Arts Arts Reviews Muse

Exhibition Review: 'My Home is Not My Home'

Emily Mellows and Alice Manning take a look at the Norman Rea Gallery's latest exhibition on migrant workers

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Image Credit: My Home is Not My Home at the Norman Rea Gallery

My Home is Not My Home is a phenomenal exhibition which creatively explores and counteracts the erasure of migrant and domestic workers, using pop-art, photography, journalism and film. It’s an exhibition which skilfully blends the political with the personal, never forgetting to make the workers themselves the focal point of the exhibition.

There is a clear progression of ideas as we travel around the small room. We start with the small and mundane, the material objects that belonged to the migrant workers: a cellphone, a piece of clothing, an ID. It’s strange to see such mundane objects showcased in this way, especially the simple clothes hanging from the wall. The everyday objects we take for granted are treated with the great care and reverence that the migrant worker who was dependent on them for her survival treated them with. The focus on ephemera also highlights how what is marginalised or on the sidelines can in fact aid comprehension of a wider picture of ideas, just as understanding the stories of migrant domestic workers can reveal insights about how modern British society functions.

As the exhibition progresses and we seethe art pieces, we get a stronger sense of resistance and political purpose. There is pop-art and news articles, designed to give us a greater sense of the magnitude of the issue,and counteract the erasure of the migrant worker in modern media. Lifestyle magazines presenting perfect suburban living rooms are obscured with cleaning materials and plastered with slogans, such as ‘Justice 4 Domestic Workers.’

The media which obscures the work and pain of the domestic worker is obscured and challenged right back. A poster which contains partly blanked out pictures of domestic workers alongside the declaration ‘Domestic Workers Are Now Caged Set Us Free!’ highlights this idea further in an incredibly thought provoking way. A striking orange and red tapestry pinned up on the back wall commands us to ‘Join the Global Fight for Rights and Recognition’. It beautifully portrays the cleaners, nannies, and servers living and working in Britain, adding a touch of colour to an otherwise muted collection.

The only problem with an otherwise brilliant and thought provoking exhibition was that everything was shoved into a single room,with little thought as to the placement of the art and objects. The pop-art pieces which highlight our blind complicity in the erasure of migrant workers are certainly the star attraction of the exhibition. It was therefore slightly disappointing that these beautiful pieces are stuck to the windows rather than placed on the walls alongside the ephemera, especially since the exhibition took place at night and that many of the posters were presented on black paper.

The film was impossible to hear because of the popularity of the exhibition, perhaps a smaller room just for the film would have showcased the pieces better, and further emphasised the sense of progression which characterises the exhibition. On the other hand, one could argue that the very fact that the voices on the video are obscured by the voices of the crowds who came to the exhibition aptly reinforces the idea that the domestic workers voices are often detracted from and erased by the chaos and noise of the modern world.

The exhibition finishes with a simple piece of collaborative poetry, ‘Our Journey: The Voice of Domestic Workers’.It seems apt that the exhibition should finish this way, given that the exhibition has been so careful in its attempts to show case the story of the victims above all other external voices.

We hear a plethora of opinions and voices, academics,journalists, and artists, but those opinions and ideas never detract or mask the main voice which threads the absolutely spectacular pieces together; that of the migrant domestic worker. Overall, the exhibition carefully balances the creative with the critical, uniting those ideas with a clear and political message.

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