Leavings/Belongings is a durational project that gives voice to the refugee and immigrant narrative. Leavings/Belongings is a comprehensive artwork. It is community inclusive and is comprised of multiple components including sculptural installations, text, photography, video, and performance.
In 2016 artists Harriet Bart and Yu-Wen Wu presented Crossings, a meditation on the forced global displacement of more than 65 million people, at the Perlman Teaching Museum at Carleton College, Northfield, MN. According to the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), in 2019, that number has increased to 70.8 million people. After leading resettlement efforts for decades, the United States now trails the rest of the world.
According to the UNHCR, approximately 51% of refugees are women and children. Abduction, rape, sexual abuse, harassment and exploitation are some of the problems faced by these refugees. It is estimated that more than 30 million children are among the displaced.
With this knowledge, Wu and Bart began Leavings/Belongings. This project calls attention to the unique hardships endured by women, children and men as they flee war, famine and face issues of resettlement. Much has been written, thousands of photographs have been taken and documentation abounds about the trauma of the refugee experience.
Leavings/Belongings looks to the future as do the refugees and immigrants who find their way to this country. We know they carry few possessions. We know from listening to and recording scores of stories, they carry hopes and dreams of a better future for their children and for themselves. They are resourceful. They are resilient.
The many hundreds of bundles that are primary to this project are made by refugees, immigrants and the artists. These anomalously shaped cloth wrapped bundles represent all that is left behind--home, family, possessions and what may be carried in migration--survival, hope, dreams. Cloth, old and new, from countries around the world and from our own shores have been gathered and donated to this project. Bright and colorful, some torn and worn are part of the stories. As the bundles are finished, participants are asked to write a story or message on their bundle. Many write of their desire for peace, hope and kindness. The bundles are part of their testimony. If they are willing, their stories are recorded and the participants are photographed with their bundles.
Since 2016 Wu and Bart have reached out to non-profit organizations to help them identify refugee communities in the artist’s respective cities Boston and Minneapolis/St Paul. Since then, bundle making sessions have been held in Portland ME, Worcester MA, Santa Fe and Albuquerque NM as well as Boston, MA and Minneapolis/St Paul MN.
Leavings/Belongings is motivated by the desire to call attention to global displacement. It is inspired by a poem.