Support the EAC’s 10th Anniversary Project, Saudade
Saudade . . . it’s a word the Portuguese use to describe longing for something absent and beloved. For the people whose stories are recorded in the Expatriate Archive Centre (EAC), often that absent and beloved thing is home. This year we celebrate ten years of collecting private letters, diaries, photographs, and other treasures from people who temporarily move to a country not their own, whether for work, study, love, or any other reason. The stories of these people are full of adventure, homesickness, ingenuity and interesting little moments of everyday life abroad.
The Goal of Saudade
Usually the people who use our material are researchers writing for an academic audience. But we wanted to find a way to bring the wonderful stories in the archive to a wider audience. So to celebrate our tenth anniversary, we have invited ten artists to take a fresh look at the archive and use archival material as inspiration for their art.
Where do our artists come from?
Five of the artists live in The Hague, the international Dutch city where the EAC makes its home, although they originally come from countries as far afield as Scotland and Japan.
The other five live abroad, and some have come from as far as Italy or California to see the material in the EAC.
Over the past year and a half, the artists have been acquainting themselves with their chosen archival pieces, interviewing the people who donated the material, and then working to create their art.
The artists are working in a wide variety of media, including sculpture, photography, performance, printing, painting, and more.
Why the Suitcase?
All ten art pieces must fit into The Suitcase, an antique piece of luggage that traveled the world with Judy Moody-Stuart, one of the EAC’s founders, crossing oceans, deserts, and bumpy roads as she moved from place to place.
In her own words,
“The Suitcase amongst other packages belonging to our 5 passengers on top of our Toyota landcruiser next to a route-marker barrel (bidon) and post in the middle of a northwards 12-day gravel route (Nigeria – Niger – Algeria) Saharan crossing. We were travelling alone, on gravel and sand, navigating from one bidon to the next; the standard safety-precaution in the eighties was not to leave one bidon until you could clearly get a bearing onto the next bidon.
. . . I think that you can make out The Suitcase lashed onto the back of the roof-rack – so that it could be reached by standing on the back bumper. Early on in Northern Nigeria we had got caught in a tropical downpour, and the suitcase had been unnoticedly lying in a puddle of water for days, which is how it acquired its corrugated bottom as the paper-composite dried out.”
While she was living in The Hague in the 1990s, Judy found another use for her old suitcase – to store material that documented experiences of living abroad collected from expat families worldwide.
A Little Bit of History
Judy and a few other women started collecting these life stories, which they published in two anthologies, Life on the move and Life Now. These books were followed ten years later by a third, more scholarly anthology, The Source Book.
After the publication of the books, they started an archive to preserve the material, and began collecting more stories from expats all over the world. Over the years, the suitcase has become a kind of mascot for the archive.
This iconic suitcase is the perfect home for the beautiful art the artists are creating. All ten pieces are designed to perfectly fit within the suitcase, providing a symbol of the many journeys taken by the materials in the archive, as well as their expat creators. These art objects and the suitcase that contains them are reminders of the precious things–both tangible and intangible–that expats take with them when they move to a new place.
The Saudade Book
As a companion to the Saudade project, we are creating a beautiful book documenting the artistic journeys of the artists.
As well as photos of the art pieces and the archival material that inspired them, the book will contain interviews with the artists about the sometimes intimate ways in which they came to know the people whose archival collections they studied.
To find out more about the Saudade project and read the words of the artists about their individual artistic journeys, visit the Saudade website.
If you would like to help Saudade financially, you can contribute using this information:
Subject Line: 10th Anniversary + your email address
Contributors of €30 or more will receive a complimentary copy of the book.
Thank you to Eran Zoref for the beautiful video!
How will the ‘Digital Age’ affect future perceptions of the now?
My experiences so far working at the EAC have led me to examine an array of fascinating stories detailing the lives of families and individuals living and working abroad. A large proportion of these stories come from handwritten diaries, photographs, and written correspondence, produced before the boom of the digital age. This led me to think about how archivists in the future will look back at our time through our eyes. I question whether the loss of this older form of diary-keeping and correspondence to the new digital replacements such Twitter and Facebook will distort the true vision of our time for those looking back from the future.
An example of the type of collections that I’ve been working with, which perfectly encapsulates a piece of history through the record producer’s eyes, is the personal accounts of life during the Second World War of a husband and wife. The wife writes of life under German occupation in the Netherlands through personal letters, whilst the husband details his life whilst imprisoned in a Japanese P.O.W. camp through an extensive personal diary compiled upon his release and freedom. Together these two personal accounts of history serve as hugely significant and useful evidence for historians looking at these aspects of the Second World War. Without them we may have never known what life was truly like within this particular P.O.W. camp, or how the German invasion of the Netherlands affected the mentalities of persons living in that specific area of the country.
