Photos, letters and spices: Montreal artist explores the objects that connect immigrants to home

Iranian-Canadian artist Anahita Norouzi is working on a photo project about immigrants and their keepsakes.

Iranian-Canadian artist Anahita Norouzi is working on a photo project about immigrants and their keepsakes

Iranian-Canadian artist Anahita Norouzi is working on a photo project about immigrants and their keepsakes. (Anahita Norouzi)

If you were leaving the country where you were born, hoping to start a new life somewhere else, what would you put in your suitcase?

That's the question that Iranian-Canadian visual artist Anahita Norouzi is asking as part of a new photo project.

She's inviting immigrants and refugees in Montreal to share their stories of migration with her, and highlight the objects they brought to Canada that remind them of home.

"Storytelling, for me, is a way to nurture a sense of home for a displaced person," she told CBC Montreal's All in a Weekend.

After putting out a call for participants, Norouzi received responses from people who came from Algeria, Jordan, Syria and Afghanistan, among others.

One woman from Tunisia brought a large wooden key — 50 centimetres long. "That belongs to her grandfather's home, which doesn't exist anymore," Norouzi said.

Another man from Algeria told Norouzi that he brought a suitcase with him two years ago, and has never opened it. 

She said the two plan to open it together at his home and record his reaction.

"There is definitely a very personal dimension to these objects," she said.

Along with photos and letters, many people brought spices and other ingredients for recipes passed down through generations.

"It's incredible," she said. "What you bring from home — it tastes differently. I think it's more psychological than real."

In her project, Norouzi hopes to weave together audio recordings and photographs documenting her subjects' attachment to the objects they've carried to their new homes.

"It's a way of gathering their voices and making them heard," she said.

Norouzi came to Montreal to study fine arts at Concordia University, and has remained on and off for the last 10 years.

With her time split between Tehran and Montreal, she brings an old Russian lamp back and forth with her.

"That's where the idea came from," she said. "I guess what that lamp incarnated for me was the idea of home."

Norouzi is planning to exhibit her project in 2021. Anyone interested in participating can contact her through her website.

With files from CBC Montreal's All in a Weekend


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