belonging.

This condition creates vulnerability for those who, whether by choice or necessity, have had to leave their place of origin and face the challenge of assimilating into a new cultural context. While this phenomenon has been studied in the social and health sciences, it also generates interest in the arts.

From the hypothesis that the arts can contribute to transforming and improving the lives of migrants facing vulnerability in their destination countries, the idea of TransMigrArts was born. This project, initiated in 2021, serves as a scientific mobility initiative involving 120 researchers from 14 partner entities across Colombia, Spain, Denmark, and France. Collaborating institutions include the Universidad de Antioquia, Universidad Distrital Francisco José de Caldas, and the Université de Toulouse.

The purpose of TransMigrArts is to establish a network among cultural companies, researchers, and artists. Through collaborative efforts, the project seeks to design socially innovative and transformative workshops intended to facilitate the integration of migrant communities by providing a platform for the expression of their experiences and emotions.

“TransMigrArts means transforming migration through the arts. It uses the “applied creation” research methodology, aiming to generate knowledge through the arts and artistic experiences—through sensory perception and creativity,” explained Ana Milena Velásquez, PhD in Theater and Performing Arts, professor at the Faculty of Arts of Universidad de Antioquia, and coordinator of TransMigrArts.

Applied creation 

“With the arts, life stories can be re-signified. The testimonies and memories of the migratory journey, be they challenging, difficult or learning experiences, play an important role in the TransMigrArts workshops and, subsequently, contribute to the transformation of individuals,” said Velásquez.

The TransMigrArts project has received over 2,000,000 euros in funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation program. During the workshops, researchers observe the participating social groups and analyze whether the participants’ feelings or perception of reality are transformed.

David Romero, a visual artist, coordinator of CreaLab (the multidisciplinary laboratory of creation and innovation of the Faculty of Arts), and member of TransMigrArts, shared, “It has been shocking to transition from questioning transformation processes through artistic practices in academia to directly experiencing them and understanding why we talk about it.”

In his role as a technical artist within the project, Romero documents the workshops through videos and photographs. He notes that, in one of the recordings, through a subjective camera exercise, he was able to capture how emotions and feelings are expressed through artistic practices. 

“One of the participants in a workshop had a camera placed on his back so that the video would reflect what he saw during the development of an activity, which consisted of molding clay to portray the feelings that arose after the guidance of the workshop leader. The resulting video shows how, as the individual's emotions or feelings changed, the figure’s shape changed,” said the artist.

Arts for peace 

Over the 3 years of TransMigrArts' implementation, 20 workshops have taken place in different countries, including the Itinerant Workshop on Arts for Peace (Tiap), coordinated by Universidad de Antioquia. This workshop targets social leaders who have migrated or been displaced. The objective was to train trainers through artistic practices, promoting processes of empathy, resilience, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

Over the course of 6 months, the 27 social leaders selected to participate in the workshop had various meetings. Guided by workshop leaders and joined by mental health researchers from UdeA, these meetings utilized diverse artistic languages such as painting, clowning, acting, dance, and clay molding. These languages allowed the participants to express their emotions, share their memories, and recognize themselves and others in total confidence and security. The environment fostered a comfortable atmosphere that allowed them to participate without forcing them to.

“The artistic process was developed in an comprehensive way so that we felt part of a group. For me, it was a transforming, enriching, and healing process that resulted in a resignification as I was a part of a community where I was listened to, embraced, and given a sense of significance,” said Maryluz Salazar, a psychologist and social leader who has been involved in the psychosocial support of victims of the conflict for over 13 years.

This “feeling of being part of a group,” according to Velásquez, is precisely one of the impacts of art concerning the effects of migration identified by TransMigrArts: “Through art, it is possible to create a network, a group that allows the reestablishment of the social support that is lost or broken in the experience of migration or displacement,” she added.

Eliana Chacón, a psychologist who was part of workshop, confirmed the value of the arts as powerful tools for fostering empathy and self-recognition, enabling individuals to identify others and re-signify their experiences. understood this not only through her role as an observer but also by getting involved in the workshop.

The arts heal. They are a language that allows the nonverbal to find a way to express itself and create support networks. There were moments when my body and the workshop itself pushed me to be part of something that had purpose; I felt like an observer and companion but also like a participant. This experience allowed me to identify myself in many personal processes. It led me to question myself and to project myself,” said Chacón.

For Eliana, Maryluz and David, this workshop not only restored their sense of belonging to a collective, but it also changed them, regardless of the role they played.

“Receiving the testimonies of transformation from those who participate in the workshops makes us feel that we are indeed contributing. It is a reciprocal learning process in which, in addition, bonds of affection and support that allow us to value others are created,” concluded Velásquez.

The work of TransMigrArts, projected to continue until 2025, complements initiatives undertaken in fields such as medicine, psychology, anthropology, and sociology. The goal is to provide those experiencing migration with alternatives that enhance their quality of life, comprehensively and from different perspectives.

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