Skip to main content

Documentality, the Arts and Migrant Rights

Venue: Birkbeck 43 Gordon Square

Book your place

British/Iranian artist Soheila Sokhanvari discusses the act of documentation and how it affects contemporary life, especially for those who become ‘undocumented’ through various legislative means the world over. 

British/Iranian artist, Soheila Sokhanvari will be in conversation with Henghameh Saroukhani (Durham) and Agnes Woolley (Birkbeck) about her artistic engagement with the contemporary political landscape. The event explores the concept of ‘documentality’ through the interdisciplinary and multi-media work of both academics and art-based practitioners. Our starting point is the ways in which the act of documentation constitutes how contemporary life is mediated and lived, especially for those who become ‘undocumented’ through various legislative means the world over.

Soheila Sokhanvari is a British/Iranian artist, born in Shiraz, whose multimedia work cultivates a non-uniform practice, which approaches the contemporary political landscape with a focus on pre-revolutionary Iran of 1979. She is drawn to events and traumas that linger in the collective consciousness or cause mass amnesia. Faced with political events and traumas of contemporary Iranian politics that are impossible to represent, she draws with Iranian crude oil on paper that allows the medium to carry the political message. Her paintings employ the medieval technique of egg tempera on vellum by grinding colour pigments and mixing with egg yolk. She is interested in the practice of magic realism, symbolism and allegory that allows political and social commentary through poetry, metaphor, and subtext. Magic realism being the most useful tool that allows slippage in meaning that resists totalitarian discourses of all kinds. She is presently exhibiting in a solo show Rebel Rebel at Barbican Curve Gallery, that ends on 26th of Feb 2023. she has been selected as one of 22 artists for a public arts commission for Victoria Station, London by the Tate and the London Mayor in 2018. She has exhibited nationally and internationally and is in National and international museums as well as private collections, like LACMA in LA and The New Art Gallery, Walsall.

Henghameh Saroukhani is Assistant Professor in Black British Literature at Durham University. She has published widely on contemporary black British and black Atlantic literature and culture. She is co-editor of a recently published special issue on the late Andrea Levy with the postcolonial journal ARIEL (2022) and a forthcoming special issue on the Windrush scandal with the literary magazine Wasafiri (2023). She is currently working on three book-length projects. The first – near completion – is a monograph on the cosmopolitcs of twenty-first-century black British literature, poetry, and visual culture. The second project is based on her continuing archival work surrounding the landing of the SS Empire Windrush in 1948. This research was recently awarded a Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Insight Development Grant (SSHRC; 2021-2023) and traces a global history of the ship through new materialist approaches. Lastly, she is in the early stages of a co-written book on immigration law, notions of documentality and experimental global migration literatures with Agnes Woolley (Birkbeck).

Agnes Woolley is Lecturer in Transnational Literature and Migration Cultures at Birkbeck, University of London. Her research makes the case nationally and internationally for the emergent, multi-disciplinary field of Critical Migration Studies, focusing on literature, theatre and film. She is the author of Contemporary Asylum Narratives: Representing Refugees in the Twenty-First Century (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014) and has published extensively on asylum, refugee arts, climate change and contemporary literature. Her current research on ‘migrant documentality’, examines how legal, bureaucratic, and legislative texts that determine contemporary migrant life constitute a neglected social ontology. She is a regular blogger on migration issues and works with grassroots refugee organisations in London.

Contact name: