Contemporary Nomads

(a new research project)

Today, we are witnessing huge population displacements from the Near East and Africa toward the Mediterranean and Western Europe; from South and Central America toward the United States and Canada, and across South East Asia from places such as India, Pakistan and Myanmar toward destinations from Bangladesh, to Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Australia, for example. Religion and ethnicity, as well as economic survival has always played an enormous role in these transnational movements. This research identifies two main axes of these movements; one that runs in an East/West direction between Europe, the Far East, and the Americas, and another that runs in a North/South direction connecting Canada and the USA to Mexico and Central and South America. Contemporary Nomads seeks to investigate patterns in these large-scale movements of bodies across international spaces by thinking of them as a transnational choreography, one that speaks to the deep fragmentation which exists between communities within as well as outside national borders, between nationalized and personalized bodies, and between social and political institutions and the ordinary people they were meant to serve.

As a Vancouver-based Caribbean artist and scholar with an international career in dance, theatre, and performance, I attempt to present my own experiences as well as those of other 'wanderers' within the larger arc of what cultural theorist Stuart Hall calls "contemporary travelling, voyaging and return as fate, as destiny […] as the prototype of the modern or postmodern New World nomad, continually moving between centre and periphery” (Hall in Rutherford, J. 234:1990).

Working across disciplinary platforms but prominently featuring dance, theatre, performance, film, installation and new media technologies, Contemporary Nomads investigates the dynamic organization and re-organization of movement(s) along and around these two axes, with Vancouver as a key hub in some kind of imagined future. The research investigates five stages of the ‘traveler’, ‘migrant’ or ‘refugee’s journey (in the broadest sense of these terms), seeking to find out how, when, and why individuals and populations move from place to place.

These stages are as follows:

1. Home - beginning with the conditions that particular individuals and groups of people currently live under and call home, and what makes them dream of leaving.

2. The Departurestarting with the moment that someone decides to leave a known location or ‘home’. In short, we are looking at when the physical journey actually starts.

3. The Journeythe particular route taken by each person or group, and any event, experience, situation, landscape marker (a mountain, a body of water, a person, a path, a fellow traveller, a spoken word, etc.), or other experience that was unique to or crucial for the journey.

4. The Arrival - the feeling of making it, or conversely not making it to the desired destination (a state of limbo).

5. The Settlement/Returnthe process of making a ‘home’ in the new location, and/or the dream of finding one’s way back - the (im)possibility of return.