File(s) under permanent embargo

The Politics of Mnemonic 'Restorative Practices': Contesting memory, mobility, identity and objects in post–'refugee crisis' Lesbos

posted on 01.01.2020, 00:00 authored by Andrea Witcomb, Alexandra Bounia, Evthymios Papataxiarchis
There is hardly a part of the world that has not been affected at one point or another in its history by human mobility. Voluntarily or forced migrations, displacements and exchanges of populations, movements of individuals or groups of people have been produced by complex social, economic and political changes and have affected cultures, economies and societies at large. Museums and other memory institutions, like archives, are deeply affected by this, given their mandate is to preserve and display collective memories for the benefit of their societies. They have been actively involved in documenting these mobilities, representing the histories of emigrations and immigrations, the social needs and cultural interests of different groups and stories of intercultural inclusions as well as national exclusions. The focus is usually on the history and the reasons for the movement of people, on challenging myths of homogeneity and addressing issues of identity building and social cohesion. In some cases, these institutions go even further to operate as ‘healing’ mechanisms, as tools to reconcile internal and external conflicts, as spaces where notions of belonging are reinforced or debated, often in an interesting and fragile balance between narratives of similarity (we ‘belong’) and narratives of difference (‘we have our own, different culture’). This is especially powerful in the case of museums that are created by migrant communities who wish to represent the story of their community in their own terms. In these cases, their history of migration is often combined with, or juxtaposed to, contemporary issues of migration.1
In this chapter, we focus on small-scale, community-initiated museums that aim to tell the story of ‘their community’ – in order to analyse how they are dealing with the history of human mobility. Furthermore, we wish to take our idea of the ‘restorative museum’ (Witcomb and Bounia 2019), first developed in relation to the Museum of Refugee Memory in Skala Loutron, a small port village on the island of Lesbos, and complicate it as we engage with another small local institution on the same island, this time the Folk Museum of the village of Sykamnia, as well as a collection of objects from the recent ‘European refugee crisis’ of 2015–2016, which has the potential to document the work of NGOs and other civic groups in response to the humanitarian crisis that developed on the island of Lesbos during this period. We are interested in the question of how the idea of creating community commemorative mechanisms, such as a collection, an exhibition or a local memory institution of any sort can influence a small community like this one into negotiating issues of identity and memory.


Title of book

Migrant, multicultural and diasporic heritage : beyond and between borders


Key Issues in Cultural Heritage; v.18

Chapter number



147 - 163



Place of publication

Abingdon, Eng.







Publication classification

B1 Book chapter




Alexandra Dellios, Eureka Henrich

Usage metrics