Decolonial Thinking and Refugees’ Stories

The Queens of Syria Documentary (2014)

  • Lorena Carbonara University of Calabria
  • Alessandra Rizzo University of Palermo


As an important stimulus for the international mushrooming of artistic creativity in public spaces, counter narratives by displaced people are contributing to the reframing of the political and sociolinguistic contemporary framework, where migrant identities are fighting to gain a voice. A counter wave of audiovisual productions based on aesthetic discourse has emerged within territories that seem to be losing their humanity with respect to migration issues, and seem to publicly reinforce forms of spectacularisation. Against a backdrop of international political conflict, where migrants and dispossessed refugees are nameless and cannot speak, visual and performative arts have taken on a decisive role to give voice to unheard stories of migration. Drawing on recent research on narrative theory relating to translation and interpreting studies, this investigation scrutinises the documentary Queens of Syria (2014), where the English subtitles are explored as activist recipients of migrant narratives. These stories are contextualised within Nelson Maldonado-Torres’s theses on coloniality and decoloniality (2016), and examined from a linguistic angle which applies the methods of Michael Halliday’s Systemic Functional Linguistics and of the lexical semantic analysis as framed within Pamela Faber and Ricardo Mairal Usón’s Lexical Grammar Model (1999). Results will testify to the linguistic and cultural function of the visual arts in their diffusion of ontological stories as both celebrating and challenging migrant identities, and also to the enacting role of language in meaning- transfer processes. The case under scrutiny will prove that the Queens of Syria subtitles, where the stories are captured and translated, may be looked at as decolonial devices, in which language use is strategically relevant and functional to the understanding of migrant narratives within a decolonial perspective.