Student Reviews

Calais, Eric Leleu, 2018

Visualizing the Invisible “Jungle” of Calais:
Migration, Security, and Infrastructure at the French-English Border
September 19, 2018 – January 6, 2019

Susan Yun, BA student, Duke University, class of 2021
Cole Zaharris, BA student, Duke University, class of 2021

French photographer Eric Leleu and ethnographer Vincent Joos sat down with us last week in November to discuss their project photographing migration through Calais, France. Leleu’s photographs, currently on display in the John Hope Franklin Center, depict migration in its most objective form. These photos depict the infrastructure used to detain the migrants, the clothes and equipment left behind on their journey, and even a family who has taken two migrants into their home.

For Leleu, photography is not only a creative outlet for self-expression, but also a tool to document and satisfy curiosities of his own and those of people around the world. When Joos first proposed the project, Leleu had already known what it felt like to be a foreigner after living in China for many years. He felt a connection with the migrants in their feelings of being far from home, but he also maintained his distance from their experiences as they travelled to their destination. With this project, he aims to capture the juxtaposition of this event as historically rooted yet relevant in the contemporary age.

The events in Calais are painful and difficult to witness for both Leleu and Joos, especially because they believe them to be misrepresentative of France. As they proceed with their research, the generous timeline of this project allows them to dig deeper into important aspects of these events: the police, the corporations constructing this infrastructure, and the moments the migrants enter the trucks to cross the borders. While a long process lies ahead, they hope this project will garner attention across the globe and make visible to the French the events occurring within their own country.

In Transit: Arts & Migration Around Europe
Faculty/Student Co-Curated Installation

September 13, 2018-January 06, 2019

Isabel Bradley, Graduate student in Romance Studies, Duke University

From the moment the visitor steps into the inTransit exhibit at the Nasher museum, space and time are suspended. The atmosphere is thick with the chronological overlapping of multiple artistic and historical realities of human migratory movements. We sense that, somehow, in this dense and temporally disordered space, the past and present are reborn together and reappear within a new frame of meaning. In the intimate incubator gallery, we are suddenly stripped of all internal points of reference, of codified timelines and geographies. The objects, minimally illuminated, tell a story that encourages visitors to transform the way we look at the phenomenon of human migration.

The eye is instantly drawn to an installation by Pedro Lasch on the back wall, where the widescreen versions of various national flags melt into one another; this is Karaoke Anthems (2015). The brighter-than-life colors in their metonymic forms speak of Italy, the United States, Israel, and other nations, some of which recall the desperate “promised land” narratives of migrants hoping to reach the “other side” of borders. The visitor is invited to put on headphones, and is then inundated with a female operatic voice intoning national anthems; curiously, the voice sings the words of the US anthem in Spanish, and those of the Israeli anthem in Arabic—every anthem conveys its forceful patriotic message in the language of another country… The listener is moved to confusion by this almost-synesthesia; we feel ourselves questioning national borders and imaginaries. We have the impression that, somehow, the nation state is permeable, its edges imprecise, and its very existence vague and haphazard.

Next, the visitor may notice a jumbled and colorful pile in the corner to the left; it is the work of Annette Messager, the piece Two Replicants Together, created in 2006. The human figures are positioned upside down, and their torsos overlap gently – perhaps desperately. Their bodies are a patchwork of multicolored and multi-patterned cloth: stripes, flowers, blues, reds, browns, all confused and tied together with what looks to be fishing net. Instead of feet, the figures wear what appear to be faux-leather cones, reminiscent of witchs’ hats. The piece bears the mark of Calais and Messager’s home in the North of France: Calais, city of the living heritage of lacemaking and the living heritage of human migration. Bound by a net, lacking feet, these figures are powerless; they give themselves up to the gaze of the viewer.

