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AUC students Chiara Loriaux (Social Sciences, Class of 2019) and Madita Strähle (Humanities, Class of 2019) have organised an exhibition titled “Dear Stranger” at the University of Amsterdam creative space VOX-POP based on fieldwork they completed for the AUC course Culture Lab in Valletta, Malta in June 2018. The exhibition, focused on creating a visual dialogue that explores the relationship between migrants and locals in Valletta, opens on Thursday, 6 June 2019 and will run through Tuesday, 25 June 2019.

Dear Stranger Banner 2

Visualising mutual understanding through dialogue

“Dear Stranger” is a multimedia investigation of the issues that stem from ‘locals’ and ‘migrants’ meeting. With each of these concepts being informed by mass media, individual bias and collective stereotypes, Loriaux and  Strähle look to show what happens when a real dialogue is opened between those considered migrants and those considered locals. Using Valletta as the site of the encounters, the exhibition uses photographs, recorded dialogues and post-cards to allow both groups to voice to their individual lived experiences, concerns and perceptions of the other.

Through creating this dialogue and diversity of voices, Loriaux and Strähle actively challenge predominant narratives that oversimplify or misrepresent what it means to be a migrant or a local in an era of mass migration.  In their postcards and stories, the subjects write to each other freely to address the underlying concepts and uncertainties that stem from what the organisers refer to as an “anxiety of change”. This communication stands as a meditation on how such dialogues and interaction can humanize emotionally and politically loaded constructs such as ‘migrant’ and ‘local’ to create better mutual understanding and empathy between different groups.  

Culture Lab at AUC

Culture Lab is a 300-level course that takes place in the June period at AUC and uses the European Capital of Culture as a starting point to critically analyse the various strategies employed by the selected cities to bolster their international image, jump-start regeneration projects and examine what makes these locations special. Culture Lab provides students with project-based and self-directed learning experiences about culture and cultural festivals, European identity-building and the role of cultural interventions in addressing issues for cities and citizens within European contexts. Through experiential learning, AUC students engage with a variety of theories and practices, observe illustrative case studies and explore how to use cultural anthropology methodologies in the field to examine the impact of city promotion.

Origins of “Dear Stranger”

The idea for the “Dear Stranger” exhibition was born out of AUC’s Culture Lab 2018 visit to Valletta. During the two weeks of fieldwork, Loriaux and Strähle were given time to discover the city and themes in search of a personal interest for a project. The time spent discovering the city and encounters with popular news about the refugee crisis in Malta encouraged them to create an art project to bridge the gap in communication between locals and migrants on the island. After attending a documentary screening organised by for the Valletta 2018 European Capital of Culture, they were brought in contact with a representative involved with issues of migration, who then invited the two to learn more about the tensions between locals and migrants tensions. From there, the two were able to deepen their understanding of the complexity of the issue and form relationships with those that would eventually be subjects in the project.