Artist Juan delGado: It’s important to make room for narratives of displacement that differ from those in the media

Artist Juan delGado: It’s important to make room for narratives of displacement that differ from those in the media

Juan delGado’s episodic film, In the Shadow of the Midnight Sun, presents 11 vignettes of life in the Arctic Circle. We spoke to Juan about the film and his collaboration with communities north of the Arctic Circle. 


How did In the Shadow of the Midnight Sun come about? 

In the Shadow of the Midnight Sun is part two of a trilogy called Drifting Narratives. I’d been talking to the Swedish-Syrian writer Khaled Alesmael about his experience of seeking asylum in Sweden and the impact it had had on his mental health. Then someone told me about Abisko, a small town in the north of Sweden, where more than 600 asylum seekers had been placed in temporary accommodation. I also heard about the plans to move Kiruna, an entire town, about 3 kilometres east at the behest of a mining company. 

I decided to visit Kiruna, where I met displaced persons from all over. Strikingly, some of the asylum seekers from Congo were also displaced owing to the violent clashes created by mining in their communities. This began to shape a story that I felt was there: this idea of the city being moved and displaced really resonated with me.


How did the idea develop as you were making the film?

Meeting people across the region allowed me to get an understanding of the reality on the ground and negotiate what stories this project told. In my methodology I try not to impose preliminary ideas on the project but to let them flow.

In Kiruna, I met locals and newcomers, all with different perceptions and needs. I wanted to start filming straight away but that wasn’t possible because people needed to first understand the purpose of me being there. The sense of place is very important in the project and informs what the story will be about. 


This project was part of the Finnish Institute’s open call for projects that explored borders and freedom of movement. How did this project inform the way you think about these themes? 

When I was in Sápmi I realised there were a lot of similarities between things that apparently seem detached from one another. As I became familiar with communities in Sápmi I learned about the Sámi struggle to preserve their cultural identity and land rights. I had no idea about the colonising processes that the Sámi had been subjected to for generations in Norway, Sweden and Finland. I started to see why some people were reluctant to establish relationships with somebody from outside the community especially in 2017 when Kiruna and the whole area of Norrbotten was under increasing interest from the international media. 


Could you tell us about the episodic structure of the film and what connects the stories? 

All the episodes that are available on the website consist of footage that I recorded as part of my research. The pandemic put the production on hold. In the uncertainty of when I was going to be able to finalise the production, I decided to go ahead with what I had. I invited eight editors to work remotely and use the footage I never thought I’d use. For several weeks, an international team of editors worked on their episodes in collaboration with the music composer. It was a successful remote collaboration, everyone was happy to be given a creative license to assemble different scenes. 


Are you happy with the final product? 

I am. We don’t know when we’ll be returning to some kind of normality, so adapting to the new virtual environment was the only option to carry on. What is important at this stage is to reflect on and confront current limitations, I hope it’ll give people an understanding of what it’s like to be displaced or not be allowed to move. Overall, I didn’t want to wait until 2022 to finalise the film. Considering the original idea, I can say that it [In the Shadow of the Midnight Sun] is still an unfinished project. 


What does the future hold for the Drifting Narratives trilogy? 

I’m currently developing web-based alternatives. My next step is to develop a more collaborative creative strategy, particularly with young people. I continue my dialogue with young people, particularly with the Arctic Youth Network and the Saharawi, a community that has been living in the middle of the desert on the Algerian border. It’s becoming more and more important to make room for narratives of displacement that differ from those in the media.


Juan will be discussing his project as part of the British Museum’s Hidden/revealed online event series on Friday 5th February at 1pm, register here

Watch In the Shadow of the Midnight Sun here


Image: Patricio Burbano

Text: Volter Rechardt

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