The Resilience of Borders: Law and Migration in Contemporary Performances

  • Klaas Tindemans (Royal Institute for Theatre, Cinema & Sound)


Legal philosopher Hans Lindahl argues that the regulation of immigration is, above all moral considerations, a political issue. When one tries to assess the problem of territorial boundaries – and their transgression – as a question of distributive justice, political philosophers easily mix, not even surreptitiously, moral arguments with political and legal considerations. Lindahl refers to Michael Walzer, who asserts the primacy of the community and consequently bounded justice, and to Jürgen Habermas, who’s idea of boundless justice makes the notion of a nation-state irrelevant: one world polity has, by definition, no boundaries and thus no immigration issues. But Lindahl replies that law, and immigration law in particular, is forced to create boundaries by its very nature. After all, law structurally defines diverse groups of interest, and the actions of individuals – belonging or not belonging to one group or another – are always placed or misplaced, i.e. situated inside or outside the realm of the law. Even a world legislature and a universal jurisdiction would have to decide who can claim her/his rights, or who cannot. But since law is also, by definition, contingent – it can be changed in any direction – the claim of distributive justice, as a form of moral pressure, cannot be discarded easily. It shouldn’t be discarded, to be sure, it should be politicized. In recent performances about immigration, the moral indignation has clearly had the upper hand, sometimes with a touch of cynicism. In Necropolis, Arkadi Zaides creates a fictitious city of the dead, where only those who died in their attempt to reach Europe are allowed. From a massive collection of data about the victims of Fortress Europe, his performance transforms into a horrifying portrait of their ‘human remains’. Het Salomonsoordeel, a documentary, participatory monologue by Ilay den Boer involves the audience in the moral dilemmas of the ‘decider’ of the Dutch immigration and asylum agency, where den Boer worked as an intern. In The Voice of Fingers, Thomas Bellinck confronts his friendship with asylum seeker Said Reza Adib with the harsh reality of migrants as ‘data subjects’, identified by their fingerprints. The question arises of whether artistic representations of immigration issues sufficiently tackle the political challenges of global mobility – in this collapsing world of (civil) wars, climate disasters, and economical inequalities – and the challenges it poses for the affluent societies we are living in. Is it possible, or even meaningful, for theater-makers to try to relate their compassion – as a moral sentiment – to the frameworks of contingent policies and, subsequently, to the strict taxonomies of legislation?

Keywords: migration law, migration policy, asylum seekers, human rights, documentary theater, Arkadi Zaides, Ilay den Boer, Thomas Bellinck

How to Cite:

Tindemans, K., (2023) “The Resilience of Borders: Law and Migration in Contemporary Performances”, Documenta 41(2): 6, 139-183. doi:

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Published on
20 Dec 2023
Peer Reviewed