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Suitcases & destinies: Istria aut of Istira

24.04 - 31.12.2009

Suitcases & destinies: Istria aut of Istira
24.04.2009 – 31.12.2009

There are few Istrian families that didn’t include someone leaving for Argentina, America, Australia, France, Italy, Sweden, Yugoslavia, etc. They emigrated between the end of the 19th century and during all of the 20th century. They left because of various social, economic and political reasons. Some have been forced departures, or at least provoked, while others were the result of the desire for a better life and adventure. Strong emotions accompany all departures, regardless of different opinions about what is causing resettlement. In two large and several smaller waves of 20th century emigration, Istria lost many people that should have been the carriers of development. Although leaving both from rural and urban communities, the biggest consequences were caused by the departure of educated people after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the connection of Istria to the Kingdom of Italy, as well as the later annexation of Istria by Yugoslavia after the Second World War.

Suitcases & destinies deals with the ethnographic aspects of Istrian emigration (which some call exodus, and some even displacement). The focus is on similarities and differences in the experience of Istrians living outside of Istria. While not trying to show the totality of emigrant experience, we want to draw attention to the complex, diverse and multi-layered destinies of displaced Istrians, as well as to the content (‘suitcases’) of their memories and perceptions of Istria as well as their new homes.
Most immigrants experience pain, and feelings about one’s place of origin can be very emotional. Although every experience is a unique story, this exhibition attempts to generalize some of the experience of immigrants in order to provide a platform for understanding these experiences. Many today in Istria do not know about Istrians outside of Istria, and what their lives are like. That is why the Ethnographic Museum of Istria wants to draw attention to the existence of Istrians outside of Istria and their individual destinies.

Because of the number and heterogeneity of existing interpretations that mainly result from differing ideological and political contexts, research and presentation of Istrian emigration, this is a huge challenge. There are almost no facts that everyone can agree on. For example, there are different assumptions as how many Istrians moved away between the two World Wars or after 2nd World War, particularly the different interpretations of circumstances and pressures that led to emigrate. We have not dealt with numbers and the analysis of various ideologies, but have instead tried to show ethnographically what happens with people when they must, feel they must or simply want to continue their lives outside of Istria.

The exhibition was conceived on two levels.

The first level relates to the experiences that are mostly shared and similar for all immigrants. After "sketching" the reasons that motivated imigrants for their departure, the act of departure itself is described: by boat, train, car, on foot, at legal border crossings or in flight. Then, life in temporary settlements is shown, and afterwards views of planned settlements set up for Istrian refugees. Part of the exhibition focuses on the most common strategies for making a living and orientating oneself in the new land, and ways to communicate with the "old country": letters, postcards and packages (which are displayed in the exhibition, including contents). The greater part of the exhibition shows the work of associations that bring Istrians together: those between the two World Wars in Zagreb and Belgrade, and later, Istrian associations in Argentina, USA, Sweden, France and Italy. The final part is dedicated to the memories that are carried by emigrants from Istria.
Although it touches upon emigration from the beginning of the 20th century, most of the material is devoted to emigrant waves between the two world wars and particularly the post world war II period. In this way, the exhibition stands as the first unified ethnographic view of emigrant destinies that, although people left Istria for various reasons, still share many common features.

The second level of the exhibition explores the destinies of twelve Istrians that now live in various countries, are of different ages, genders, educational backgrounds, and emigrated for various reasons. They are presented by name and surname, with family photographs, objects, memories and quotations. Therefore, it can be seen as the emigrant experience reflected in their individual lives and destinies.
Several areas show films about emigrants or films that they themselves have recorded. Also, the exhibition is accompanied by audio recordings with emigrant songs and interviews. As there are many Istrian emigrant associations active in the virtual world of the Internet, an internet kiosk has been set up where you can browse their web sites, view restaurants owned by Istrians, and other organizations and institutions in the world. In this way, one can get a clearer picture of Istria outside of Istria, and its various manifestations.