Under One Sky*

Watch -door open- today is its last day https://www.ikon-gallery.org/event/door-open-explore-online/


In the past few days, while working on the exhibition for which I am looking for images of the sky, I receive many reminders that it is refugee week. One of the invites is for Under One Sky - a project by Iman Tajik, which is linked to Devron Projects' annual Slow Marathon and I send in my photo wondering at this idea that we , wherever we are, move- walk, sail or fly (though not these days) under the same sky and yet our perspective on the enormous blue mass above us is so different. For me the sky is attached to the horizon, that elusive line that forever moves aways as we approach it. And lines that move remind me of the way this project's horizon has shifted. Draw Me a Home was originally going to focus on the need for refuge and then we all found ourselves sheltering at home and attention shifted to our actual domestic environments. In an earlier post I questioned whether this unprecedented time we're experiencing might be a wake up call and possibly the time spent safely cocooned at home will make us that much more aware of all peoples' rights to a safe place and adequate care. Sadly, I fear that is not what's happening and maybe that is why 'refugee week' feels so important especially now when we can so easily look away.


My mother who had to seek refuge during WW2 tells me in a long distance call of a new exhibition that depicts the plight of millions of Parisians from their home. Apparently the exhibition 'has drawn comparison with the mass flight from the capital and its surrounding region at the start of France’s Covid-19 lockdown, when, over the course of barely 48 hours, an estimated 1.7 million people left to spend the confinement in second homes or with family in the countryside' ** Whilst visually the empty streets and crowded transport hubs struck a chord with some, the exodus of the 13th June 1940, when nearly three-quarters of Paris's population as they fled the fast-advancing German army is nothing like the current state of affairs. Clearly, the French, the Belgian and many millions of other Europeans' forced migration during WW2 is much more akin to the plight of current refugees in Syria and all over the Middle East and beyond and yet none of those interviewed for the article mention this important link. Because the refugee crisis for all its mammoth scale often occupies a blind spot, especially in times of pandemic. According to the UN 'The world is witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record. An unprecedented 70.8 million people around the world have been forced from home by conflict and persecution at the end of 2018. Among them are nearly 30 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18. There are also millions of stateless people, who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement'***.


French civilians flee advancing German forces in June 1940. Photograph: LAPI/Roger-Viollet


That's why refugee week is so important. And although I cringe when well meaning friends tell me there are 'great events' happening - because all I can think of is that we shouldn't need to be having these events in the first place, I take solace in seeing some of the work that is sent my way. I am particularly struck by ZouZou group's - door open - comprising two anonymous artists, one Syrian from Damascus, the other British, living in England. The artists' ongoing dialogue, which at times is facilitated by a range of digital communication tools, such as online messaging and file sharing mobile phone video footage, and at other times is fraught with difficulties. The film is a poignant reminder of all that we in the West take for granted and easily avert our gaze from. - door open- is as much about the act of viewing, at both close and distant ranges, as it is about the conflict in Syria or the complacency that is so facile for those far away. Quietly yet powerfully in the background, underlying the images, texts and voice recordings that come and go, we detect a tiny boat crossing a blue sea with the wing of the plane just visible on the edge. - door open- offers a unique and much needed broad as well as intimate perspective on the issues at stake for us all. At one point one of the artists says 'if you cannot represent the horizon, then you cannot depict the future' which makes me think that maybe that is what door open inspires in me- the sense that as artists we always, even during pandemics, carry on seeking the horizon!



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*Under One Sky is the name of a project by Iman Tajik at Devron Projects - https://www.deveron-projects.com/events/slow-marathon-2020/

**https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/13/paris-museum-reopens-with-stories-of-frantic-wartime-exodus



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