Iman Tajik: 'Art has the power to build and transform social relations and to advocate for equality and justice'

Iranian artist and photographer talks about his Bordered Miles project with Claudia Zeiske, director of Huntly-based Deveron Projects, and Nora-Swantje Almes, assistant curator of Glasgow International

Nora-Swantje Almes: Iman, your project for Gi2020 – Bordered Miles – investigates and raises attention to the notion of borders through an activist mass performance walk with site installations between Glasgow City and Dungavel, an exhibition and a talk event at Civic House. Can you tell us more about the urgency of this project and your personal motivation?

Iman Tajik: The notion of borders has changed through history but often they are used as tools for political power and capital control. Today's politics feature rising extreme anti-immigrant sentiment which affects our societies. Also, climate change will affect land and people, leading to more refugees in future. We need to think about these circumstances and prepare ourselves to welcome each other, rather than making immigration detention centres. To me, they are immigration prisons. My motivation for this work came from my own personal experience as a refugee, when I was held in immigration detention at the Dungavel Removal Centre in 2012.

N-SA: Claudia and you have been working together on this project: movement and walking has been central to both of your practices. How did your collaboration develop?

IT: Movement is a recurring subject matter in my life and in my art. But it has always been difficult for me as I didn't have that experience of free movement in the world, even where I was born. After being advised to apply for Glasgow International, I approached Claudia from Deveron Projects for support. Claudia's artistic work centres on walking. One of her works, A secular pilgrimage into the meaning of home, responding to Brexit, was a walk from her childhood home where her mother still lives. I see the parallels in our work. Following some conversations, we decided to collaborate. Also, Deveron Projects runs a Slow Marathon programme …

Claudia Zeiske: Yes, Slow Marathon is Deveron Projects' annual 42km themed walking event. It began in 2012 with Ethiopian artist Mihret Kebede who attempted to walk from her home town in Ethiopia to Huntly. The walk was abandoned as visa restrictions, border controls and deserts got in the way. Instead, the total 5850 miles distance was walked with many people to reach the distance metaphorically. Since then we have led many walking projects that deal with border restrictions.

N-SA: In today's political climate, it feels very vital to provide a public forum to talk about geographical borders as well as socio-political barriers. What do you hope for people to experience through participating in the mass walk?

IT: People will experience the movement from A to B not only as individuals, but also as groups. We will be passing many invisible borders – some marked by site-specific installations. I hope the participants will recognise how we are surrounded by borders, created by fabricated and political ideas. They don't have a strong impact and are not physical borders yet, but they might become one day. Eventually, we will arrive at the Dungavel Immigrant Detention Centre, which exists because there is a conflict between human movement and geographic borders.

N-SA: Why did you think of GI as a frame for the project and are there ideas on how to give this project an after-life beyond the festival?

IT: GI is an international art platform, where people can have conversations about art, politics and social issues. Art has the power to build and transform social relations and to advocate for equality and justice. This is what we want to do with Bordered Miles – bring attention to the injustice of the system, responding to Gi2020's theme. We hope to also set up a website and make the map available, so people can walk the route individually after the festival.

Bordered Miles, Civic House, Glasgow, Fri 24 Apr–Sun 10 May.

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