“As Far As My Fingertips Take Me” Shines a Light on the Hardships of Immigration
“As Far as My Fingertips Take Me” is a personal performance by individuals who have experienced immigration on a firsthand basis by showcasing the stories behind border-crossing through sound and touch.
The performance, created by Tania El Khoury, an artist that focuses on audience interaction, requires each audience member to put one arm through a wall, separating them from the artist, a refugee, on the other side. Then, the audience member is asked to put on headphones to listen to a story of the hardships that come with border discrimination. The participant will also hear a rap song performed by Basel Zaraa that depicts his personal story as a Palestinian refugee.
Shahriar Shafiani, a PhD student studying film, was recruited to be an artist for this project during its showcase at OU from Nov. 9 through Dec.1. Shafiani, who has lived in Athens for the past five years, has had his own difficult experiences immigrating from Iran to the United States.
“There will be people here who have never been touched by anyone from the Middle East,” Shafiani says. “So, they are going to sit on one side of the wall, they don’t know who is on the other side or what that person looks like and they are going to trust you.”
While the audience member listens to the story, the artist on the other side will begin to trace out an illustration that acts to tell the story through black ink etched on their arm. At the end, the participant can pull their arm out of the wall and see their stamped fingertips, demonstrating that while our fingertips are used to stimulate touch, they are also used to tell the story of where we came from.
After the performance, the artist and the audience member will meet on the same side of the wall. Here, the audience member can share an intimate moment with the artist whether that be with a hug, tears or conversation.
“It has been a really interesting experience because of the range of emotions that you see people feel. Some people don’t care for it, it may be too personal for them, and I don’t blame them, Shafiani says. “It’s not like you do this every day. When you read the lyrics and listen to the music, it’s gonna hit you in some way.”
The performance has made stops all across the globe, and was brought to OU as part of the Middle East and North Africa Discussion Series hosted by the Kennedy Museum of Art.
Lauren Papp, a sophomore studying journalism, believes this performance is equally important for those who have not experienced immigration and those who have.
“I think it really shows that we are all human and everyone has migration in some part of their ancestors,” Papp says. “The act of being drawn on by another human while you feel that experience happening to you really helps show you what it's like to be in that position if you’ve never dealt with something like that.”
As a film student, Shafiani says he was drawn to this experience for the opportunity to take note of human reactions.
“This is as close as I have gotten to actual emotions from people in Athens who are not my friends, who are just regular people,” he says. “I love it because that reminds you that you’re living among people.”
Khoury’s performance questions the idea that we may need to physically “feel” a refugee in order to understand the effect that border discrimination has on people's lives.
“These people that you talk about, that you’ve never met and you don’t know what they look like or what they do; one of them is behind this wall doing this (performance),” Shafiani says. “I think that is much more effective because you have one-on-one interactions and it builds trust and looks at the subject matter from a different perspective.”
To learn more, visit the Kennedy Museum of Art, located at 100 Ridges Circle, to learn about the variety of programs offered through next March that discuss immigration, border-crossing, refugee stories and related topics.