Between Lights and Shadows: The art of 'seeing' refugees
Sholeh Shahrokhi (Butler University)
Paper short abstract:
Weaving between "refugee art" and Anthropological scholarship, this paper revisits the notion of trespass and exile. Visualizing the harrowing journeys across geopolitical topographies, this paper examines how art is an integral part of the lives and history of the "displaced" arriving in Europe.
Paper long abstract:
In September 2015, amidst the global attention on 'the migration crisis' to Europe, an image emerged as an iconic symbol for migrants and refugees out of the Middle East and North Africa. The image of Alan Kurdi, a three-year-old Kurdish boy, faced down and lifeless on the pebbled beaches of Bodrum, revealed the scale of human suffering embodied in the figure of the displaced, and exemplified the interest of the global spectators in it. Washed ashore Turkey's sea coast, the grim image of the dead child, whisked around the social and global media. The power of the photograph, in this case, was moreover revealed as the imagery signaled to the urgency of the predicament engulfing the millions of refugees arriving at Europe's doorstep. In recent years, visual representation and art have come to stand as some of the most effective modes of mobilization against the growing xenophobia that runs through much of the mainstream reporting on the "refugee other" in the political north. In particular, many of the globally renowned artist-activists such as Banksy, and Ai Weiwei have devoted much of their art production to the subject of refugees. Moreover, many of the refugees themselves have produced visual repertoires of their journeys across borders, opening up new spaces for dialogue between the "seen" and the "unseen". While the new digital technologies invade our everyday access to information, this paper examines diverse works of art to see how "the visual expressions" disrupt the mainstream discourse on refugees and border crossing?