The “My Story – My Words” Day at NUI Galway

We talked about it, we prepared for it, we sent out invitations, we shared ideas, and then it happened: on September 29, academics, artists and NGO workers came to NUI Galway on a rather rainy day to talk about language and migration.

It was a pleasure to host so many different perspectives on the topic that we have been working on. It was great to have so many different backgrounds coming together to talk about their right to call this island ‘their’ Ireland. Last but not least, it was great to have academic and non-academic voices interact on the same platform.

We started w20170929_094226ith our more specificaly social/sociolinguistic panel. Mary Gilmartin started by illustrating some of the narratives that she and Bettina Migge collected from migrants in Ireland. It was very interesting to see how the ‘placeness’ of this place can mean so many different things to different people.


Then, Lisa McEntee-Atalianis explored one of the most pressing issue20170929_095045s in Europe nowadays, the refugee crisis, from the point of view of the press and social media. What is lacking in the way in which the refugee crisis is usually narrated is precisely the migrants’ voice.

Speaking of voice, Unn Røyneland presented us some divergent voices from Oslo: rappers who claim their Norwegian identity, and the debate that ensues online about varieties such as the so called ‘Kebab Norwegian’. Who can really decide the boundaries of a language, and who can grant access to it?

20170929_101919In the following panel, Stefan Nowotny talked about the task of the translator in relation to the challenges of the time and of history, and the difficulties of relating this particular and very important task to the needs of our age of borders and incomprehension.IMG_20171002_112654

Ozgecan Kesici-Ayoubi talked about her task as a translator; from her translation of Kazakh poetry from the 19th century to her own work as a poet who lives in Dublin but takes Kazakhstan, Turkey and Germany with her.IMG_20171002_112626

Marta Golubowska (we talked about her project Be-Longing in July) showed us some of the interviews that she made in her project which brings together members of a community in Kildare to talk about their homes.

After lunch, it was time for theatre, poetry and film. OT Platform  are a community effort, and so they took the stage in three: Bernie, Maud and Rula. They talked about grounding their theatrical efforts in Dublin 8, the need to build an expressive space in the community, and the projects that they developed around it.

Jijo Sebastian, a film director who works in Dublin but whose film speak mostly Malayalam, is starting a collaboration with them soon. In Galway, we had a chance to hear his ideas on making locally grown cinema, and to watch a few minutes of his darkly comic film “Box“. Due to time constraints, we had no time to show scenes from “Parakayapravesham”, but you can watch it here.IMG_20171002_112609

Also, Kasia Lech (who teaches at Canterbury Christ Church University, but was also one of the founders of Polish Theatre Ireland) gave a very appropriately titled talk: “They came here and stole our jobs and then they took our language”. In its works, PTI have always tried to intercept different linguistic directions and suggestions, and play an interestingly complex linguistic picture of contemporary Ireland.IMG_20171002_112619

Anne Mulhall talked about her experience with establishing a Women’s Writer Network, which included refugees and migrant women and which challenged borders of expression on so many levels.

Christodoulos Makris read passages from his essay “Travelling Light: Shedding Poetry’s National Baggage” which resonated with so many things that were being said. The key question is: do we really need to pigeon-hole poets into national slots, and have them compete as if it was the Eurofestival? What are the choices available to a poet who wants to bypass all of that?

Nithy Kasa also talked about borders: both in her native DR Congo, and in Dublin; all of this in very powerful verse. While Nita Mishra presented some of her poetry about misconceptions, stereotypes and the necessity of finding a voice. She also talked about the difficulty of rendering her Hindi words in English.

Fiona Bolger, who was of great help in reaching out to poets across Ireland (thank you Fiona!) talked about the upcoming anthology All the Worlds Between. And another anthology to be presented was Migrant Shores, of which we wrote a few days ago.

As you probably know, we have been walking the streets of Ireland in the past few months, talking to migrants about their languages, their hopes, their needs and aspirations (more of that in the future). We have been lucky to work with Teresa Buzckowska from the Immigrant Council of Ireland, and she was here with us to talk about the many things that her organisation does.

The symposium was concluded by the O Briain lecture, for which we invited Patrick Stevenson. His latest book is a very compelling exploration of the language stories in a building in Berlin. The students of the NUI Galway course in drama and theatre helped us bring it to life (thank you guys!).

We would like to thank the speakers who came from near and far, the Moore Institute and the Immigrant Council of Ireland; the office of the registrar, Professor Pól Ó Dochartaigh who funded the O Briain lecture; the many interns and staff of Italian at NUI Galway who gave us a hand; and many others whom we have encountered on our journey so far. Our journey is not over: stay tuned for more updates!






