Seminar 4 coordinator: U-M Professor Kristin Dickinson (Germanic Languages and Literatures)
This seminar is organized around a photojournalism exhibit, Visualizing Translation: Homeland and Heimat in Detroit and Dortmund (October 4 – November 30, 2021 in the downtown branch of the Ann Arbor District Library, third floor gallery; free and open to the public).
Cities such as Dortmund in Germany’s Ruhr-Rhine Region have often been compared to Detroit due to their single-industry economies, postindustrial landscapes, and high levels of per-capita debt. Articles in the New York Times and The Guardian hold up Detroit as an all-encompassing symbol of failure, or an example of what the Ruhr Region should seek to avoid for itself.
The photography exhibit “Homeland and Heimat in Detroit and Dortmund” forges a more meaningful kind of comparison between these two cities. Moving away from images of ruin and devastation, it brings together the work of photojournalists Theon Delgado Sr. and Peyman Azhari to call attention to heterogeneity and multilinguality as positive points of comparison between Southwest Detroit and northern Dortmund.
USE THIS LINK to preview exhibit
USE THIS LINK for information about virtual panel discussion on October 9
Join us on Saturday, October 9 at 2pm for a virtual panel discussion, moderated by Kristin Dickinson and Alan Chin (Columbia Journalism School, photographer, and co-founder of Facing Change: Documenting Detroit) to launch the exhibit. The panel will engage artists Theon Delgado Sr. (Southwest Detroit) and Peyman Azhari (Cologne, Germany) in conversation about their work.
The exhibit showcases photographs from Delgado’s collection 3 Miles Thru Southwest, which highlights the diversity of Detroit’s vibrant Mexicantown. These will be displayed alongside images from Azhari’s Heimat 132, which documents residents of 132 different nationalities living in the northern district of Dortmund. Shedding light on each neighborhood’s histories of migration, the exhibit offers an intimate look at immigrant-owned businesses; multilingual signage; and striking images of graffiti, street art, and other forms of visual creative expression.
At the center of the exhibit is a series of portraits accompanied by brief narratives of home and migration, which visitors may listen to in English, Spanish, or German via QR codes. In addition to detailing the complex and often perilous routes that brought many residents to southwest Detroit and northern Dortmund, these narratives also grapple with two key terms: Heimat and homeland. Through their multilingual narratives, residents subject these terms to processes of travel and translation that challenge the exclusionary modes of belonging they have historically invoked.
Overall, this exhibit challenges common stereotypes of the Midwest as either a fly-over zone, or as a nostalgically framed rural heartland that is understood to be racially and ethnically homogenous. By challenging the myth that Detroit’s economic and racial disparities are distinct from the rest of the world, it encourages visitors to think about midwestern neighborhoods such as Mexicantown in a transnational context. At the same time, it may inspire visitors to consider their own—or their families’—histories of migration, as well as the diverse forms of migration and multilingualism that have shaped their local communities.
In addition to the exhibit in downtown Ann Arbor, a public art display in Southwest Detroit is also in the planning! Stay tuned for more information and an opening date.