A French expatriate prods the West with the videotaped testimony of migrant workers
In Chiang Mai, Clemence Barret is profiling migrant workers from Myanmar’s Shan State in a uniquely intense way. She began collaborating on videos with young people she met through Thai Freedom House, and has now completed profiles of several students and staff members at the Burma Study Centre.
Each video features a Shan migrant telling his or her personal and often troubling story, solely through the use of movements and body language rather than words.
“Language is a tough thing for them the minute they arrive,” Barrett says, explaining why she opts for wordless interpretations of their stories.
In an article in the Burma Study Centre News, Barret says that, for the past two years, she’s been work on an “original and powerful” project: a series of installations and videos featuring migrant workers titled “18–12” – the title alluding to International Migrants Day.
Barret says much of the West has become “a big fortress” from which migrants are generally barred. It upsets her that her French homeland is effectively impenetrable to the “marginalised” citizens of the world she’s come to know on her journeys.
Asked what inspired the project, she replies, “I know in some ways what it means to be looked at as somebody different.”
A Parisian, Barret left France six and a half years ago and has been living abroad since. She spent several years in India profiling people and helping them share their stories through photographs, videos and other formats.
Barret focuses on building close, supportive relationships with the migrants, meeting them one on one in a safe, private place until they’re comfortable and then identifying what they would like to share with the world.
Migrants in Thailand are among the world’s most vulnerable and oppressed groups. Migrants from Shan State form the second-largest migrant group in Thailand.
Barret says their stories are important because they come from a country that provides them little opportunity for freedom of expression. Her goal is to discuss that with them – and try to change the circumstances.
“People believe they’re protecting themselves by building up walls, but actually they’re stuck in their xenophobic golden prisons,” she says.
Barret would like to direct the world’s gaze toward these stateless migrants in the hope that more people will understand and empathise. Her innovative work with the Shan migrant workers has the potential to make an impact.
After she’s finished in Chiang Mai, Barret will likely return to India to help more women tell the stories they want to share.
A closer look
You can view some of Barret’s videos at www.ClemenceBarret.com.
Find out more about the Shan immigrants living Thailand at www.BurmaStudy.org.