Leiden University, Faculty of Humanities
By surrounding ourselves with things, we humans have found a way to come to terms with life. The things we relate to are able to tell stories about ourselves that we sometimes do not know how to tell. We cherish memories by holding on to heirlooms, we bury valuables in our backyard or burn gifts given by a hurtful ex; we keep photos of loved ones in an album stored in the attic, we display children’s drawings on the refrigerator. We can pass things on from generation to generation, or choose to let go of objects. But what if you are forced to leave everything you have behind, from one moment to another?
This is the daily reality for many people who suddenly have to abandon their homes, families and belongings for their own safety. This zone tells the stories of individuals who have lived this reality and have sought refuge in and around Leiden. How do you cope with being forced to leave behind the people and things dear to you? What do you take with you when fleeing your hometown in the spur of the moment? How do you make a new home for yourself if all you have are the clothes you wear, the memories from the past, and a cutlery set from the refugee center? The stories of these individuals help to understand what it means to abandon everything, to live in exile and to start anew. They also help us understand that the material life that was left behind can still affect someone when building up a new life far from home. Although many of these individuals have started to feel a bond with the city of Leiden, the things from home that are not physically present anymore often play a role in their lives that newly acquired objects cannot play.
As these individuals have shared their personal stories with us, letting us experience the materiality of their past and present lives and disclosing some of their trauma, we as student interviewers have been moved to the bone. Entering this project, we would have never imagined how a formal interview could turn into such an enriching experience. It is something truly special to be entrusted with the stories that these individuals wanted to make public, and it is our hope that by diving into this zone, you will understand why.