Refugee camps are established with the intention of being demolished. As a paradigmatic representation of political failure, they are meant to have no history and no future; they are meant to be forgotten. The history of refugee camps is constantly being erased and dismissed by states, humanitarian organizations, international agencies and even by refugee communities themselves, who fear that any acknowledgment of the present condition in the camp may undermine their right of return to their place of origin. The only history that is recognized is one of violence and humiliation. Yet the camp is also a place rich with stories, narrated through its urban fabric.
In tracing, documenting, revealing and representing refugee history beyond the narrative of suffering and displacement, Refugee Heritage is an attempt to imagine and practice ‘refugeeness’ beyond humanitarianism. Such a process requires not only rethinking the refugee camp as a political space: it calls for redefining the refugee as a subject in exile and understanding exile as a contemporary political practice that is capable of challenging the status quo. The recognition of “the heritage of a culture of exile” constitutes a new perspective from which social, spatial and political structures can be imagined and experienced, beyond the idea of the nation-state.
Alessandro Petti is a professor of Architecture and Social Justice at the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm and co-director of DAAR (Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency) an architectural studio and residency program centred around the relation of politics and architecture. Latest publications: Refugee Heritage (Art and Theory, Stockholm 2022), and Permanent Temporariness (Art and Theory, Stockholm 2021).