Travel (63 min) is an ethnofictional two-screen film-installation presenting the life history of Joy, a Nigerian migrant woman selling sex in the Bois de Vincennes in Paris. Joy left Nigeria in order to help her family after the death of her father. She knew that she was going to sell sex before leaving, but was unaware of the hard working and life condition she would have had to face in France. Travel explores Joy's experiences of self-realisation and exploitation in the sex industry by representing the way she gradually reinterprets her experience of migration and freedom as also characterised by exploitation and trafficking.
Travel was co-written by Nicola Mai and a group of 8 Nigerian migrant sex workers assisted by the Bus des Femmes association in Paris. Its main character Joy is the embodiment of their collective experiences and trajectories of migration, self-realisation and exploitation. The roles in the films are played by some non-professional actresses, including some of the original co-authors, in order to protect them from the stigmatisation associated with sex work and also to question what constitutes authenticity when understanding and representing humanitarian processes in scientific and filmic terms.
Travel (2016) and its sister film-installation Samira (2013) are part of the Emborders art-science project questioning the effectiveness and scope of humanitarian initiatives targeting migrant sex workers and sexual minority asylum seekers. In order to get their rights recognised and avoid deportation migrant women, men and transgender people need to re-present their biographies and experiences according to stereotypical canons of victimhood and suffering, which often act as humanitarian borders excluding vulnerable migrants from protection and asylum.
The stories of the protagonists of Samira (Karim) and Travel (Joy) are presented by juxtaposing the multiple versions and narrations of the self emerging in different situations, relationships and settings: the ethnographic observation in the street, the medical visit, the interview with the OFPRA case adjudicator (French Office for the Protection des Refugees and Stateless People), shopping in the city centre, sitting at a café next to the street market. By using two screens the two ethnofictions represent the power relations, conflicts and contradictions characterising the encounter between the necessity to migrate, the tension between self-realisation and exploitation characterising sex work and humanitarian criteria and processes.
Each situation highlights contradictory or coherent aspects of the subjectivity and history of Karim and Joy. However the aim of the Emborders project is not to demonstrate their lack of authenticity or that they lie. On the contrary, the two film-installations aim to show that each version of the self presented by the two protagonists is authentic, proving that every subjectivity is incoherent and that the real privilege is not to have to be evaluated, recognised or believed in order to obtain humanitarian protection.