Notes on Migration, Law and the Image: Beyond the Veil of Ignorance by W.J.T. Mitchell

W.J.T. Mitchell (2009) ‘Migration, Law, and the Image: Beyond the Veil of Ignorance’ in Mathur S. (ed) (2000) The Migrant’s Time, Rethinking Art History and Diaspora. Massachusetts: The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. pp59-77

  • “Law and migration engage the realm of images as the location of both the sensuous and the fantasmatic: concrete realistic representation of actuality, on the one hand, and idealised or demonised fantasies of migrants as heroic pioneers or invading hordes, on the other.” pg 59
  • “migration of images” pg 59 – images that take root in a culture, Mitchell draws parallels between the movement of images and people
  • “Unlike real living bodies, images are very difficult, if you not impossible to kill, and the effort to stamp them out often has the effect of making them even more virulent.” page 60
  • images precede the immigrant: we see clips on the news of many people walking across countries, or attempting to cross borders, and some images are already imbedded in our minds (stereotypes, myths etc) before we actually meet any physical human – perhaps this causes fear.
  • Border Line, 1947, Keystone, Hulton Archive, Getty Images

    Border Line, 1947, Keystone, Hulton Archive, Getty Images

“…the vernacular sense of the dialectical image as a site of visible, audible, palpable contradiction where the real and the imaginary suddenly crystallize in a symbolic form, epitomized by the merely imaginal character of the white line and its fateful realisation.” Mitchell uses the image of someone painting the line demarcating the Soviet and British areas of Berlin in 1947 and how this image/action seems so imaginary and ephemeral, yet is given weight by what we know was to happen – the building of the Berlin wall – a very real, concrete, border that holds weighty significance.

  • “Every legalization is at the same time an illegalization, as the law of Manifest Destiny showed when it justified driving Native Americans from their ancestral homelands to make room for European settlers.”
  • “The most salient fact about migration in our time is how it has become…a permanent condition in which people may live out their lives in a limbo of illegalized immigration, perpetual confinement in a refugee camp, or perpetual motion and rootlessness, driven from place to place.”
  • “…a flying checkpoint, a regular feature of military occupations, in which a population is subjected to unpredictable and arbitrary blockages of movement.” pg 65
  • vegetation – micro movement e.g pollen carrying on bees, wind, etc.
  • “…the contradiction built into liberal notions of immigration law, namely that the law is inherently lawless, ad hoc, and permeated by ideological prejudices that make it exactly the opposite of an instrument of justice.” pg 67
  • look up: Checkpoint (2003) film by Yaav Shamir – fly-on-the-wall doc of checkpoints throughout the West Bank
  • Palestinians treated as immigrants in their own country
  • On Tanya Bruguera’s Migrant People Party (2006- ongoing): “…the process engages centrally the question of the  image, especially the deconstruction of the racist and racializing images that are endemic to the representation of immigrants. The objective is not merely to change the way people see immigrants but the way they see themselves, enabling the production of new, self-generated images and words to articulate the common interests of immigrants, both legal and illegal.” – This has helped me understand more about what I want my work to do.

Reading Mitchell’s piece has helped me to understand more about what I want my work to do/its purpose and aims and has influenced my interest in creating an artistic practise out of visual and linguistic analysis of existing texts and found material. I would like to focus more on language and writing (as an art form)…


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