Guest Post

Migrating Bodies

The following guest post by Onyeka Igwe is a transcription of her contribution to Running with Concepts: The Geologic Edition. Presented as part of the Singular Metabolism program, Igwe prefaced the reading with a screening of her film Bordered (2012).

Written and originally performed by Onyeka Igwe. Inspired by conversations with Felix Kalmenson, Felix Waterhouse and Calista Feltham.


In my life, there have been several names for what it is that I do or have done or what it is that I am.

The names for the category of personhood that I have advocated for, shown solidarity with and am has constantly changed at the pleasure of an uncaptive audience.

I wanted to collapse all of this and erase the rigidity of our language—a language that creates hierarchies of worth through naming.

I wanted to distill all of the noise into one simple idea—movement.

For me, that is the centrality of it all. When I close my eyes, all I want to do is move. I am one of those people that need to regularly dance, I need to know my body materially and this knowledge only comes from the flex and restraint of my bones, my limbs, my muscles in vibration. I feel most vital after exhaustion when every movement I make is painful, a reminder that my fibres have torn and are in the process of a repair that brings new strength.

I came to an essence in order to advocate for a borderless world. A world without borders requires a leap in the Western imagination or, a decolonial collective remembering.

I see borders in the fences that gird our former commonly held parkland, in signs that tell us where to go, in the categories of personhood that are bestowed on our bodies and reproduced by social organization, in the red dust roads that recall The great scramble for Africa.

I see borders in the drawers in the Ornithology Department at the Royal Ontario Museum.  Where behind combination lock lie birds stuffed and preserved.

Birds like the Larus Dominicanus Austrinus or Antarctic Kelp Gull.

This Kelp Gull, a migratory colonial nesting bird, indigenous to the Deception Islands in Antarctica. A first of its kind specimen was killed, captured, classified and transported by British Ornithologist A.G. Bennett in 1922.

This kelp gull has moved from archive to archive, finally arriving at the Royal Ontario Museum at the bequest of the estate J.H. Fleming, a collector of over 32,000 specimens.

This kelp gull lies in stasis, unable to spread its wings to full width and unseen due to its first of its kind status.

This kelp gull is marked through ownership by the several paper tags tied to its feet naming it, in a refined cursive.

This kelp gull is a transnational body, claimed and named, by a practice that conjoined the ownership of territory and fauna as a form of demarcating colonial space.

I see borders in the classification of Fallopia japonica as an invasive species.

Fallopia japonica or Japanese knotweed has been rendered illegal due to the extent of its movement.

Japanese knotweed is a perennial, native to Japan, Korea and China.

Japanese knotweed was cut, named and smuggled out of Japan in specimen form by German botanist Philipp Franz Balthasar von Siebold. His work as a military physician for the Dutch Empire facilitated his travel and residence in Japan.

Japanese knotweed is amongst some 12,000 specimens von Siebold exported without permission. They were first housed in a small museum in Leiden, Holland, which eventually became the National Museum of Ethnology.

Japanese knotweed, in original specimen form resides in the Royal Botanic Gardens of Kew where it was added to the collection in 1850.

Japanese Knotweed now grows across Europe, North America and New Zealand and can all be traced back to the single female plant collected by von Siebold.

Japanese knotweed looks like bamboo and grows illustriously. It is accused of crowding out native species. There is not a 1,500-hectare patch of ground in the UK that does not contain the plant.

Japanese knotweed is the scourge of British gardeners; the cost of its removal has amassed to 3 billion pounds, most notably in the eradication necessary to build the London 2012 Olympic velodrome and aquatic centre.

Japanese knotweed grew furiously in the small strip of unclaimed land between a set of old piano warehouses, that I once called my home, and a shopping centre in North East London. I spent summers pulling it out of the ground and burning it atop bonfires.

I see borders in the procession of lead-out motorbikes followed by armoured cars protecting the CEOs and CFOs of the various international oil and gas companies that slow my travel on the roads of would be Biafra.

Biafra, the oil rich southeastern region of Nigeria that only existed from 1967 to 1970. Oil, a substance birthed from movement at non-human pace.

Biafra, whose mineral wealth was named, categorised and transported globally from 1956 by Shell-British Petroleum.

Biafra where my parents were born, as colonial subjects, in a rural community called, Arondizuogu.

Biafra, whose attempted secession caused a civil war, a war fought on the basis of its mineral wealth, for if Biafra became independent Nigeria’s oil production would have been cut in half.

Biafra starved into submission from the combined forces of the Nigerian government and its British backers.

Biafra where skeletal pot bellied children became markers of global concern, tragedy and aid on televisions across the globe.

Biafra, an imaginative that can’t be mapped and no longer has borders but from which oil still flows.

I wanted to tell you a fable.

At the beginning of the year, when I first moved to Canada, a migration expedited by colonial history and enacted by this Biafran cum British body in a messy tautology, I would walk around the city and experience the ways in which this land, new to me, was changing and moving my body. I would listen to this song and sing at the top of my lungs:

The atoms are dancing.


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