Will we ever really know what
citizenship —means to us
—until it has been taken away?
by Sarah Gregory
I found myself pondering this at an exhibition within an exhibition a few weeks ago at the Barbican.
I had gone to see Jarman Award 2018 winning artist Daria Martin’s exhibition. She revisited dreams and memories from her "personal family history to create a complex portrait of migration, loss and resilience."
But before I made it into the gallery, I was excited to find a creative buzz in the air; people hovering, meeting one another, and guides signposting lots of connected events.
Martin’s exhibition was part of a bigger project created by 50 artists from a variety of disciplines to explore identify, commissioned at the signing of Article 50 in 2017.
The work was deeply sensory and involving, so when I left and walked into the exhibition it was with a slightly fractured sense of identity. It made me think deeply about what Brexit will mean for me.
Daria Martin’s work drew emotions and reactions from me the moment I entered, drawn into a disorienting game with sharp corners, throwing me off balance, reminiscent of the arcade assimilators from your youth.
The space is dark. As you move through your personal space is reduced. As you are walking down a curved dark hall where the only lit spaces are the ones she wants you to see, value and connect with. A toy robot and a wall full of her grandmother's letters. Close enough for you to see authenticity and importance of her archive but far enough away that you could not draw your own personal conclusions from her words.
Martin has staged what seems to be a series of intimate encounters allowing the viewer to explore the "curious and traumatic history of her grandmother who fled the imminent Nazi occupation of her country, Czechoslovakia."
Next I found a film on a loop, playing out moments in her grandmother's life in no particular order. One moment children are playing, then next a part of a hunting squad.
It showed a comfortable life that was reduced to nothingness which she had no power to change. Her journey, her story, her legacy was in the hands of others to determine.
"Tonight the world," engulfs you, chews you up and spits you out, so that you wonder how much control or your agency you really do have.
In parallel I have been wondering whether the denial of Shamima Begum's British citizenship could set a precedent? As an person with dual heritage, I think about the correlation between citizenship and identity. I feel deeply off-balance.