Forum Lectures #24: Nafiseh Mousavi

Emergent communities and declining sites: narrating the ‘camp’ in refugee comics

This lecture addresses the social imaginations of ‘camp’, as contradictory spaces of control and care associated with refugee life and forced migration, in contemporary Western comics. While refugee camps widely differ in their types of organization, levels of control, and internal dynamics, they can all be characterized by their transitional, liminal, and marginal spatiality which embraces diverse types of interactions between state control and bottom-up agencies. Being increasingly adopted as a tactic for the regulation of asylum, the refugee camp has become central in the geopolitics of forced migration but remains outside the mental maps and visual geographies of most citizens.

In recent years, and especially in the wake of the European refugee crisis, there has been a rising interest in the creation and publication of comics based on refugee experiences. Products of activist art, journalism, and ethnographical work, these graphic narratives portray the routes and limbos of asylum-seeking and narrate the emotional and psychological predicaments of forced migration, contributing to the formation of collective imaginaries of displacement. Camps are a major setting drawn and narrated in these comics not only as spatial entities of control and regulation, but more importantly as sites for the emergence of agencies, communities, and resistance.

Adopting the latter, multifaceted notion, the lecture discusses camps, as drawn and narrated in graphic narratives, in their contradiction, as both declining sites and homes for the emergence of communities. To address the complexity of the topic, the lecture draws on the more recent conceptualizations of refugee camps that foreground the agency of refugees as well as older understandings that majorly relied on Agamben’s notions of spaces of exception and bare life (1998). Three comics will be analyzed more closely to further substantiate the discussion, each offering a distinct type of authorship, artistic style, and mode of narration: Still Alive: Graphic Reportage from Australia’s Immigration Detention System (Ahmed, 2021), Les nouvelles de la Jungle de Calais (Mandel & Bouagga, 2017), and Threads: From the refugee crisis (Evans, 2017).

About Nafiseh Mousavi

Nafiseh Mousavi is a Senior Lecturer in Intermedial Studies at the Department of Arts and Cultural Sciences, Lund University, Sweden. Her research focuses on intersections of intermediality, migration, and cultural memory. She is especially interested in studying intermedial relations in contexts of intercultural communication. She has published on intermediality of comics and social media, the multimodality of migrant communication, and drawn images in documentary films. She is the co-editor of the forthcoming anthology Truth Claims across Media (Palgrave, November 2023) and has also contributed as a writer to two documentary film projects: The Art of Living in Danger (Mina Keshavarz, 2020); Night and Fog in Kurdistan (Shilan Saadi, 2023).

Forum Lectures

Forum Lectures is a series of lectures by Danish and international thinkers and cultural workers reflecting on how art co-forms commonality. Forum Lectures bring thinking and shared study back to the university and invite public lectures on the last Tuesday of every month from 17:00 - 19:00.

The initiative is hosted by the research group of the New Carlsberg Foundation research centre Art as Forum. Our researchers are occupied by a.o. the infrastructures of the arts, collective modes of production, the entanglement of political theory and aesthetic theory, assembling strategies of curation, dematerialized art, acts of strategic separatism and temporality in digital art.

The lecture is free and open to everyone interested.