Nicola Mai – Assembling Samira: an art science installation on embodied humanitarian borders

Nicola Mai – LAMES, AMU/CNRS, France, London Metropolitan University, UK

The humanitarian protection of vulnerable migrant groups has enforced new biographical borders. Migrants seek to obtain state benevolence and legal migration status through the performance and embodiment of humanitarian scripts emphasizing victimhood and suffering. Only those whose performances of suffering and humanitarian subjectivities are deemed credible are given humanitarian protection. Gender and sexuality have become strategic narrative repertoires through which humanitarian and biographical borders are inscribed on the bodies of migrants. The Emborders filmmaking/research project reproduces the different performances and narratives of migrants targeted by humanitarian protection as they emerge in interviews with authorities, with social researchers and with peers and families. It draws on real stories and real people, which are performed by actors to protect the identities of the original interviewees and mirror the inherently fictional nature of any narration of the self. By using actors to reproduce real people and real life histories, the project ultimately challenges what constitutes a credible and acceptable reality in scientific, filmic and humanitarian terms.

Samira is a two-screen art science installation presenting the story of Karim. It assembles different ethnographic moments and scripts as they emerged through ethnographic fieldwork in Marseille. Karim is an Algerian migrant man selling sex as SAMIRA at night in Marseille. He left Algeria as a young man as her breasts started developing as a result of taking hormones and was granted asylum in France as a transgender woman. Twenty years later, as his father is dying and he is about to become the head of the family Samira surgically removes her breasts and marries a woman in order to get a new passport allowing him to return to Algeria to assume his new role.

Samira (Emborders 1) is the first of Emborders’ four installation/movies. It was produced by IMeRA in co-operation with SATIS (Departement Sciences Arts et Techniques de l’image et du Son of the Aix-Marseille University) and will be presented at the antiAtlas exhibition.

See the conference slides, the installation Samira.

See the full program of the antiAtlas conference, Aix-en-Provence 2013