All the worlds between

One week to go before our symposium, and we are planning a truly full day next Friday…

After all the talks and the discussions, after the reception (have you checked out the programme?) some of us will walk to Charlie Byrne’s Book Shop for the launch of All the Worlds Between, an anthology of poetry between India and Ireland, edited by K. Srilata and Fiona Bolger, and featuring some of the poets who will speak at our event during the day.

This is how the editor describe it:

No one must claim me.
On the journey I will need
no name, no nationality.
Let them label the remains
(from Imtiaz Dharker “Lost property”)

This collaborative poetry project has brought together poets from India, Ireland and in between to share their work. These writing partnerships resulted in four strands: poems as conversation, poems at angles to one another, poems which speak out of turn to other poets in the group and, not surprisingly, stories of friendship.

When we invited poets to join us, we asked them to look at questions of home, belonging, identity, exclusion and homogenisation.From conversations about shoes and what they evoke, to exchanges about parents, poems responding to the transgender experience to inward-angled poems and even chain poems created stanza by stanza over email and WhatsApp, through all of these we found ourselves eavesdropping on a collective consciousness, ears to the ground listening for the beat of life.

We hope together we have created a drum. We, the poets, hold the skin in a large circle, stretching across continents, experiencing the vibrations beyond ourselves and between our worlds. We hope our words vibrate with at least some of the worlds between.

We look forward to seeing you there!

All The Worlds Between - Galway Launch_A5

The programme of the “My Story, My Words” day is here!

Hello everyone, I am pleased to announce that our programme for the symposium is ready. It will be a full day of study, conversation and performance about language and migration. Scholars of linguistics, literature and geography; poets; NGO workers; theatre companies; film directors and visual artists are coming to NUI Galway on September 29 to talk about the role that language has in the experience of migration, and how to create a conversation among all the components of a multicultural society.

The symposium takes place in the Hardiman Research Building, in room G010, and it will be concluded with the prestigious Máirtín Ó Briain Lecture.

All welcome!




Meet Lisa McEntee-Atalianis

Dr Lisa McEntee-Atalianis from Birkbeck University of London, will be one of the scholars to speak at the “My Story – My Words” symposium on September 29. She is Senior Lecturer in Applied Linguistics and Communication and has published in various fields: Language Pathology (Aphasia); Sign Language/Deaf Studies and Sociolinguistics.

In recent years her scholarship has focused on two key areas: identity at micro and macro-discursive/linguistic levels and intergovernmental organizational language planning, policy and practice (two topics that are central to the discussion that we would like to develop in the symposium).

She is a member of the Study Group on Language and the United Nations, New York and her interest in identity is evident in her forthcoming book, Identity in Applied Linguistics. Her research has encompassed the study of autochthonous minority groups and migrant communities in different settings (Turkey, Cyprus and London).

We look forward to welcoming Dr. McEntee-Atalianis to Galway, and to hear her talk about two recent projects in which she traces the migrant voice and constructions of migrant identity in traditional and new media.

Visual Art across languages (meet Marta Golubowska)

Visual art and language are not very often seen in association. Yet, even if we may not be particularly used to wondering what is the ‘language’ of a sculpture, or whether a painting can be ‘translated’, art is linked directly to the culture and the language of the people who produced it, and of the places where it is exhibited – so that when it travels, across cultures and borders, it always acquires new meanings. Moreover, visual art has evolved in the past few decades to include elements of performance and discourse: since these elements are often expressed verbally, we as spectators are exposed more and more to the linguistic elements involved in visual art. In a world that becomes more and more multilingual, artists

break down boundaries around unitary notions of language and easy categorizations of their speakers, they disorient by questioning the very idea of ‘meaning’ and ‘communication’, they undermine control and ownership of language, books, and linguistic spaces, and they run against the ideas of linguistic fixity, essentialism and demagogy. By engaging in creative linguistic alchemy, text-based artists demystify and demythologize language for those prepared to listen.(Jaworski 2014, 154)

Visual art is capable, now more than ever, of working the differences between languages, and reworking them to reflect on the multilingual environment we live in.

With this in mind, we would like to present an emerging visual artist who will join us for the “My Story – My Words” symposium: Marta Golubowska.

Marta was born in Poland and is now based in Kildare, after moving to Ireland in 2006. Her work is “an exploration of the everyday experience of building a new identity and putting down roots in a country, language and culture that is unfamiliar and foreign.” In 2016, she won the Kildare County Council Emerging Artists Award.

