What is a folder that holds, that contains?

By Sarah Kazmi (Verdensrommet)

28. 03. 2023
2023 Norway Research EEA Verdensrommet




multiple ones — of one self


of many countries,

in a foreign land,

scans // lines // body // documents //

print once /

think twice / / 

print multiple times / / / / /

in one place

the country was divided,

a fence here, a wall there, a line drawn here, a line crossed there,

a line you don’t cross here,

a line you better not cross there,

a line you don’t even know exists here [1]

Queues, control lines, passport lines, multiple form-filling, waiting for public services and bureaucratic decisions, … doesn’t only indicate linear time. Here,

time is also emotional,

time is hope, nostalgia, and belonging.

Following the coronavirus crisis, a large part of humanity has shared a sense of waiting, a state of agitation about the unknown future; as Bourdieu said, “Making people wait (…) is an integral part of the exercise of power.” [2] It manifests in the power of the state vs. the powerlessness of people in limbo.

This state of limbo, anxiety, and waiting is often manifested through papers. When your life merely exists in documents and weighs heavier than your body.

This accumulation of documents for one’s journey is rather a long, tedious process.

Sometimes these documents sit in a folder

Sometimes waiting to arrive in a mailbox

Sometimes waiting to be delivered

Sometimes waiting to be uploaded

… It gets overwhelming… and it also gets lonesome. The amount of waiting that is required

for you to stay,

for you to work,

for you to move

exhausts you, both mentally and physically.

Amidst these visa applications, one always wonders, when do you produce art, if you do…? Or when do you produce art for your visa, to stay, to work? Harsha Walia says, “While migrant workers are temporary, temporary migration is permanent. Temporary migration has become a modality central to state formation, citizenship regulation, labor segmentation within national labor markets, and segregated social ordering.” [3]

During these prolonged hours and days of waiting and uncertainty from the pandemic, Verdensrommet was formed. Verdensrommet (when translated to from Norwegian to English) means outer space. It is a self-organized mutual support network created by and for (170+) creative professionals of non-EU/EEA citizenship based in Norway. Here, we advocate for fair immigration policies and better living and working conditions and encourage new imaginations for the future of cultural work.

Verdensrommet became that safe space, a community of creatives from various backgrounds, where we came together and shared our lived experiences with everything from immigration processes, taxes, what type of documents to submit and when. At a time when things often seemed stressful and lonesome, we always reached out to each other with various questions—and often with answers …

This influx of incoming data onto our social platform suddenly became this sea of knowledge, 

afloat, waiting to be merged …

To merge: to blend, to become combined into one, come together, forging new relationships that were beyond socio-economic barter. It became an elasticity of resilience, a space of never-ending reciprocity of exchange, while also adapting to our necessities by paying honorariums towards our work within the network. From voluntary work to some hours of waged/commissioned work, we tried to create some economic benefits for our network’s individuals.

Here, we brought together artists, trade union representatives, lawyers, and politicians to discuss, for the first time in Norway, the gaps between immigration regulations (of self-employment in particular) and the working conditions in the cultural and creative sector and their impact on the livelihoods of international artists. By doing so, the seminar ensured a fertile ground for sustainable creative practices and the possibilities of change we could imagine together with different unions and institutions.

The workshop also aimed to propose concrete suggestions in the form of policy changes to ensure a sustainable livelihood for creative professionals so that they may continue to stay and contribute to Norwegian society, especially at a time when culture is recognized as an irreplaceable pillar in the making of a greener and more just society.

Collaborations that we initially thought would be difficult came to fruition. Artist and labor unions joined hands with us, and the immigration authority accepted our invitation to be part of the seminar. Here, hierarchies were shaken, power relations shifted; who was learning from who? New relationships were formed amidst the bureaucratic relations that permeate the artistic and political fields.

One of the seminar’s core purposes was to understand our legal rights better so that we can help identify and contextualize the different systemic relations that give rise to migrant artists’ common struggles. It also aimed to guide artists and creative professionals through the process of obtaining a visa to Norway. Furthermore, the discussion laid the foundations for developing a strategic plan for proposing concrete policy changes that have the potential to create more sustainable socio-economic conditions for self-employed artists.

By hosting the Immigration Clinic, we were able not only to show solidarity but also to attempt to work towards sustaining it. The directory of knowledge that we exchanged through IC has helped not only us but also our unions, the educational institutions that invite us here and educate us and other future international artists, the cultural institutions who are our clients, our supporters, our commissioners, and perhaps even the Immigration Authority to gain a better understanding of our applications as many of us are these living immigration cases that they handle.

Verdensrommet is a mutual support network created by non-EU artists where we can go through and understand the bureaucratic immigration process and share our knowledge with each other.

[1] Ali Smith, Autumn: A Novel (Toronto: Penguin, 2017), 61.
[2] Pierre Bourdieu, Pascalian Meditations, trans. Richard Nice (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000), 228.
[3] Harsha Walia, Border and Rule: Global Migration, Capitalism, and the Rise of Racist Nationalism (Haymarket Books, 2021), 39–40.
[4] “Immigration Clinic for Creative Professionals,” Verdensrommet, accessed February 21, 2023, https://www.verdensrommet.network/news/clinic

The text is a part of the tranzit.cz / Biennale Matter of Art project Center and Periphery: Cultural Deserts in Eastern Europe, funded by a grant from Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway (EEA and Norway Grants) in the program Culture.