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A Goldsmiths, University of London academic’s research into the lives of British citizens in the EU as Brexit negotiations continue, forms part of an immersive exhibition at Lewisham’s Migration Museum.
Dr Michaela Benson’s installations, Brexit Brits Abroad, and Greetings from Europe are among the works on display at Departures, an exhibition exploring 400 years of emigration from Britain.
While immigration dominates debates, Britain’s emigration story is often overlooked. The museum’s re-opening exhibition, which is supported by Goldsmiths and other partners including Arts Council England, asks why this is and what we can learn from it.
Who are the many millions who have departed these shores and why did they go? Can exploring their motivations help us better understand the motivations of people who arrive? What impact has this mass movement had on the world – and on Britain?
Dr Benson has led the Brexit Brits Abroad team since 2017. The project focuses on a neglected story of Brexit: the uneven consequences for the lives of Britons resident in the EU-27 as they lose their EU citizenship, exploring questions of identity and belonging. The original research project - BrExpats - came to an end in December 2019, but Dr Benson's Migration Museum works build on her longstanding expertise on British emigration to Europe.
Greetings from Europe is formed of a series of postcards from Britons living across the EU as they face up to Brexit. A call was issued in January this year asking for Britons to share their personal stories and have them represented and displayed. The postcards can also be viewed on the Brexit Brits Abroad website from Friday 30 October.
The Brexit Brits Abroad installation draws on interviews with these citizens, creatively responding to the complex bureaucracy British citizens living and working in the EU-27 must navigate in order to secure their rights and entitlements.
The installation reflects the shifting and uncertain statements about the rights of UK nationals living in the EU-27 during increasingly acrimonious withdrawal negotiations. It was created by Goldsmiths’ Public Engagement team in collaboration with Dr Benson.
The project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council through the UK in a Changing Europe initiative.
Departures has been organised by the Migration Museum to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the departure of pilgrims on the Mayflower. The show features dozens of emigration stories, including Windrush, Cornish and Welsh emigrants to South America, and black Britons moving to their parents’ countries of birth in West Africa.
Visitors embark on an immersive journey starting in a ‘Departures Lounge’ featuring guidebooks for emigrants and an animated timeline, proceeding through ‘Passport Control’ to a series of themed ‘Departure Gates’ exploring reasons and motivations for leaving, finishing in an interactive ‘Baggage Reclaim’ hall in which visitors are invited to share their thoughts on the complex legacies of British emigration.
Departures opens at the Migration Museum (Lewisham Shopping Centre, Molesworth Street, London SE13 7HB) on 30 October 2020 and runs until June 2021.
A virtual launch event hosted by George Alagiah takes place on Thursday 29 October. Speakers include Dr Benson in conversation with journalist Hannah Ajala, discussing the exhibition and why people should think about contemporary British emigration. Registration is free via Eventbrite
Visit www.migrationmuseum.org for more information on Departures and other exhibitions
Visit brexitbritsabroad.org for more information on work led by Dr Benson