Art recounts the Plight of Refugees

Issue 1710

15 November 2017

Painful Paths to Freedom.  

The exile Élisée Reclus wrote that “geography is nothing more than history in space, just as history is geography over time.” The forced exodus of millions of refugees that we are witnessing today tells a “story in space,” a nation of refugees, stateless and displaced persons numbering over 65 million people in 2016. This has given rise to a fluid geography that questions not only sociologists, politicians, journalists and, of course, geographers but also artists from all over the world.

Indeed, artists, not unlike geographers, have consistently drawn conceptual maps to narrate the inner and exterior exodus of humans, and today they use these different perspectives to tell the plight of millions of people seeking peace and a future. Geographic maps, itineraries, accounts of landings and experiences of reception have powerfully entered the collective imagination of so many artists and writers.

There are many ways contemporary art has met the challenge of recounting the world of forced migration. There are those who have chosen provocation, others the immediacy of the news, and others who have made their own plight the subject of an artistic experience.

The time we live in can make us doubt the goodwill of so many artists engaged in depicting the world of forced migration. Despite our precautions and the frequent accusations of narcissism and being self-centered, what is detectable is a positive desire for condemnation that stimulates messages of solidarity through the creations of these artists. We still need an art that produces a wound in our way of seeing, without which our knowledge will remain lacking in meaning and humanity.

The author, Luigi Territo, is an expert in the preservation of cultural heritage.

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