Going off the success of our previous post featuring refugee fiction, specifically a set of poems , I have decided to do another ~creativity~ based post. But this time, with a focus on contemporary art surrounding the refugee crisis, and art produced by refugees. As Zadie Smith writes in her novel White Teeth; “It makes an immigrant laugh to hear the fears of the nationalist, scared of infection, penetration, miscegenation, when this is small fry, peanuts,compared to what the immigrant fears – dissolution, disappearance.”
Art is fuelled and fostered by life experiences, joys and fears, and the refugee experience embodies all of these emotions. Art can also be a fantastic way to work through trauma, and to provide a voice and an outlet for the voiceless and dispossessed. The subsequent works aim to bring these unique and sometimes painful experiences to a wider audience, and to raise awareness of the refugee experience.
Ben Quilty, High Tide Mark, 2016, oil on linen, 170 x 160cm. Photo: Supplied by Ben Quilty Studio to the Sydney Morning Herald.
This distressing and emotive installation displayed outside British Parliament was supported by UNHCR The UN Refugee Agency), International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Médecins Sans Frontières, and displayed for the duration of the UN refugee crisis. This installation is comprised of life jackets that were collected, and one belonged to someone making the dangerous journey through to Greece.
The Refugee Art Project is a Sydney-based organisation comprised of artists and academics who conduct art workshops with detainees in Villawood detention centre, and also produce a number of zines. In their own words: “Art provides an important means of self-expression for asylum seekers and refugees in detention. In art they are able to convey very personal themes that they may otherwise find difficult to put into words, which can be one step towards the reconciliation of past traumas.”
In June 2016, Ben Quilty travelled to Greece with author Richard Flanagan, and encountered many Syrian refugees fleeing for their lives. In one of the most notable of these encounters, Quilty met a young woman who had (the day before) had to bury her 4-year-old son whom had drowned. This deeply affected the artist, who subsequently travelled around the island documenting and painting the people he met and situations he heard about. The author of this article Andrew Stephens writes: “We are so inured to the words “asylum-seeker” and “refugee” that we perhaps forget the meaning and feelings underneath. Those words describe people who are looking for safety: from violence, terror and, often, sheer doom. Mostly, though, they just want to save their children.”