Following the wall to the right, we stumble upon a series of images entitled Les Bohémiens. After experiencing Messager, the visitor may need time to recalibrate; these engravings by Jacques Callot, a baroque printmaker and draftsman, were etched and printed in 1621. The series speaks of the life of the Romani people, a traditionally itinerant ethnic group originating in northern India; Callot follows the family life of a large group of figures (one that includes men, women, children, and babies being carried) as they move on horseback towards a faraway destination. The journey is narrated in the form of verses by an unknown author; they ask the reader to reflect on the place of itinerant peoples in a contemporary world, a world that is increasingly vivisected by modern security apparatus and borders, corralling nomadic people into forced settlement. This bohemian scene of movement contrasts with another series of Callot’s across the room: the violent Miseries and Misfortunes of War, which shows us the devastating consequences of the Thirty Years’ War.

Other engravings across the room remind the viewer of the heavily reoccurring presence of the trope of migration in the Christian tradition and in its iconography: in Saint Christopher (by Lucas Cranach the Elder, in 1509), the patron saint of travelers, easily steps across a river in order to help an infant Jesus cross the border; in the renderings of Albrecht Altdorfer in Rest on the Flight to Egypt (1515-1519) and Albrecht Dürer in The Flight into Egypt (1511), Mary, Joseph and Jesus find themselves presently in transit. In these scenes, there is constant, ubiquitous movement; the Holy Family fits nowhere and everywhere; the Holy Family is every displaced family.

In the center of the exhibit, two remarkable objects rest side by side. These two astrolabes resemble each other so strikingly that, from afar, the viewer is convinced that the same hand created both of them. To the untrained eye, they reflect each other in both form and function; metal, paper, and wood evoke the wonder of travel and exploration in centuries past. These are the instruments that allowed worlds to grow and shrink; the tools that were, at one time, indispensable to human movement, cultural contact, and ideological fusion. Both astrolabes have the same latticework, the same curvature and contours. Only the language is different: one is decorated with French, Latin, and Italian (it was printed in 1622 by Philippe Danfrie and Jehan Moreau); the other is inscribed with Arabic (it was made in 1236-1237 by Muhammad ibn al-Fattuh al-Khama’iri). The parallels are undeniable; the instruments are doubles – except for the fact that they are separated by both their regions of origin and by more than 300 years.

This “mirror effect” of Christian and Muslim cultures continues with the two panels of the Catalan Atlas, a mappemonde made of richly decorated vellum, situated in the center of the exhibit (it is a 1959 reproduction of the 1375 original, created by Jehuda Cresques). The colors are bright and the illustrations delicate. The first panel can be read with either Europe or North Africa as its center; the page has neither top nor bottom; we can read “around” it, thus shifting perspectives and demolishing entrenched notions of modern western cartography. Commercial routes tie territories together like life-giving veins. We notice a large and meticulously detailed human figure: it is Mansa Musa, legendary ruler of the Mali Empire, possessor of incalculable wealth, holding his gold and scepter.

However, the viewer is taken out of this borderless pre-modern human geography by the heavy presence of Barthélémy Toguo’s The New World Climax (2011) on the wall facing the atlas. Transversal cuts of tree trunks have been transformed into giant stamps; these stamps heavily evoke the administrative process that inevitably accompanies any attempt to cross a national border: passport stamps. If we imagine Toguo in his creative process, we can envision his way of appropriating this dehumanizing gesture into one that produces a salient political commentary. Toguo’s words are biting; he spares the viewer nothing. Take “Guantanamo Republic,” for example: this ironic pair of words is presented to the viewer in a form that calls to mind a state seal. The tone feels mocking, and Toguo seems to suggest a comparison between detention centers and nation states. The word “Republic” is accusatory, and connotes ideals of human freedom and dignity that have not been respected, ideals that remain cruelly out-of-reach for many groups of marginalized people. The viewer cannot claim neutrality; Toguo’s work refuses to grant it. The New World Climax “stamps” us, and we become complicit in this broken world-order.


What is the texture of migration?

