How to Show an Invisible Man: An Experiment in Filmic Representation of Illegalized Sub-Saharan Migrants

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 11:15
Oral Presentation
Tami LIBERMAN, Freie Universitaet Berlin, Germany
The political status of sub-Saharan migrants residing in nation-states around the world without work or residence permits affects the migrants’ public representation: while compelled to conceal their identity in mass media out of cautionary measures, the migrants become “hyper-visible” in public discourse through their repetitive representation as masses of victims or dangerous invaders.

The “invisibility” of the migrants’ subjective identity led to a filmic experiment in which the main participant – a West African refugee living in Berlin without a work permit – is never seen on camera. Named in this film Mr. X, to protect his identity, the refugee joins the filmmaker/researcher behind the camera as cinematographer and storyteller. His voice recites memories from his life in Africa, Italy and Berlin, constructing a fragmentary narrative conceived through his collaboration with the filmmaker. Mr. X uses the camera to illustrate these memories with images of German landscapes, and to engage in a self-reflexive dialogue with the filmmaker who appears on screen.

Contextualizing the migrant’s cultural invisibility, the research addresses the centrality of vision in modern thought as a means of understanding and capturing reality. It presents an experimental visual approach that criticizes the observational tradition’s search of cultural “sameness” through the corporeal, and celebrates cultural diversity expressed through the visually absent. The methods used – participatory research, “third voice” dialogue, montage, self-reflexivity, reversing of the cinematic/scientific gaze – are evaluated for their ability to both bypass and confront the migrant’s forced invisibility, and the underlying political, sociocultural and epistemological order.

Private link to the film Napps - Memoire of an Invisible Man:
password: storyofmrx

Film Trailer: