Wrinting a private history of migrations


The Encyclopedia of migrants reconsiders the question of migrations adopting a sensitive approach that takes on the perspective of distance. How does distance affect individuals? How are the points of reference shaken by the act of leaving one’s home country?

Our purpose is to sensitively collect the testimonies of people who experienced migrations in the course of their life. More specifically, the project will meet with migrants, migrants who have complex identities and attempt to reconcile the different cultures and the act of crossing borders and settling beyond them.

Those migrants who decide to contribute to this project will write a personal letter to a person from their home country, after which they will pose for a portrait in collaboration with a photographer.

The core of the Encyclopedia will put together testimonies of immigrants identified across the various countries involved in the project. However, the work will also present testimonies of people who have gone through a migratory experience and have subsequently returned to their countries of origin. In turn these individuals will write to someone close to them who has stayed in the country to which they returned.

The core of the project draws on an encounter made of trust, understanding and empathy. It is the quality of this essential bond that will encourage the people we meet to unveil a part of their private lives in order to expose it to the public and thus share their personal universe with others.

Why an encyclopedia of migrants?

This encyclopedia will consist of an editorial output, formally inspired by the encyclopedia in its original version of the 18th century, as envisioned by Diderot and d’Alembert, in which we play with its codes while changing the contents. The work will be composed of three large-format color printed and leather-bound volumes and it will be published as a limited edition.

An encyclopedia is a work or set of works aimed at summarizing and organizing existing knowledge or a particular part of it. As far as we know, there are no encyclopedias today on human migration. The Encyclopedia of migrants serves as a compendia of a multiplicity of life stories, and thus becomes a symbol of legitimate knowledge to be reappropriated in the form of an undertaking for the production of popular knowledge. In the collective imagination, an encyclopedia is a precious work that contains legitimate knowledge. We would like to use the discrepancy between the precious object that represents the world of ideas and a sensitive new content that is often undervalued. The purpose of this unconventional encyclopedia is to legitimize another type of knowledge.

Are we willing to grant legitimacy to sensitive knowledge in a greatly dehumanized world that is dominated by expertise? What role does the sensitive world and the knowledge and testimonies of others have in the construction of Europe?

The main purpose of this project is to recognize the position of migrants in our society and to participate concretely in the writing of the history and memory of migration. Finally, the goal is to render this invisible value, this immaterial wealth tangible, palpable, in order to make it ours and include it in our common history.

The Encyclopedia of migrants will include a collection of 400 testimonies in the form of handwritten letters from migrants, with photographic portraits of their authors produced by local photographers and put into perspective by scientific contributions by social science researchers from the four selected territories. The letters will be written in the migrant’s mother tongue, then translated with the intention of respecting the language of the authors. This encyclopedia will be produced in two forms: one hardcopy version and one digital version.