selma banich and Marijana Hameršak in collaboration with the Women to Women collective
Dedicated to our fallen comrades
The Passage Memorial is a collection of 36 memorial portraits that form a monument on the move dedicated to those who have died at the borders and in the name of borders. By commemorating the lives of the people who have died on the migrant trail in the Balkans, whose lives were taken by the relentless European death regime, we call for an act of excavation, paving the way for individual and collective healing, a passage from the normalization of border tragedies to communal learning, empowerment, and care.
The portraits were handcrafted with red and black thread on a botanically dyed fabric by artists, researchers, translators, and other members and supporters of the Women to Women Collective and ERIM – The European Irregularized Migration Regime at the Periphery of the EU: from Ethnography to Keywords research project, during a series of art and research workshops held in Zagreb, from Winter 2020, to Spring 2021.
The artistic, commemorative, and decolonial practice of The Passage Memorial represents a continuation of previous fierce collaborations, intertwining textile artwork They Can’t Kill Us All – Love & Rage crafted for the International Women’s Day and the Memorial Page launched by Transbalkan Solidarity in the summer of 2020, and is based on the ethnographic fieldwork conducted within ERIM.
As formulated by Maurice Stierl, counter-memorialization is a practice based on the “merging of grief for particular and general losses with a radical critique of the European border regime” (2016: 184).
In the summer and autumn of 2020, ERIM researchers and associates conducted a series of ethnographic visits to the Karlovac County, a central Croatian region bordering Slovenia to the northwest, and Bosnia and Herzegovina to the southeast. This region, due to its geographical position, quickly became one of the most frequent and deadliest clandestine passages from Bosnia and Herzegovina to the EU.
The ERIM fieldwork was focused on the migrants’ postmortem itineraries, visits to local cemeteries and places of border deaths, as well as the interviews with different actors about their engagements, practices, and protocols related to the people who died on their way to Europe.
Anonymous wooden obelisks scattered across the country that emerged during the research were revealed as symbols of the individuals’ tragic death and losses, as well as of the brutalities of the border regime that routinely produces deaths.
A postmortem itinerary or postmortal migrant journey are the practices of notifying, identifying, burying, mourning, commemorating and representing various material and immaterial dimensions of border deaths (cf. Kobelinsky 2020).
Border deaths or migrant deaths “describe the premature deaths of persons whose movement or presence has been unauthorized and irregularized as they navigate or interact with state-made boundaries” (Last 2020: 21). A narrow definition includes only those deaths that occur during the border crossing (at the borderline) or the transit from one country to another, while more contextual definitions include deaths that can be in any way related to any material or immaterial state-made boundaries in any space and/or at any time. The definition also varies depending on who is included in dead – people whose bodies are found, persons who are missing, disappeared or who are believed to be dead (e.g., because they disappeared during a shipwreck), etc.
Normalization of Border Deaths
Normalization of border deaths is the mirror process of a-normalization, exceptionalization of migration. “Even when border deaths appear (or are presented) as ‘natural or ‘accidental,’ they are in fact the result of the structural violence of migration policies” (Cuttitta 2020: p. 11). Paolo Cuttitta (2020: p. 12) highlights that presenting border deaths as accidental, or as a result of nature, criminal activities, or of the irresponsible action of migrants, means diverting the attention from these deaths’ roots in migration and border policies.
Digital Memory Objects
Digital memory objects or digital shrines have the function of archiving, documenting, sharing, mourning and grieving. They rematerialize and initiate commemorative practices and have the ability to create and maintain social, human relationships, bring people together, etc.
A meditative walk on a sunny autumn day along the Sava river bank and in the Jelenovac forest park proved to be ideal for gathering plants — fallen leaves and petals — and wooden sticks covered with moss for our botanical printing workshop.
Shortly after arriving at the Živi Atelje DK, our memorable autumn walk was wrapped in bundles of fragrant cotton fabric. Our desire to bring back to life what was lost — the remains of what had once been alive — was wrapped in colorful bundles, resembling human hearts.
After long hours of simmering, unwrapping the steamed bundles made our faces radiant — resembling the faces of children. Hope, excitement, and joy were deeply woven into our pieces of fabric, which were soon to be embroidered with the contours of the faces belonging to people who are no longer with us.
To some, our botanically dyed fabrics with embroidered portraits will evoke resilient landscapes and perilous terrains that some of us had to traverse to get to where we are now. To others, they might evoke a sense of deep connection to nature and appreciation of this wondrous planet we inhabit. To us, they convey a message of hope and solidarity with those who are no longer with us.
By commemorating their lives, we embrace a world without violence, in all its unrestrained forms and borderless landscapes. By practicing weaving as an act of collective remembering, we embrace both the tame and tender surfaces, and the power of the mordant. We embrace the passage — the flow from a fading autumn leaf to an early spring sprout, from a pale botanical imprint, to a memorial.