In Two Replicants, as in much of Messager’s other work, collaged assemblages represent an art of fragmentation: cloth, clothing, and the human body are fragmented. The figures’ bodies are composed of torn pieces of cloth, pieces and patches, scraps, rags, and shreds of materials. This fragmentation mirrors the corporality of migration, the physical reality and violence of multi-year journeys and decades of detention. Our bodies are concrete, patchwork maps that reflect our origins, our trajectories; the geography of the migrant body is psychic fragmentation and schizophrenia, physical destruction and hasty recomposition.

Messager’s fabric gives way to a caravan of families: Callot’s vision of the Romani. The party is enveloped in the folds of patterned cloaks and and draped with elaborate headwear. Mothers carry babies strapped to their backs; the texture of their journey leaps off the page to cloak the viewer in enigmatic freedom of movement. The social narrative fabric of the verses, with its layers of texture and meaning, remind us that the written and spoken word is also an art medium; we can sculpt with words, and the rhythm of the Romani migration is reincarnated in the rhythm and movement of the lines of an unknown poet.

The words and graphics of Toguo are simple but powerful in their emotive charge, their simplicity, and their implication of the viewer. Toguo’s treatment of administrative language allows him to use the word as a way to create a new perception of the stamp and of the dominant world paradigm of migration. His manipulation of “traces” shows that the stamp can produce infinite replications of its own form; the texture of his own passport, covered in layers of stamps, is witness to the difficulty of movement and the violence and injustice that his person has been subjected to.

In moving from Messager to Toguo via Callot, the visitor can follow a definite thread of movement and texture, and find a certain cohesion that is not apparent on the surface of the exhibit. The entire In Transit exhibit consists of juxtapositions like this one. The members of the In Transit team curating the exhibit, have deliberately composed a space that puts ancient and modern objects into dialogue with one another, and this original, generative configuration has the potential to inspire unique reflection in whomever experiences it.


The act of migrating compels human beings to leave behind physical and psychic traces. The In Transit exhibit invites the visitor to become aware of these narrative and visual traces that have been left, deliberately or not, by the circulation of human patterns of movement through time. The marriage of contemporary and ancient objects inspires us to become conscious of how we read space and place; In Transit disrupts and contests old paradigms of space and time. Contemporary paradigms of global north and south are challenged and revealed to be recent constructions; the collaborative history of manifold worlds is brought to light.

We are invited to “re-read” and reconstruct the traces of migration as a new ensemble, to deconstruct contemporary discourses in order to recreate alternative histories of migration. We are called to rethink and reformulate the European imaginary in all its complexity. In this exhibit, we, as viewers, find the tools to dismantle our contemporary world order of parceled and divided nation-states. In its place emerges an alliance of infinitely diverse cultures in the Muslim, Jewish and Christian worlds, a coherence of philosophy and technology that cannot be divided by physical or ideological walls.

Students at The Nasher Museum standing next to the work of Annette Messager, 2 répliquants ensemble, 2006. Photo courtesy of J Caldwell

Students at The Nasher Museum standing next to the work of Annette Messager, 2 répliquants ensemble, 2006. Photo courtesy of J Caldwell

Philippe Danfrie and Johan Moreau Astrolabe. Photo courtesy of J Caldwell

Philippe Danfrie and Johan Moreau Astrolabe. Photo courtesy of J Caldwell






















A Conversation with Hisham Matar
Nasher Museum, November 29, 2018

Susan Yun, BA student, Duke University, Class of 2021
Cole Zaharris, BA student, Duke University, Class of 2021

“Writing precedes intention,” Hisham Matar, an American born British-Libyan author shared with us when he visited campus to talk about his memoir. The Return which won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Autobiography, is a first-person narrative of his life as the son of a man kidnapped in Libya. As one of the Qaddafi regime’s most prominent opponents, his father was held captive in secret, never to be seen by Matar again.

The Return asks a question that forms the basis of the In Transit installation at the Nasher Museum this semester: What do you do when you cannot leave and you cannot return? In many of the migrant experiences explored by this exhibit, it is impossible to do either. Matar finds that the sufferings and displacements that migrants go through will make them better able to reckon with future challenges – these experiences are rarely exclusive to the migrant.

