Art and the refugee ‘crisis’: Mediterranean blues
10th July, 2017
Artists are mapping new itineraries of the Mediterranean, throwing into relief an incurable colonial wound that continues to bleed into the present.
The so-called contemporary migrant ‘emergency’ in the Mediterranean is the deliberate political and juridical construction of Europe. Refusing Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), all European states have decided that not everyone has the right to move and migrate. This violent exercise of European and First World power reopens a profound colonial wound. Migrants rendered objects of our legislation and laws signal once again the asymmetrical relations of power that produced the colonial world and its ongoing fashioning of the present.
Why is so much art about the ‘refugee crisis’ so bad?
11th May, 2017
Even at a celebrity art gala you can don an emergency blanket and feel good about yourself. Hard political questions, not required.
The beach, the pose, seem familiar from the initially shocking, now iconic image of the drowned boy Alan Kurdi. But the dead Syrian toddler is nowhere to be seen. Instead – look! – it’s Ai Weiwei!
Ai’s undoubtedly sincere gesture has been much mocked: Jonathan Jones called it a “crass, unthinking selfie”. Once again, a celebrity sees a humanitarian crisis and realises that what the world needs is an image of himself.
Reflections on post-humanitarianism in dark times
21st April, 2017
British opposition to search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean and Polish pseudo-theological justifications not to help refugees exploit the insecurities of the humanitarian movement.
As the Mediterranean death toll shows no signs of abating, humanitarians involved in addressing the crisis are having a difficult time. Recent academic critiques have pointed out the flaws of contemporary international humanitarianism, noting humanitarians’ white saviour complex, their complicity with the forces of militarism and capitalism, the ways in which they deprive the people they are ostensibly helping of agency, and the ways they trap them in a condition of perpetual depoliticised victimhood
Borderlands: words against walls
12th December, 2016
Both material and figurative walls are shaping our present. Now is the time for the arts and humanities to intervene with critical reflection and compassion into spaces of ‘crisis’.
The turmoil surrounding the presidential election in America has shaken the world: fear, terror, uncertainty and despair are some of the feelings generated by this new political turn, or what Cornel West has called a ‘catastrophe’. Significantly, we are reminded that ‘27 years after the Berlin Wall fell, Europe wakes up to a U.S. president-elect promising one of his own’.
The depopulation of the Chagos Archipelago: guardians of culture, tradition and the stability of the home
12th December, 2016
The islands were ‘swept and sanitised’. An albatross/ was spared, and the order given: ‘…a few man fridays…must go’.
Extract from ‘Sounds Like Root Shock’: a poetic inquiry into the depopulation of the Chagos Archipelago.
The arts and humanities: tackling the challenges of mass displacement
3rd October, 2016
When we let people die rather than provide safety, we face not a ‘refugee crisis’ but a crisis of values. The arts help define those values which shape the kinds of societies we want to live in.
As historians are at pains to point out, the current ‘refugee crisis’ is not without precedent. Though we should be wary of too simplistic historical parallels, ‘lessons from history’ provide an important longer view on contemporary displacement. But we can also look to the history of art and literature for a politics of recognition of the refugee and asylum seeking figures that populate our smartphone and television screens. Stories of exile, migration and forced displacement are abundant in Western literature and art.