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Migrating Masses come to Melbourne, Make Art

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Abi Tanti is a hugely successful interactive art exhibition about migration that has been wandering the world for the past 17 years.  Abi Tanti began in Turin, Italy, at its home museum, the Castello De Rivoli.  It has since moved through Italy and across Europe, (including an exhibition at The Louvre in Paris) and is now about to arrive in Melbourne as part of the Arts Learning Festival (May, 2017).

Aimed at schoolkids, families and community groups, Abi Tanti uses small wooden figures to encourage participants to reflect on issues around refugees and migration. The wooden shapes are constructed and decorated by the individual participants then placed into groups.

Festival curator (and Art Education Programs Manager for Independent Schools Victoria), Anne Smith, said that “Each person will create their own figure with a unique identity, and that figure becomes part of a large community.  One outcome is thinking about the inter-reaction of the individual within the larger communal group.

It’s a very layered approach and it is about creation and reaction to the work, and it is about how the group is convened. It’s quite unique in that perspective.”

“[It is] a statement on mass migration and the challenges that [mass migration] represents to communities in crisis around the world.”

The Abi Tanti seems to provide a particularly meaningful experience to kids, but can anyone be a part of it?

 “Certainly it is applicable for wider audience experiences. The workshops are about creating the little figure, but it is done by a family, or a teacher, or a community member. It is really up to the individual and how they are able to inter-react with the process.

It really relates to everybody’s reflection [of migration]. Migration is everybody’s story, and I think it is really about reflection on the people of the world and how they have moved across various lands and territories.

I think that everyone has their own migration story and the workshops really do allow the individual to explore their own individual context; it becomes the catalyst for thinking.”

“The work is prepared using wooden blocks, and the materials are quite carefully selected. The wooden blocks become a common DNA for the project, so as the human species has a common DNA; we are all individuals, and so it is with the Abi Tanti.

“People are able to link and create the separate components in a variety of ways when they are constructed. Different constructions lead to different outcomes, for example, [they might build] a squarer head or a rounded torso, or the headpiece might be of a different nature. Those various combinations begin that individualisation process.

“The decorative process uses recyclable materials for many reasons and there is also the idea of sustainability. Students can consider that when they are decorating.”

What happens to the constructed element of the Abi Tanti once it has been performed?

 “The team at Castello De Rivoli actually take on a custodial relationship with the work, because they have such a strong link to the integrity of the idea of migration.

There is a very strong commitment to the work and it’s concept, and after the workshop has been performed and the installation has taken place, they don’t abandon the figures or leave them without a donation or an adoption process. [In this case] the Immigration Museum will take on a joint custodial relationship to the work. “

The Castello De Rivoli team will perform the Abi Tanti at the Melbourne Immigration Museum. Workshop spaces are available for school groups from the 3rd to the 5th of May, while families and community groups can participate on the weekend from May 6th and 7th.