Melissa Henderson

The whole world fits into the giant hall of the old ironworks, near the open hearth and rolling mills. All of the world’s flags fill the air, neatly arranged in alphabetical order. No one is more important than the other. With only one humankind, all people have equal value. A musical rhythm draws your gaze downwards. Towards the white paper on five desks, where stamps are hammering down, at nearly the tempo of a march. We have arrived at the migration office – either one at our own border or maybe a shared office in the future. As the stamps hammer, we see the sea in front of us. The vast water where we flee in fragile boats. Melissa Henderson’s installation, despite its large-scale format, condenses today’s dramatic questions about people fleeing and humankind’s ability – and inability – to create places of refuge. No one wants to leave their home and their place on Earth. On what basis is the decision made to grant – or deny – asylum to those fleeing for their lives? With the border control’s desks and stamps, with doors that remain closed or occasionally open, and with cinematic views of the refugees’ sea and the freedom of the sky, Melissa Henderson presents the reality that exists for the world’s 64 million refugees. All of this is intertwined with a new composition from Anders Vestergård, a percussive piece filled with the sound of stamps, chairs, tables and doors, which closely relates to the movements in the room. Melissa has had the idea for this installation, called PASSEPARTOUT, for several years. With the increasing flow of refugees, and more and more closed borders, the subject has become accentuated. Thanks to the collaboration with Avesta Art’s experienced exhibition technician Hans Nilsson, this extensive art installation has now taken shape. Everything happens under the flags of the world. And the language used on the stamps and in the names of the nations – as in the International Organization for Migration – is French. The officials at the desks stamp the word REJET, REJET, REJET (“DENIED”), and the mood of the music and room is subdued and rigid. Then, as if the officials have suddenly reconsidered, the beating of the stamps fades away. A powerful thunderclap is heard. The entire scene changes pace and tone. The music becomes lilting, filled with positive energy, exalting, almost like in a samba. Now the stamps change to the word PASSE-PARTOUT, a “master key” to pass anywhere. The doors open frequently, and even have their own door-opening solo. The view expands further, from sea to sky, with clouds that signal freedom and new opportunities. On all of the doors the handles are green – green as in go, green as in PASSE-PARTOUT. Melissa Henderson has a lot to say about refugee politics in the European Union, how it relentlessly says no to so many and how it groups people. Because airlines have to pay the return trip for travellers who are refused entry into a European country, they say no to all refugees, forcing them to resort to expensive and dangerous routes with smugglers at sea. It would be safer to investigate their refugee status in places that are closer to war-torn countries, so that their journey can be safely made by airplane instead of in rickety boats on the Mediterranean Sea. Words, art and music can find ways to pass through all borders, despite obstacles and oppression. Melissa Henderson now wants to open doors to new thoughts – and dialogue – about nationalism, the nation-state, borders, refugee politics and human compassion and solidarity. If a world without national borders is a utopia, how are we handling the fact that we are all humans sharing the same planet? Melissa Henderson is well known to regular visitors of Avesta Art. She exhibited here last year, together with author Hanna Hallgren, with the installation Välfärdsstaten (The Welfare State). She was born in 1977 in Helsingborg, Sweden, and now lives in Malmö. She received her education, among other places, at the University of the Arts London.