Personal diaries, journals and correspondence, which were for many years by far the most popular ways for individuals to document their own lives, are what most archives are built on. The rise of websites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have largely replaced these methods of personal documentation. It is only natural to wonder how this transition will transform archives. Yes, it is true that these developments bring forward advantages, such as increased documentation of personal lives. However, they will simultaneously force a certain loss of useful information through their informality and high frequency. Most users of social media are not even aware that they are producing their own personal archival collection. Individuals do not consider what they are posting in ‘tweets’ and Facebook posts as much as they would when formulating a diary entry. The same is true for daily correspondence; personally written letters, which in the past have provided archivists and historians with a goldmine of information, were carefully formulated and thought-out pieces of work. The same cannot be said for most correspondence written and sent within Facebook or Twitter’s ‘Direct Message’ feature. The question, then, is whether we should value quantity over quality.
I can only wonder how my perception of the stories told by this husband and wife would have drastically altered if they were represented in the form of social media. Perhaps this is in part due to my own biases rather than the form that the records take. In any case, the developments of the ‘digital age’ have posed new questions to both historians and archivists, necessitating change in our perceptions and biases.
If there is one lesson to be learnt from this, it is that we must truly appreciate the opportunity to work with these physical pieces of history, which to the individuals that produced them may symbolize their entire world.
Written by Alex (Intern at the EAC from October 2017 to April 2018)
An Outsider’s Insider Perspective
Aside from their own personal and professional life, expats also write down their observations of the foreign countries they are residing in. This way, they provide an interesting outsider’s perspective on the local politico-economic situation and culture. But perhaps this is not the best way to describe their accounts. After all, most of them have spent multiple years in the same location. This has allowed them, if they were willing to learn of course, to acquire some understanding of the local circumstances. Studying their descriptions can therefore help to enhance our knowledge of the world outside our own neighbourhood. This might even prove useful for grandstanding schemes like developing policies.
One of the EAC’s documents illustrates how an in-depth knowledge of the local situation is necessary to coordinate, for example, the delivery of aid to another nation. This is a report written by a Dutch cultural anthropologist, about the situation in Bangladesh in the 1970s. This woman’s work had brought her to a small Bangladeshi village, where she lived among the local population in order to make observations. Her frequent contacts with them led her to amass an impressive amount of knowledge on their customs, society and culture. When the Bangladesh War of Independence eventually forced her to leave the country in the early 1970s, she continued to observe the developments concerning the newly created nation.
Four years after Bangladesh became independent, she wrote this report, to reflect on the country’s condition. Unfortunately, she painted a very grim picture of the situation. Both the natural disasters and the subsequent war of independence had ravaged the country. Furthermore, reconstruction was slow to follow, with not a single new factory opened or industry created in the last four years. In the same period, the prices increased six-fold. Unsurprisingly, this resulted in widespread poverty, with much of the population losing access to even the most basic needs. When news of Bangladesh’s predicament reached the rest of the world, it caused a massive increase in foreign aid allocated to the region.
In this same report, however, our expat was highly critical of the attempts by the western world to improve the country’s situation. She characterised the aid as dysfunctional and ill-adjusted to the local situation. According to her, most of the aid was so-called ‘emergency aid,’ which is aimed at solving an immediate crisis, mostly by handing out goods like food and medicine. Her critique was not only that the distribution of goods was almost exclusively focused on a small area around the capital (thus ignoring a large part of the population), but also that help of this kind did little to improve Bangladesh’s situation on the long term.
The reason for the second point of critique had everything to do with the local situation. In their eagerness to help, as the author claimed, the donors had flooded some of the poorest sections of the population with food and medicine which were unavailable even to the Bangladeshi upper classes. While seemingly a generous gesture, in fact it caused damage to the recovery of the country on the long-term. This is because it gave those affected by the aid little incentive to change their situation. After all, they were now receiving goods for free, of a higher quality than they could ever aspire to obtain on their own. Moreover, the seemingly random preference for certain sections of the capital’s poorest had alienated much of the country’s establishment, which now showed little interest in other developmental projects. The author therefore concluded that the emergency aid was actually slowing down developments on the long term, without really solving the problems on the short term.
With some insight in the local structures and economic situation, a dysfunctional situation like this could probably have been prevented. If this report is correct, the western donor nations’ actions contributed little to a sustainable solution, despite their best intentions. Studying others’ accounts of foreign locations may thus even have its benefits outside of an academic environment. Continuing to enhance our knowledge of the rest of the world is therefore of critical importance. Doing this might even help us to prevent debacles like this.
Written by: Jasper (Intern at the EAC from May to October 2017)