Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

City tales: an art-based participatory framework for studying migration-related diversity (ARTIVES)

The ARTIVES project studies imaginaries of diversity portrayed by artists in Lisbon and Rotterdam in their films, performances and (oral) literature with the aim to explore their transgressive potential of opening up possibilities of thinking differently about migration-related diversity. Their stories will be the departure point to create a theoretical framework of ‘urban artives’. The notion of the artive will be built upon insights from artistic forms of storytelling and Critical Archival Studies to capture how multicultural cities are lived and imagined. Through the intertwined process of theoretical conceptualization and artistic creation, we will trace the transnational network of belonging embodied in the local cultural scene and test the possibilities and limitations in relating to these stories without reproducing essentializing binaries such as ‘local’ vs. ‘foreign’.

2024 - 2029
Kamila Krakowska Rodrigues
European Research Council (ERC) European Research Council (ERC)

The ARTIVES project studies intercultural artistic narratives – namely, (popular) theatre, film, and (oral) literature –  as creative conceptualizations of superdiverse urbanity, negotiating and confronting cities’ imaginaries of diversity. The project takes contemporary artistic stories and cultural production by artists in Rotterdam and Lisbon as paradigmatic case studies of navigating the discourse of ‘open-to-the-world’ ports under different historical, political, and economic trajectories. Its aim is to explore the transgressive potential of these stories to open up possibilities of thinking differently about migration-related diversity.
More specifically, the project focuses on how postcolonial, intercultural urbanity is experienced and imagined in artistic practices and stories by authors with affective ties to Angolan and Mozambican communities in Lisbon; Surinamese and (Dutch) Caribbean communities in Rotterdam; and Cabo Verdean communities in both cities. Artistic production by these communities are taken as case studies given these communities’ prominence in the port cities’ demographics, their creative involvement in the critical revision of the colonial past and (post)colonial present, and their embedding in the cultural scenes of Lisbon and Rotterdam. Creative inquiries will be intersected with research methods, among which mobile ethnography, digital mapping, in-depth interviews, and close reading. 
This empirical study will lay ground for the creation of the theoretical framework of ‘urban artives’. These conceptual artistic archives will collect a selection of situated stories of the cities under study to create meta-discourses for relating to these empowering narratives in ways that are attuned to the frictions, tensions, silences, and encounters experienced in urban life. The project will transpose theoretical and methodological developments in Critical Archival Studies to the pressing issue of urban diversity furthering the state-of-the-art in the fields of qualitative culture-oriented Urban Studies and Migration and Transnationalism Studies. 
Importantly, the framework of urban artives will be built in collaboration with artists through the intertwined process of theoretical conceptualization (contributing to recent scholarship across Critical Archival Studies, Urban Studies, and Migration and Transnationalism Studies) and artistic creation (with the co-production of two creative outputs to test the framework). In this way, urban artives will allow to 1) trace the transnational network of belonging embodied in the local cultural scene and 2) test the possibilities and limitations in relating to these stories without reproducing essentializing binaries such as ‘local’ vs. ‘foreign’

There are four research objectives that will contribute to the answering to the project’s main research question: How do intercultural artistic practices conceptualize superdiverse urbanity and the ways in which local communities creatively negotiate and confront cities’ imaginaries of diversity?

Objective 1 – to create an art-based non-binary theoretical framework to approach urban diversity

The project proposes a new conceptual framework of ‘urban artives’ which encompasses the creative narratives of the city as well as the existing maps of meaning-making and infrastructures that condition the local artistic production and foster (or restrain) possibilities of inclusive collaboration. By building upon the conceptualizations of cultural archive and insights from Critical Archival Studies, urban artives will explore the possibilities of non-binary categorizations of urban artistic production that would cherish the (self-)represented cultural heritage without the risk of othering and exoticizing depicted communities. It will formulate meta-discourses for relating to and disseminating imaginaries of diversity in a non-essentializing way.

Objective 2 – to create fair and meaningful standards of collaboration between artists and researchers in the fields of Humanities and Social Sciences

The framework of urban artives will be developed in close collaboration with local artists and tested through a creative process to allow for inclusion of different voices and perspectives and make the results relevant and meaningful. However, academics still struggle with conducting participatory research which tends to be perceived as an ethical and practical challenge. Since collaboration with artists in all steps of the project’s development is a prerequisite for a successful completion of its objectives, the team will critically assess existing standards and develop practical recommendations to scholars in the Humanities and Social Science to facilitate creative participatory research that is meaningful for all research actors – both academics and non-academic partners. Thus, this collaborative practice will also address the limitations of an idea of simply “including the other” and work towards other possibilities that may be more attuned to listening to a plurality of voices.     

Objective 3 – to unearth an archive of alternative imaginaries of living a superdiverse city to probe how these narratives can be related to in non-essentializing ways and to contextualize dominant narratives of diversity and multiculturalism

The empirical findings from the two cities taken here as paradigmatic case studies will allow to probe how visual/performative storytelling practices reveal and reflect on the existing dynamic of inclusion and exclusion. Specifically, the team will address the question of how artists critically engage with and confront the ways how European port cities imagine and brand themselves as multicultural and diverse.

Objective 4 – to advise policy stakeholders on how to foster a diverse, inclusive cultural scene within the identified patterns of cross-cultural exchange and perceived social and infrastructural barriers

The team will build upon the empirical findings to draft policy recommendations on how to foster a more inclusive cultural scene. Digital maps will be used not simply to showcase the existing spaces of belonging and affect, but also to point out to the blind spots in the creative imaginaries of the cities. This is important so that municipalities become aware of both the existing dynamic of cross-cultural exchange, but also of the barriers felt and experienced by the artists and audiences.

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