The Aesthetics of Displacement and the Performance of Migration

In: Art and Visibility in Migratory Culture


The essay takes migration as both the content of a film, and the mode through which it is constructed. Aesthetics becomes the practice of constructing displacements between forms (poem, theater, film, song) and the manipulation of their materiality, in order to render the complexity of migration in all its specificity. Migration is thus both of the form and of the content, and indeed undoes the distinction between them. Framing the analysis of Ritwik Ghatak’s Komal Gandhar (1961) through Hegel’s understanding of aesthetics, the essay insists that the aesthetic rendition of migration and the migrations of aesthetic forms cannot be separated. Rather, it is their continual, often conflictual intertwining, which renders the politics of form crucial to the politics of migration. The essay thus intervenes in cultural critique which often takes the theme of migration and displacement while inadequately attending to form, while at the same time insisting that a simple reflection model where form mirrors content is inadequate. The critical (and political) stakes of the argument are predicated on attending to aesthetic forms as social ciphers which intervene productively in the growing literature on migration and its (re)presentation.