A cluster of paper dolls hang by fragile pieces of threads with lost looks on their faces as if they’ve stepped onto another planet. In their hands they clutch belongings, as if souvenirs from a home they’ll never return. These figurines stand huddled together looking to the sky as they enter a space that considers them as intruders. The artist’s attempt with this piece is not to make a political statement, but to convey the emotion and vulnerability of refugees. The loss that comes with war and power struggles that usher people into a foreign land.
Sudipta Das’ visual art piece, “Soaring to Nowhere,” provides an emotional story of alienation and a loss of home experienced by refugees and migrants. The installation’s looming quality is done so to depict a sense of dispossession; not being here or there. Homelessness that has lead to a restless state of disorientation.
Being a fourth-generation migrant from Bangladesh herself, Das held this issue close to her heart. Das claims this sense of homelessness and being in-transit all the time is what connects her to the refugees, and is what the work embodies.
“Our homelessness has ushered us a restless state of disorientation – of being both here and there – always moving and re-moving,” she said in an interview with Indulge. This emotional distress, connecting the refugees with me, has become a repository from where this work stems. My installation, creating an imagery of a clustered crowd of migrants, huddling together as a fearful, vulnerable bunch is an embodiment of the harsh wounds of migration and alienation. Their obtruding presence is a remark on the exclusion and bewilderment that the migrants face from a culture, which doesn’t consider them as one of their own.”
Inevitably, the installation raises questions to the viewer of the privilege of citizenship and entitlement to space. Questions that are incredibly urgent with the refugee crisis the world is facing today.
According to a recent report by the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, less than five percent of refugee resettlement needs were met in last year. And out of the one million refugee resettlement cases, only 55,692 received resettlement. Majority of these cases are women, girls, survivors of violence and torture, those with physical disabilities and children. A vast majority of resettlement cases consist of Syrian refugees who are either in host countries or in transit along the Mediterranean route. Many refugees and migrants take on the Mediterranean Sea under life-threatening circumstances. In 2018 alone, 1,095 people died taking this route, a large number of who tried to escape Libya to reach Italy.
Many of these people are trying to get away from unimaginable living conditions such as war, violence, and human rights violations. The ones who do make it across often live in refugee camps where they aren’t allowed to work and are sometimes preyed upon by sexual abusers and human traffickers.
Trapped in limbo, their sense of belonging and identity is lost between borders. Moreover, world leaders are refusing to accept refugees at all into their countries.
From Italy’s deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini deciding to close the country’s ports from accepting refugees off of a rescue ship from Libya to Donald Trump’s attempt to execute a travel ban, politicians and their public policies cite rufugees and migrant seeking resettlement and asylum as dangerous. Powerful countries are closing the door to people who are in dire need of a home and refuge.
Similiar to what they did in the past.
In 1939, when the St. Louis reached the coast of Florida with around 1000 German-Jewish refugees fleeing a Nazi Germany, they were denied entry and told to return to Europe. Most of those passengers would not survive the Holocaust.
Looking at the current mishandling of the migrant and refugee crisis, I’m starting to feel we’ve learned nothing from history. The anti-immigrant sentiments make a return to our governments and citizens as if they never left, and the consequences are costing people their lives.
“Soaring to Nowhere” is a haunting reminder that it’s the refugees and immigrants lives at stake and that we are the ones to be feared.