During his visit to campus on November 29, Matar gave a public reading of his memoir at the Museum. The event also included a conversation with Professor Helen Solterer of the Romance Studies Department about his work. His writing is enlivened through imagination, he says; it is not historical, but it cannot easily be defined as fiction either.

The Return explores his trip back to Libya after the demise of Qaddafi, and the apparent liberation of his country from the dictator’s ruthless regime. Matar was wary returning after living elsewhere for thirty years. In his conversation with Professor Solterer, he described his unease stemming from a fear of tainting his Libyan childhood with his return as an adult. Matar felt more like a guest than a native Libyan returning home. Although Matar emphasizes how the migrant experiences being caught in between one place and another, he also implies that a return is ultimately a work of imagination; once one has left, there is no way to return to what once was.

Matar started writing The Return as an article about returning to Libya, but soon realized it involved much more. Writing his memoir, he had to be exceptionally honest. This was demanding, he said, and also rewarding. The question of language was also challenging. For example, choosing to write the book in English, rather than in his first language, Arabic, immersed Matar in the culture and the history of his second language.  There are numerous translations of the memoir, including in French, La terre qui les sépare, in Italian, Il ritorno, and in Spanish, El Regreso. Matar is attuned to them all, and their particular retelling that shapes the reader’s experience of the memoir.

Matar now lives in New York City with his wife, photographer Diana Matar, where he teaches at Barnard College, as associate Professor of Professional Practice in Comparative Literature, in the Asia and Middle East Cultures Department, and the Department of English.

An Interview with Darrin Zammit Lupi, Photojournalist
Evangeline Marecki  BA, Duke University, Class of 2019

Alone in a small, dimly-lit room, I faced a cart with a single white cardboard box containing several large manila folders lying flat, one on top of the other. I took out the first folder and gently placed it on the table behind me, slowly flipping the sleeve over to reveal a thin stack of 20 by 24 inch glossy prints. I was immediately drawn to the topmost photograph, a black man at the rail of a moving ship wearing a dark blue windbreaker, backdropped by an equally lurid sea. The man stands with his back against the camera, but turns to face the photographer, his gaze now locked. The ship advances; land can be seen far off in the distance.

This man is one of thousands of migrants who have attempted the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to reach Europe. Earlier that morning I had arrived at the Rubenstein Library to study these prints among the recently acquired collection of Darrin Zammit Lupi photographs and digital materials. I had only recently learned about Zammit Lupi, an award-winning photographer from Malta who documents boat migration in the Mediterranean. He had visited Duke the previous year to discuss his work and book Isle Landers (Zammit Lupi, 2014) which aims to bring awareness to the lives of the boat migrants.

I learned of Darrin Zammit Lupi after his visit to Duke, through an Italian language, culture, and history course, Introduction to Italian Culture, taught by Mattia Begali. In this class, I was introduced to Italy’s history of emigration and the current influx of immigrants who are seeking economic opportunity or asylum from persecution, war, or violence. Interested in the topic of migration, I became familiar with the In Transit project at Duke through its many events and presentations focused on migration around Europe, and through them, Darrin Zammit Lupi.

Immigration to Europe as a whole is a contentious issue from Spain to Greece, all the way to the 17-mile long island of Malta in Southern Europe. While the migrant crisis has been widely covered, few have documented boat migration in the Mediterranean as closely and for as long as Darrin Zammit Lupi. Zammit Lupi began his photographic career working for the newspaper The Malta Independent in 1992, just when the first migrant boats began arriving at Malta. In an interview with me, Zammit Lupi described the migrants who appeared on Maltese shores, his journey to becoming an activist, and his various interests within and outside of photography.

I always used to tell myself if you want to be successful as a photojournalist, you have to get out of Malta and go to these far-off exotic places where the real stories are. And suddenly the big story landed on my doorstep.

