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/ 6 January 2016

Responding to the refugee crisis through art

Flight, boat at St James's Piccadilly

Is it possible to highlight the refugee crisis affecting Europe, and show the incredible need of the migrants in a sensitive manner? One London church has tried to do this by installing an actual boat, over the Christmas period, which was used to carry migrants from Turkey to Greece last summer.

Flight, is made up of three installations, by war artist Arabella Doorman, and focuses on an upturned boat held above the nave of St James’ Piccadilly. The inflatable dinghy was found at a beach on Lesbos, near the coast with Turkey. It was used to transport 62 refugees across the choppy Aegean Sea, despite being designed to carry a maximum of 15 people.  Attached to the vessel are three cheap buoyancy vests – two adult and one child – which are attached as if they are sinking into the deep cold sea. These vests are sold to the boat’s occupants as life-jackets, but many absorb water and are not fit for the intended purpose of keeping people afloat or for saving lives.

This powerful installation, which is on show until Candlemas, is complemented by placing more vests around a traditional crib scene as if the refugees are the visiting Magi coming to adore the infant Jesus. On New Year’s Day, a baby’s flotation jacket was placed in the crib highlighting the vulnerability of those seeking refuge and that Jesus fled to Egypt, escaping the massacre of the innocents – which is something we see, on the news every day.

The Epiphany Eucharist was held before this sorrowful scene, with one middle-aged man suggesting that “it brought the horror of the refugee crisis in communion with the reality of the last supper”.

A third element to the installation is a boat fender, next to a candle stand, with a bag of reactions and stories of people who have visited the installation. The Revd Lucy Winkett, Rector of St James’s says that migrants and Muslims have come to see the boat and have been deeply moved enough to share their stories about the issue, and are amazed that a church would show the issue in such a sensitive light.

In accompanying material, Arabella Dorman comments that her interest is:

“In the men, women, and children behind the headlines, the individual stories behind the politics. I attempt to illuminate and to reveal the human face of conflict, and to find light in the darkest corners of existence.”

Through this installation, we are invited to consider our own humane responsibilities to this issue, when we celebrate a joyous Christian festival in our homes, with family and friends. Flight invites the viewer to identify with the plight of thousands who are forced to flee their land and homes in increasing tension and conflict in the middle-east.

Flight is on display until early February, alternatively, you can purchase tickets for a private view on 13 January, with speakers including David Loyn (former BBC Afghanistan correspondent) and actors Samantha Bond and Simon Callow. In the evening of 2 February, Flight: Songs of Exile & Homecoming will be held as a Concert for Candlemas.

Both events are to raise essential funding for two charities involved in helping the refugee situation in Lesbos: Doctors of the World UK, which delivers free health care to refugees; and, the Starfish Foundation, which set up a transit camp in a nightclub car park next to the beaches of this Greek Island.

About Matthew Hall

Matthew Hall was the diocesan Communications Assistant, before going on to become a Franciscan Friar with the Society of St Francis. Matthew seeks to protect the environment. He adores hiking and being outdoor in the country or by the sea in nearly all weather. He dreams of hiking to Rome and Jerusalem.

Read more from Matthew Hall

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