By mourning the dead together — those who have been marked as expendable, undesirable, and even worthless — with this act of collective resilience, woven with a simple needle and thread, we condemn the past and present of fascism and stand by today’s planetary struggles for a more just and caring world.
Artistic collective: Ana Dana, Chandrelle Salamiat-Malonga, Cyrille, Ena, Eva, Fatma, Iva, Ivna, Jasenka, Josipa, Kiana, Kimia, Lija, Madina, Marijana, Melike, Mojca, Nibal, Romana, Safaa, Samaneh, Saghar, Sara, selma and Yazdan
Arabic and English translation: Nibal Alhallak
Persian and Croatian translation: Yazdan Fayyaz
Drawings: Ena Jurov
Photos and scans: selma banich
Video: Sara Salamon
Sound: Ivna Jurković
Field recording: Adam Semijalac
Exhibition design: Ana Dana Beroš
Light design: Bojan Gagić
Construction: Mauro Sirotnjak
Words and notes: selma banich and Marijana Hameršak
Proofreading: Iva Masters and Juraj Šutej
Graphic design: Ena Jurov
Devised and curated by selma banich in collaboration with Marijana Hameršak.
This project was made in collaboration with the Women to Women collective, and was organized in partnership with Marijana Hameršak from IEF/ERIM, Tea Vidović from CPS and Cyrille Cartier from Živi Atelje DK.
This project was made possible with funding support from the Croatian Science Foundation research project ERIM – The European Irregularized Migration Regime in the Periphery of the EU: from Ethnography to Keywords (IP-2019-04-6642), the European Union’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund – project BRIDGES (Centre for Peace Studies) and the Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Croatia.
We would like to express our gratitude to Sendy Osmičević from ZMAG’s Community Seed Bank for the education provided and generous support in launching our feminist transmigrant seed bank in the making.
We would also like to express our gratitude to Asia Krstulović and Suzana Erbežnik.
Cuttitta, Paolo. 2020. “Preface. The Increasing Focus on Border Deaths.” In Border Deaths. Causes, Dynamics and Consequences of Migration-related Mortality. Paolo Cuttitta and Tamara Last, eds. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 9-20. ERIM Keywords (2021, draft version).
Horsti, Karina. 2019. “Digital Materialities in the Diasporic Mourning of Migrant Death.” European Journal of Communication 34(6): 671-681. ERIM Keywords (2021, draft version).
Kobelinsky, Carolina. 2020. “On Border Deaths Management and Ungrievability”. ERIM Keywords (2021, draft version).
Last, Tamara. 2020. “Introduction. A State-of-the-Art Exposition on Border Deaths.” In Border Deaths. Causes, Dynamics and Consequences of Migration-related Mortality. Paolo Cuttitta and Tamara Last eds. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 21-33. ERIM Keywords (2021, draft version).
Stierl, Maurice. 2016. “Contestations in Death. The Role of Grief in Migration Struggles.” Citizenship Studies 20(2): 173-191. ERIM Keywords (2021, draft version).
 The Women to Women collective brings together women who want Croatia to become home with women for whom Croatia is already home. They come together through engaged art, to improve well-being, to empower and facilitate the integration of all women into an ever-evolving community. Since 2016, the Women to Women collective has been a key No Borders program at Živi Atelje DK. Through workshops, gatherings, excursions and public engagements, this project empowers participants socially, therapeutically and economically through skills learned. Women build a support network and shared values of mutual understanding, tolerance and embracing of diversity.
 Research project The European Irregularized Migration Regime at the Periphery of the EU: from Ethnography to Keywords (ERIM) strives to document and analyse irregularized migrations in the transnational space formed by migratory movements that in various directions cross borders between Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia etc.. Based on the multi-sited ethnographic research (observation, participation, interviews and other methods),associates from Croatia, Slovenia and Serbia, in the framework of ERIM, aim to encompass the levels and experiences of different agents: from refugees and other migrants, to members of local communities, and employees and representatives of local authorities, from international and other organizations. ERIM distances itself from the notion that the migration regime is a signifier of the abstract and monolithic power of the state. Instead, ERIM approaches the irregularized migration regime as a dynamic field of heterogeneous and even opposed practices and interactions of various actors that are articulated in specific ways on the peripheries of the EU.
The goal of the project is to document and explore these specifics on multiple levels and to offer their empirically based and theoretically relevant conceptualizations. The project’s expected outcomes (primarily, the keywords collection, i.e. a network of ethnographically documented and analytically elaborated concepts within the individual research papers, project publications, and the e-ERIM multimedia internet platform) are to contribute to a deeper understanding of the contradictions and potentials of the concept of migration regime and irregularized migration movements, in the academic but also the broader social sphere.
 Any substance used to facilitate the fixing of a dye to a fibre; usually a metallic compound which reacts with the dye using chelation.