Seeing “the entire world as a foreign land” makes possible the originality of vision. Most people are principally aware of one culture, one setting, one home; exiles are aware of at least two, and this plurality of vision gives rise to an awareness of simultaneous dimensions, an awareness that—to borrow a phrase from music— is contrapuntal… For an exile, habits of life, expression or activity in the new environment inevitably occur against the memory of those things in another environment. Thus both the new and the old environments are vivid, actual, occurring together contrapuntally.
— Edward Said, On Exile
The Migrant Universe Series is a visual poem about identity and the worldview of an immigrant: exile, longing, translation, and memory. An immigrant to the United States from Bosnia, once part of Yugoslavia, I am fascinated by questions of cultural identity or cultural belonging on an intellectual level, but I experience and feel what Edward Said called “the contrapuntal reality [of an exile]” very acutely: I have transitioned through three citizenships in addition to one period of being a citizen of no country. In both my new and old countries, outdated notions of national and ethnic identity and belonging continue to shape the politics and the society.
The visual vocabulary of the Migrant Universe drawings suggests a displaced existence: fragmented memories, adaptation, revival, and transformation. Because I do not live and work within the comfort or boundaries of the culture in which I first learned to observe, interpret, and engage the world, I have the arguable privilege of having lived more than one life. My memory is my virtual self and, paradoxically, my most authentic self. Yet, memory is a process that involves erosions and accretions that occur with any reconstructive, interpretative, or artistic act. One reconnects with what has been broken, fragmented, or overlaid. Remembering becomes an act of reconstruction, where one works with what is there and tries to visualize what has been lost. Because each act of memorization necessarily involves interpretation, there can be no objective recollection.
Nor is there full erasure; like matter, memory seems to persist by transforming. The images inMigrant Universe suggest what Said called “an awareness of simultaneous dimensions.” For example, maps and star charts represent conventional interpretations of scale and distance, their fidelity assured only within accepted systems of perceiving and organizing space. I am interested in what they may become, layered upon each other in visual conversations with other elements in the drawing. In Migrant Universe, the drawings function as a rearrangeable continuum of maps, landscapes, and portraits of memory and identity.