Anissa Michalon

Since 10 years, the French artist Anissa Michalon has accompanied migrants from Mali in a foyer (a guest worker dormitory) located in a Paris suburb. Within this framework, she also looked for the migrants families in their village in the Kayes region near the border between Mali and Senegal, as well as in Bamako where some relatives live. In this way, she examined through pictures and interviews the hopes and motivations, the effects and consequences of the migration process for the migrants, their families and the respective living spaces.

The artist patiently feels her way to the narratives of the inhabitants of the foyer, seeks encounters that preserve dignity, makes friends, and creates visual biographies. Close up and personal, but at the same time with a validity transcending the individual fate, she is looking for the beautiful image within the tradition of the fine Arts. Her photos document the foyers both as places of a real solidarity and the migration as an opportunity to autonomize oneself and to gain freedom. They are testimony to a self-determined way of dealing with the situation that is forgotten in many discourses about migration. Her photos document the foyers as places of solidarity, but the kind of protection they offer can also be alienating and limit the possibilities to become independent and to gain freedom from family ties, which is also one of the aims of migration.

The anthropologist Aïssatou Mbodj, Michalon’s collaboration partner within the ISOE project, devotes her research to the planned upgrading of a foyer in northeastern Paris, which she and Michalon take as the basis for the work they have conducted for the ISOE exhibition. In the framework of this restructuring process, the jointly used rooms as well as the collective kitchens are now to be subdivided, which marks a massive intervention in the grown social structures of this community and which will ultimately make collective living here more difficult. Michalon’s series A Long Way Home is a photographic homage to the work of memory, migration history, and solidarity of several generations of West African migrant workers who have never defined the foyers as their home, but have nevertheless inscribed themselves as Parisians in the history of the city.
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Installationview Photo by (c) Mike Terry


Anissa Michalon, born in 1977, lives and works in Brussels and Paris. She graduated from the National School of Photography in Arles and the National School of Fine Arts in Paris. In 2004, she started a photographic work, together with Claire Soton, on the migration of Soninke Malians in France, in collaboration with some residents of a foyer. Laureates of the Villa Médicis Hors Les Murs program in 2006 and granted by the French Ambassy in Mali, they have stayed for long periods between 2005 and 2009 in Mali with the families of migrants they have met in Montreuil. Their work has been exhibited several times in both France and Mali, and is living on through an exhibition at the art center Le Point du Jour (Cherbourg, February 2014). Furthermore, Arno Bertina, a French writer, wrote a dramatic novel based on Anissa Michalon’s pictures of a young Malian immigrant. “Numéro d’écrou 362573,” published in March 2013 by Editions du Bec en l’air (Marseille), brings together his novel and her photographs.