-Darrin Zammit Lupi

To Zammit Lupi, whose work on the island up to that point had consisted of local news and sports, the first boats were the big story, the beginning of decades of documentation and reporting. To the Maltese, the boat landings were, according to Zammit Lupi, curiosities. Yet as the number of landings increased, so did the xenophobia. Zammit Lupi recounted racist rhetoric from Maltese such as “I’m not racist, but…”. These sentiments resonate in other European countries also struggling with boat migration, such as Italy. One of the major goals of the Lega, a far-right political party with a strong presence in Italian government, is to “close the ports.” The rise of the Lega reflects the increasing fear of immigration in Europe which Zammit Lupi hopes to combat through his photography.

“For a long a time I defined myself purely as a photographer, photojournalist, photoreporter… how I try to identify myself nowadays [is] first and foremost as a humanitarian who is trying to use photography as a tool.”

At the intersection of art, journalism, and activism, Zammit Lupi photographs rescue operations while aboard NGO search and rescue (SAR) vessels, and follows migrants as they arrive in Europe and eventually leave the immigration centers. I was struck by the delicate balance necessary to be a photojournalist amidst a humanitarian crisis. Zammit Lupi described to me the importance of making his photos as visually impactful as possible; a stronger photograph means that the image will reach more people, that people will linger long over the photos, that there will be greater understanding of the situation at sea. However, at the same time, Zammit Lupi is aware of the potentially exploitative nature of photography, as well as hostility from the far-right who see his work as a threat to their beliefs and way of life.

“If you have policies which are condemning people to drown out at sea, if you’re talking about laws, but it means people are dying because you’re trying to interpret the letter of the law, and not the spirit, I’ve got a problem with that and I will fight against it tooth and nail.”

Xenophobia is not an isolated phenomenon, but affirmed by policies and political interference. Zammit Lupi confronted this while aboard the Sea-Watch during their three-week SAR mission between November and December of 2018. With engine problems, a very ill member on board, and the need to refuel, the crew set sail for Tunisia where they could gain access to the critically needed tax-free fuel for this small, donation-run NGO. However, due to possible political pressure on the Tunisian government, the ship’s permission to dock had been revoked. The Sea-Watch therefore had to make the five to six day journey to Gibraltar to refuel, wasting precious time and money that could have been used towards search and rescue efforts. Such an occurrence is not uncommon; NGOs like Sea-Watch e.V. continually face criminalization of their activities. Under accusations of aiding migrant smugglers, many other NGOs such as Doctors Without Borders, Mission Lifeline, and Jugend Rettet have had their vessels seized while attempting to perform life-saving operations at sea.

“The thing about photojournalism for an agency like Reuters is that the things that we photograph and cover are so vast that you’re photographing a soccer match one day, then you’re covering political events, then you’re covering a protest, the migrants, a lunar eclipse, and then ‘Ooh’ there’s a good lightning storm today. It probably encompasses everything apart from still life and food photography.”

Migration makes up a major portion of Zammit Lupi’s time and profession, and he certainly has been at the forefront of journalism in the Mediterranean. Nevertheless, it does not encompass all of his work or passions. He has covered a wide range of stories, from natural disasters like the earthquake in Aquila, to issues regarding the Millennium Development Goals in parts of Africa. As a photojournalist with Reuters, Zammit Lupi covers a variety of events and topics and, as seen through his other published book, Off the Job (Ede Books, 2015), Zammit Lupi’s enjoyments outside of work include dance and theater.

His professional activities and multitude of interests attest to the talent, breadth, and spirit of Darrin Zammit Lupi. Through our dialogue, I gained a deeper knowledge of the boat migrants’ situation, as well as Zammit Lupi’s craft in making their perils, strength, and humanity visible. By hearing Zammit Lupi’s accounts of migrant search-and-rescue missions, the adversity facing boat migrants and the reality of the current political situation became concrete for me. The chance to engage in conversation with Darrin Zammit Lupi was a remarkable chance for me, no less because it was nearly midnight for him in Malta and, as attested to by the twinkling tree in the background of his Skype call, well within the holiday season.

Thanks to those who helped me in writing this article, especially Holly Ackerman, Patrick Stawski, Mattia Begali, Helen Solterer and Duke In Transit.

Evangeline Marecki (January, 2019)