Undercurrents is a research platform which aims to question the relation between historic and present-day instances of movement such as colonialism, trade and migration, as well as the infra-structure and significance of mobility within the cultural field.

Our present is defined by movement. Not only because of the increasing speed and ease with which we are able to travel both online and off, but also by the harrowing fact that according to recent research by the UN there are currently more ‘forcibly displaced people worldwide’ than ever before in history.[1] In the last few years, more than a question of movement or the regulation thereof, this so-called ‘refugee crisis’ ‘has become a debate about Europe’s identity, its relationship to those from outside its borders, and its ability to comprehend the current crisis as the political and humanitarian consequence of nation states imposing their will on others.’[2]

This current crisis cannot be seen independently from the history of colonialism that set the stage for the global hierarchies and relations of power that persist to this day, and with which all levels of our society are infused. Our museums of art and ethnography are not in the least excluded from this. The latter in particular containing collections of ‘objects in exile’ with an ambiguous state and relation to their homeland. But also the world of visual art is made up by the trajectories of the past. These routes still define what we call the ‘West’, and continue to define the system in which art operates. Within this system, mobility is capital. However, similar to other elements of globalisation, access to this system made-up out of biennales, triennials and artist-in-residencies, is for the most part limited to the fortunate few.

At a time when the dubious legacy of colonialism is all around us, the trajectories of the past are there to remind us to continue to ask questions about our present.

Irene de Craen


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[1]  UNHCR. The UN Refugee Agency. ‘Figures at a Glance’ UNHCR. The UN Refugee Agency. 19 June 2017. 17 July 2017 <http://www.unhcr.org/figures-at-a-glance.html>.
[2] ‘Introduction’. In: Subjects and Objects in Exile. L’Internationale, 2017: 5. 21 July 2017 <http://www.internationaleonline.org/media/files/subjectsandobjectsinexile_pdf_def.pdf>. L’Internationale Online: 5.