Most commonly known as ‘China bags’ cheap Chinese-made plastic-weave bags have become synonymous with migrants and refugees all over the world. Called 編廉덟 or bianzhidai in China, these bags have taken on different monikers around the world reflecting the prevailing immigrant demographics in different regions.
In Nigeria and many West African countries, the 1983 Expulsion Order in Nigeria that forced Ghanaian immigrants to flee within 14 days of notification gave birth to the tag “Ghana Must Go Bag’. In Ghana these bags became known as ‘Efiewura Suame’, which means ‘help me carry this load’.
Other examples include: ‘Türken Koffer’ (Turkish suitcase) or ‘Polen Tasche’ (Polish bag) in Germany, ‘Chinatown Tote’ in the US, ‘Guyanese Samsonite’ in the Caribbean, ‘Bangladeshi Bag’ in the UK, and ‘Shangaan or Mozimbabwe Bag’ in southern Africa.
Acquired in exchange for new bags from with refugees who often work as informal traders in South Africa, I have been collecting these worn-out membranes that carry the record of travel in their grimy patina. Using these modern-day carpet-bags, I tell stories of migration in Africa and around the world. This also takes into account the colonial history of Africa and its present-day repercussions.