Exploiting Migration: Tourist Gaze, Art Industry and Cultural Policies

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 17:45
Oral Presentation
Marxiano MELOTTI, Niccolò Cusano University, Rome, Italy
The Mediterranean refugee crisis entails an interesting cultural process showing the complex and controversial relationships between cultural heritage, tourism and art industry, as well as between political narratives, urban policies and cultural marketing.

Main cultural and political institutions, well-known artists and mass media tend to exploit this crisis with effective cultural products, which intertwine emotions, voyeurism and socio-cultural awareness.

Political narratives, based on the importance of enhancing awareness of the crisis, offer an effective cover to these operations. Migrants and refugees tend to become objects of tourist and media gaze, though their real stories and memories are hardly taken into account.

Among the many examples, Ai Weiwei’s sophisticated installations with migrants’ lifejackets and rubber lifeboats, in Berlin, Vienna and Florence, as well as his documentary presented to Venice film festival, show the deep interrelation between media, marketing and cultural policies.

In Lanzarote tourists can visit an ultimate attraction, an underwater museum displaying also a huge sculpture showing migrants and dead bodies on a rubber boat. This sculpture is named after Lampedusa, a tiny island between North Africa and Italy, which in recent years has received thousands and thousands of migrants, becoming a global symbol of the Mediterranean refugee crisis.

Lampedusa itself is at the centre of an interesting process of metabolization and exploitation of migration. This island has become a popular setting for movies, TV serials and documentaries (one of which was even awarded the Golden Bear at Berlin Film Festival). It has also hosted exhibitions displaying objects of migrants missed during their journey.

These cases are “good to think” the difficult relationships between tragedies, tourism and art industry, as well as between spectacularization of suffering, tourist gaze and cultural policies.