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Performigrations: Exhibit of immigration stories continues at Il Museo Italian Cultural Centre til Oct. 30

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The joys and sorrows of immigration as an important source for artistic creativity

BY ANGELA CLARKE, PhD

Performigrations Exhibit at Il Museo

The artists who took the stage at the Italian Cultural Centre were Performigrators (or immigrant performers) in the truest sense of the word. Photo by Mark Evans

The Italian Cultural Centre and Collingwood Neighbourhood House closed the Vancouver leg of the European Union Project called Performigrations with a concert at the Italian Cultural Centre on September 13, 2015.

Through dance, spoken-work performance and originally composed Latin-themed music, the concert brought clarity to the theme of a three-week long project, entitled Performigrations: The People Are the Territory, that was initiated by the University of Bologna and its eight partner cities (Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Lisbon, Valletta, Klagenfurt, Athens and Bologna itself).

The exhibit of the same name continues at the Italian Cultural Centre’s Il Museo until October 30, 2015.

This international project looked at each immigrant as fundamentally a performer or creator, for, like an artist, each immigrant must confront a blank page or canvas when they come to a new country.

From the void of the unknown their lives must be recreated. This process of creation merges their past experiences and knowledge from the old country with new ideas and concepts derived from enforced adaptation to the new. Necessity breeds invention and the need of leaving the old country, oftentimes for financial or political reasons, forces the immigrant to create a new life from the unknown.

During the concert, the five artists who took the stage at the Italian Cultural Centre were Performigrators (or immigrant performers) in the truest sense of the word. Each artist applied their artistic knowledge from their old country to their creative process that they continue to undertake in their new home.

The concert itself reflected the spirit of contemporary immigration and cultural diversity in a unique and interesting way. Not only did performers from diverse cultural backgrounds and artistic mediums take the same stage during the two-hour long concert in a seamless flow, but it was a significant demonstration of the way immigration can lead to important artist collaborations.

Events such as this demonstrate that multicultural artists are not working in isolation, creating art and music for their own immigrant groups. Rather, these contemporary immigrant artists embrace, accept and welcome the artistic input of those outside their cultural perimeters. For example, the Afro-Cuban drummer Israel Berriel played for both Nigerian dancer Maobong Oku and Nicaraguan musician Ramon Flores.

In the case of the Japanese artist Yoko Tomita and spoken word artist Jillian Christmas, their collective experiences brought up important questions about immigration and familial memory, especially with regard to its monumental impact on personal identity.

Jillian’s work grapples with the powerful ability ancestry stories have to shape the memories of the young. To hear a story, she tells us, is to create a memory. When we hear someone’s story we absorb the teller’s experiences and the traumatic emotions encoded within it.

Yoko Tomita confirmed this but also added that, in some cases, such as her father’s experiences during the bombing of Hiroshima, very little needed to be told. Rather, it was her father’s reluctance to tell his story that formed her own traumatic relationship to the destroyed city.

Finally, Babette Santos closed the event with an uplifting thought. Immigrations stories, she reminded the audience, often contain great romantic gestures. To begin with the process of immigration is an adventure as one enters a new life, with new opportunities. Often these stories attest to the strong emotional bonds between husbands and wives who immigrate together or young couples who write compelling letters of great affection during periods of geographic separation. It is these stories, Babette notes, which will be the inspiration for her future work.

The five performers offered insight into the joys and sorrows of immigration and why it is such an important source for artistic creativity.

The Italian Cultural Centre would like to thank Andrea Berneckas, Yoko Tomita and January Wolodarsky for their generous collaboration.

Angela Clarke, PhD, is the curator at Il Museo, the museum at the Italian Cultural Centre, located at 3075 Slocan Street on Grandview Highway.

Performigrations, the exhibit, continues at Il Museo until October 30, 2015.

Copyright (c) 2015 Renfrew-Collingwood Community News

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