A suitcase concretely: Exploration of the Balkan immigrants’ in-between belonging through the lens of comics

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School of Arts, Design and Architecture | Master's thesis
Degree programme
Master’s Programme in Visual Communication Design
Migration from peripheral European territories such as the Balkans is rarely represented and discussed in popular visual culture, despite its proliferation and impact on the economy and labour markets; there is also an overall lack of representation of Eastern European immigration in comics. The following thesis tackles one aspect of migration from the Balkans by exploring the notions of belonging within the immigrant communities. It addresses the question: what are ways in comics for depicting notions of belonging within Balkan immigrant communities? Together with the theoretical component, the thesis also contains a practical part: the comics collection of short stories "A Suitcase Concretely". The theoretical framework of the thesis engages with three vectors of research – comics studies, migration studies, and Balkan studies – connected conceptually by the theme of belonging. It contextualises the project within the sub-genre of migration comics, and overviews main tendencies of comics development in the Balkans. The framework continues by providing a historical background to key Western attitudes towards the Balkans region. Finally, it highlights main theoretical discourses related to belonging, including Etienne Wenger’s modes of belonging which have been employed as an analytical reference for the analysis. In terms of research methodology, the thesis includes case studies of "Fatherland" by Nina Bunjevac (2014), "Belonging: A German Reckons with History and Home" by Nora Krug (2018), and "Me & My Daddy & Zlatan" by Mattias Elftorp (2014). These comic works are discussed against Wenger’s modes of belonging, proving the applicability of his framework as a means of analysing affiliation sentiments within sequential art. After validating Wenger’s framework in the context of comics, the text analyses the practical component of the thesis "A Suitcase Concretely" against that same framework, thus involving further aspects of Balkan migration experiences. In conclusion, the thesis summarises examples of expressions of belonging conveyed through comics artform. It highlights angles that refer particularly to the notions relating to Balkan migrant communities. The expressions of belonging featured in the thesis are language, cultural participation, performance of labour, the everyday referral to objects which symbolise affiliations, notions and stereotypes, and interactions with institutions.
Karhumaa, Arja
Thesis advisor
Hagelberg, Matti
comics, eastern, Europe, Balkan, belonging, migration, immigration, sequential
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