Exploring emigration through art
SULETTE FERREIRA| 26 MARCH 2023
As a researcher and therapist, I have the privilege to experience the world of emigration through the eyes of my clients. Everyone’s experience is unique. Emigrants venture into a new, unknown world: they leave the familiar to start afresh amid new cultures and environments. Some of my clients recall a profound sense of being emotionally uprooted, others fully seize the opportunities presented and continue
to thrive. Yet, some experience both.
Art and the world citizen
We live simultaneously in two worlds: the outer world of experiences, circumstances and situations, and the inner world of reactions, emotions and thought. Emigration presents this same complexity: in our outer world of circumstances and situations we or a loved one emigrates and we react to that experience in our inner world of thoughts and emotions. In my encounter with the art of French sculptor Bruno Catalano I found that art presents this same dualism and can therefore assist us in exploring the depth and complexity of this phenomenon. Through his art, he delves into the universal themes of travel, journeying and migration.
In 2013, Catalano created ten life-size bronze sculptures which he displayed along the waterfront of Marseille to commemorate the city’s status as the European Capital of Culture. Aptly titled ‘Les Voyageurs’, the sculptures, of which the most famous is now on permanent display in Calgary, Canada, depict ten different travellers with large portions of their bodies missing, each carrying a suitcase. Stunningly imperfect, these ‘hollow’ figures resonate the story of the modern-day soul, the traveller and the emigrant. Despite their bodies being open to the wind and light each retains its balance and coherence.
Being an emigrant himself, Catalano was born in Casablanca, Morocco, but moved to France to settle in Marseille, at the age of twelve. He went on to become a sailor. Considering himself an eternal migrant, Catalano was always in the process of leaving: ‘far from my roots, wanting to leave, curious to look elsewhere, to see what happens’; a nomad who does not belong to any one place. To him, these sculptures represent the world citizen.
To Catalano, migration is an intimate journey. While each of these statues carries a single suitcase that weighs them down, these suitcases also serve as their only means of support. The suitcase represents experiences and desires; a container filled with memories that grounds the emigrant and provides support. Catalano refers to this as ‘roots in motion’.
Art and the emigration therapist
Emigration outcomes are often depicted as fairy-tale endings, with successful emigrants thriving in their new country, rarely looking back with regret. However, the reality shared with the emigration therapist is often the contrary, often relating the challenges experienced, the sadness and loss of all that was known and loved. This is strikingly expressed in the missing parts of the statues by Catalano. The large missing parts in the statues entices the viewer’s imagination.
As an emigration therapist, I was encouraged by Catalano’s art to re-examine my thinking and approach towards emigration. In every person’s life, there are incomplete experiences, missing pieces of a larger puzzle. During therapy, art can complement the conversation. When experiencing art, both the artist and the audience exhibit some level of emotional vulnerability, just like a heartfelt conversation with a counsellor.
We are all nomads in the journey of life. We have all experienced the excitement of the new, and the sorrow of the loss of what we have left behind. Emigration leaves one feeling ungrounded, floating, and uncertain about the future. Still we find the strength to carry on when we unpack our suitcase filled with memories that we carry in our hearts and thoughts.
Many will recognise their journey in the “in transit” bronze sculptures of Catalano.