Artist's words and colour transform Syrian refugee tent
A tent, which was once home to a Syrian refugee family in Jordan’s Za’atari camp, has been transformed into a dramatically different kind of canvas by British artist Kate Daudy and is now on display in London’s Migration Museum.
Daudy’s work, based on the ancient Chinese literary practice of writing on objects, explores the themes of home, identity and memory -- leitmotifs that run through the words of refugees depicted in felt on the tent.
The tent formed the centerpiece of a celebration at the museum on Thursday marking Refugee Week.
‘I was like someone losing my mind. I sat there among all the corpses. ‘Let her die of sorrow,’ they said. And they left me.’
In 2016, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, gave Daudy the tent to create the artwork, and organised for her to visit several camps. The courage, perseverance and dignity of the refugees with whom she met resonated with Daudy. The work is entitled ‘Am I my Brother’s Keeper?’ for its Old Testament and Koranic roots, and the value of shared humanity.
“I’m so grateful to everyone who has taken the time to talk to me with such honesty and truth,” she said at the event. “I want the tent to remind us of the responsibility we have for those in need. It’s not inconceivable, if circumstances turn against us, that we too end up as refugees.”
In Za’atari, Daudy was inspired by refugees who took great care planting flowers and bushes around their shelters in the arid camp environment. “It struck me as an act full of grace, to go through so much trauma and loss, and straightaway go about planting flowers.”
Back in London, by chance, a friend showed her some crochet work by Syrian women displaced by the war, and she knew that they should have a place on the tent. “I was moved by the joyfulness of these intricately made objects, and commissioned hundreds of crocheted flowers for my tent, so that I could make a big tree of hope on one side, expressing the indomitability of the human capacity for joy.”
As well as providing the women with a livelihood for the duration of the project, the tree is an expression of the refugees’ craft and creativity, in defiance of the war that has upended their lives. Daudy’s artistry brings together threads of colour and light to reimagine the tent – sometimes synonymous with displacement - as a symbol of resilience and hope.
The crocheted circles forming the tree and hollyhocks that wend their way among the words of refugees and phrases from the 1951 Refugee Convention were smuggled from Homs and Aleppo by journalists and contacts travelling out of Syria, to Daudy’s studio in London.
The year-long process of creating ‘Am I My Brother’s Keeper?’ has had a profound impact on Daudy. “It has ripped me out of my comfort zone and turned my life upside down,” she told the reception.
At the event, there were also speeches from senior figures from UNHCR, the museum and the Syrian refugee Maya Ghaza, as well as live music from Syrian refugees.
The artwork had its debut in Hull last weekend as part of the City of Culture’s launch of Refugee Week 2017 and is on display at the Migration Museum until 25 June. It will then travel to the Art Gallery of Ontario in September, to the Reina Sofia Gallery, Madrid, in November before ending the year at Art Basel, Miami Beach.
“Refugees are not a separate class of people,” Daudy said. “By one stroke of bad luck they ended up in this tent. The man who lived in my tent was called Abu Teim. He lived in the tent for three or four months with his children and then disappeared. We don’t know what happened to him after he left the camp.”
“Although this is a tent that has come from the specific circumstance of being a refugee, which is wildly extreme,” she said, “the core human values it expresses are common to us all.”
For more about Kate Daudy’s work, visit www.katedaudy.com