Workshop Sheds Light on the Arbitrariness of Citizenship
When artist and researcher Tintin Wulia undertakes a project or a performance, it’s often about borders – geographical, social and political borders. She is currently contributing to the International Science Festival with the recurring workshop Make Your Own Passport.
The first time Make Your Own Passport was held was 2014 in Detroit, USA and neighbouring Windsor, Canada. The two cities are in different countries but separated only by a river. It’s an appropriate place for a conversation about migration, citizenship and national identity. Since then, the workshop has been given in a series of different cities around the world.
“These are questions that are relevant for all of us, particularly considering the current state of the world,” says Tintin Wulia. “We live under differing conditions. Some have rights, others don’t. Citizenship is not something we have full control over; it’s something we can lose suddenly.”
The organisation of the workshop is always the same. The participants get to make their own passports and travel documents, but don’t get to choose which citizenship they get. Some are even left stateless. It’s all left to chance. That’s just how it is in reality, says Wulia. “None of us chooses what country we’re born in. Maybe our parents have chosen, but we haven’t,” she says.
Objects Associated with Borders
Tintin Wulia is in many ways a citizen of the world. She was born in Indonesia, considers Australia home, but has been living in Great Britain since November 2021. She came to Gothenburg four years ago as a post-doctoral researcher in design, craft and society at the Centre on Global Migration (CGM).
Earlier this year Tintin Wulia received a grant of 15 million SEK from the European Research Council (ERC) for an interdisciplinary research project on how aesthetic objects lead to socio-political change. The grant is one of the largest and most prestigious grants a researcher can get early in her career.
She has long worked, both as a researcher and as an artist, with issues about borders and what they mean for us people. Specifically, Wulia is interested in the iconic objects that are associated with border areas – like passports, but also maps and walls.
She notes that there is a deeply personal reason for her focus on this theme. It begins with her own experiences growing up in a family that was defined by the Indonesian government of the time as Chinese-Indonesian.
“Chinese Indonesians were a discriminated group,” she Wulia. “We always had a suitcase at home that was packed with our birth certificates and identification papers and ready to go. That bag was the most important thing in the house. That was the first thing we were supposed to save in case of a fire.”
Wants to Reach a Wide Audience
When a Make Your Own Passport workshop is held, Tintin Wulia always gets help from a large number of people, from students to volunteer organisations. Often a network is formed that lives on after she has left the place.
There is one such network in Gothenburg. Make Your Own Passport has been held here previously, including during the International Science Festival of 2019. One of the people who were involved then is Catherine Gillo Nilsson, Coordinator for Student and Educational Support at the University of Gothenburg. This time she is the one who has taken the initiative to joining the International Science Festival of 2022.
“My job at the university includes broadening our recruiting of students to the university,” says Nilsson. “Not everyone has a relationship to higher education or knows someone who’s studying, so one of our strategies is to be visible in society. As we do with the workshop.”
Reaching a wide audience is also the idea behind holding the workshop in the Nordstan shopping mall. People come there from different backgrounds and from different parts of Gothenburg. Wulia says that, as a newcomer to Gothenburg, she often heard how segregated the city is. Many people said that all you had to do to see it was to take the tram from the end station to another one.
“That’s why Nordstan is such a perfect site for it, right in between different parts of Gothenburg,” she says. “Also I usually want to be in a shopping centre or similar place in order to engage a mix of people, as much variety as possible. We want to bring people together and get them to share experiences with one another.”
Postponed Due to the Pandemic
Sally Windsor, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Education, is another person in the Gothenburg network. She leads a group of international graduate students who will be serving as facilitators during the workshop and will be available to assist the participants.
“I want them to be able to see that learning can happen even outside the realm of school,” says Windsor. “Make Your Own Passport is a good example of an educational experience that is based on both society and the participants.”
Actually the workshop was supposed to have returned to the Gothenburg International Science Festival back in 2020. But although most of the planning had been completed, it all got postponed due to the pandemic. Instead, Tintin Wulia had to hurry and pack her bag quickly in order to get to Australia before it became impossible to travel.
“During the pandemic year, it wasn’t possible to hold Make Your Own Passport,” she says. “The workshop we’re doing now at the Science Festival is the first one since December 2019.”
Text: Camilla Adolfsson
Workshopen Make your own passport genomförs under Vetenskapsfestivalen den 4, 5 och 6 maj klockan 13.00-18.00. Platsen är Nordstan i Göteborg. Öppet för alla. Ingen föranmälan.