“The Foreigner’s Home” and the Mission of Art

Kelly Gallagher ’22

Features Editor

Art, American author Toni Morrison argues in the documentary, “The Foreigner’s Home,” is something that “human beings do, love, and cannot – I swear to you – cannot live without.” Art takes many forms, ranging from painting to dancing to writing, but it has been present in the life of every human who has ever lived.

This was only one of the ideas examined in the documentary “The Foreigner’s Home,” which was screened in Rehm Library on Thursday, February 7. The film uses art to explore the idea of the “foreigner,” asking questions such as, who is the foreigner? Who decides who the foreigner is? What is home?

The film was borne out of Morrison’s 2006 exhibition at the Louvre, called “Etranger Chez Soi.” At her exhibition, Morrison brought together a variety of artists, ranging from choreographers to filmmakers to slam poets straight off the streets of Paris. The slam poets’ presence was significant because they are usually viewed as foreigners in the traditional art world. They performed their work before the classic painting “The Raft of the Medusa,” demonstrating that both “traditional” and “nontraditional” forms belong as art. Together, the diverse artists involved in the exhibition engaged in a conversation that required participants “to come to terms with being, fearing, or accommodating the stranger,” as Morrison put it.

The film discusses the experiences of refugees fleeing their home countries, but it also elucidates the struggle of victims of Hurricane Katrina. Lifelong citizens of New Orleans were deemed “foreigners” once their houses were swept away, and thus their needs were not met with as much urgency or compassion as they might otherwise have been.

All too frequently, foreigners are isolated from the rest of society. But art is universal. Its presence in every life forms a medium through which everyone is linked. Morrison is emphatic that “the mission of art is the destruction of barriers and walls, things that prevent people from connecting with their home or with each other.”

The film itself masterfully fulfills this function. Viewers are thoroughly immersed in a variety of visual, musical, and spoken arts, imparting a sense of how extensively art permeates and enriches every life. “The Foreigner’s Home” invites viewers to consider how art functions both in their daily lives and in society, and to renew their appreciation of art and its ability to connect them to others.

In the group discussion following the screening, Holy Cross community members noted that though the exhibition was arranged in 2006 and development on the film began in 2015, the topics engaged in the film have grown more relevant both abroad and within the United States, where newspapers are dominated by headlines pertaining to incoming caravans and border walls.

The documentary is directed by Rian Brown and Geoff Pingree. The screening was appropriately sponsored by a broad range of Holy Cross departments: the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, English Department, Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, Africana Studies, Peace and Conflict Studies, and Office of Multicultural Education. The DVD is available in Dinand Library and may also be streamed online through kanopy.com.

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