In 2016 Harriet Bart and Yu-Wen Wu presented Crossings, a meditation on the forced global displacement of more than 65 million people. This was exhibited at the Perlman Teaching Museum at Carleton College, Northfield, MN.
In their research and preparation for Crossings, they became increasingly aware of the special circumstances of women and children. 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.
In 2018 Yu-Wen Wu and Harriet Bart spent the month of February at Yaddo as artists in residence. There they began work on a new art installation in response to their previous research. This new project, Leavings/Belongings, focuses on the unique hardships endured by women and children as they flee war and 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 here. We know they carry few possessions. We also know from listening to and recording scores of stories, they carry hopes and dreams for a better future for their children and for themselves. They are resourceful. They are resilient.
The hundreds of bundles that comprise Leavings/Belongings are made by the storytellers, and by those who hear their stories. Cloth, old and new, from countries around the world and from our own shores have been donated to this project. Bright and colorful, some torn and worn are part of the stories. The bundles are testimony.
Leavings/Belongings, consists of anomalously shaped cloth wrapped bundles representing all that is left behind—home, family, possessions and what may be carried in migration—survival, hope, dreams.
Each working session begins with uncertainty. As the women begin to work they begin to tell their stories of fear, danger, loss and hardship in their attempts to leave their countries of origin. As the bundles are finished, we ask the women to write a story or message on their bundle. Many write of their desire for peace, hope and kindness.
This project is an opportunity to bring various refugee/immigrant communities together to make “bundles” and tell their stories of leaving their native countries and the difficulties of resettlement in the United States. If they choose, participants and their bundles are photographed and stories recorded.
With this project Wu and Bart have been reaching out to various organizations working with communities in their respective cities. Bart through the auspices of the Minnesota Humanities Center, has reached out to the Somali community. Wu has been working with the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Centers, the Southeast Asian Coalition, and organizations in Maine. Wu is currently the Artist in Residence at the Pao Art Center further developing the Leavings/Belongings project.
This project was motivated by the desire to call attention to global displacement and inspired by a poem.