Throu5035648_origgh sculpture, painting and recording, Marta explores the links between individuals and the community, in art work that involves the collaboration of the people of the very community she inhabits. One of her last pieces, Be-Longingcombines different visual and audio experiences to describe the experience of the community, and the reconfigurations of the idea of ‘home’ (a word that is a key-word in our project) in an age of mobility.  Be-Longing depicts the housing estate where the artist lives, in its repetitiveness – but also populates it with people and their different stories. 144 ceramic houses, as many as there are in her real housing estate, are stamped with the same images – apart from the ones that are inhabited by people that the artists knows personally, and who have decorated their house. These houses will be glazed in the presence of the community on September 9, in the Newbridge Riverbank Arts Center. In this way, the piece maps the connections that the artist has made in her new environment, together with an audio recording of her interviews with her neighbours.

5_origMarta Golubowska’s new art projects will explore more in detail the relationship between language and identity from the point of view of a mobile person in a multilingual world. We are looking forward to see how this develops, and to hear more about how the experience of mobility and working in a new language has impacted her art.


(pictures by M. Golubowska, used with the artist’s permission)

Some notes from the Migration and the Humanities conference

This weekend, we took part in the “Migration and the Humanities – Critical Challenges” conference organized by the Moore Institute at NUI Galway in collaboration with the Irish Research Council and the Irish Humanities Alliance. The conference brought together scholars and activists from all Irish universities and various disciplines: geography, social sciences, history, literary studies, linguistics, ethno-musicology…

migration and the humanities poster

It was a very valuable chance to discuss the questions raised by migration, recent and less recent, outbound and inbound, in Ireland. Anne O’Connor and I talked about “My Story – My Words” as part of the panel on “Experience of Migrants in Ireland”, together with Regina Donlon (Maynooth), Mary Gilmartin (Maynooth), T.J. Hughes (NUI Galway), Valerie Ledwith (NUI Galway), Piaras Mac Éinrí (UCC) and Orla McGarry (UCC). As we talked about our plans to research migrant agency through individual narratives and experiences of translation, we had a chance to discuss with scholars who are tackling many of the same issues from the point of view of human geography and sociology. That made for a very proficuous exchange of points of view – which made it evident how, if we wish to address questions of inclusion, agency and representation, one discipline is not enough. And, as Debbie Lisle (QUB) said in another panel, it is not enough to be interdisciplinary, but rather transdisciplinary. That is to say, it is not enough to consult different disciplines and then retreat safely into our own discipline, but it is necessary to create moments of contact that transform all the disciplines involved in the dialogue.

The discussion surpassed individual frameworks to discuss the present situation, and what we can do to inform policy as migration scholars. The issue of direct provision, that was recently in the news, came up again and again – also through strong testimonies, coming from Lucky Kahmbule and Vukasin Nedeljkovic (who narrated the experience of asylum seekers both as a researcher and a visual artist).

Another recurring issue, that is particularly interesting from the perspective of our work in “My Story” was the question of migrant agency and authorship. That came up in presentations by Charlotte McIvor (NUIG), Patrick Crowley (UCC), Aileen Dillane (UL), Anne Mulhall (UCD), where not only we heard about many instances of art and creativity inspired by migration; but also about the role that this may play in society, and our role as scholars as we open up spaces for representation. With a reiterated call to not just wait for migrant art to happen, but analyze it and engage with it as it happens, as it is being made, it was evident how much we need to concentrate on the very socio-cultural instances that make art possible, and visible to the general public. It is an issue that we will take into account in the few months of “My Story – My Words”, as we collect migrant narratives together with the staff at the Immigrant Council and reflect on how to make them visible and appreciated. A consequence of this, and a challenge for us, is to open spaces of representation, within our research, for the migrant individuals who participate in it and give their point of view. Few areas of research benefit from a bottom-up approach as migration studies.

As the participants discussed policy, and the issues of inclusiveness and racism, and the future of migration in years to come, this conference was also very importantly a reminder of why we research and reflect on migration: to have an impact in society, to make migrant lives easier and more visible, to make pleas understood and received.

We thank Daniel Carey, director of the Moore Institute, for organizing this interesting, stimulating and very useful conference, and for inviting us. And we thank all the speakers for their very interesting ideas.

Since Aileen Dillane played one of their songs at the conference, and they are a very fresh and interesting example of how migration opened up spaces of creativity that challenge and enrich the fabric of Irish society, I would like to conclude with a video from Limerick-based hip-hop collective Rusangano Family: