This is the first of twelve columns I am going to write about my time interviewing hundreds of people involved in the refugee crisis. I will tell you how it affected me, and how it led me on to a search for truth, the kind of truth that doesn’t depend on the eloquence of the speaker.
My journey brought me through the highest ranks of the United Nations, where I nervously sat on my hands waiting for the great and the good, through the numb tragedy of refugee registration centres, to the vertiginous discoveries of the worlds largest scientific project, CERN’s Large Particle Collider. I will invite you to the Atacama Desert, where I will look out through the most powerful telescope ever built, as part of a UK film documentary, and see the ripples at the farthest end of our universe.
Who are you, you might ask me? What are you doing this for? Why would I personally care?
I am an everyday artist based in the UK, engaged in a series of art projects about Home and Identity. And thanks to Arianna Huffington, through this little corner of digital space, I intend to illustrate to you the age old truth:
If you look for the good, you will find it.
So far I have devoted myself to this project for 3 years. Why?
“An artist is someone who shakes things up. An artist knows how to ask the world uncomfortable questions and does everything possible to make sure the world can’t cop out of answering those questions.” Maria Alykhiovna of the band Pussy Riot said that upon her release from a Russian jail, where she spent 3 years for asking questions about Putin’s government.
Through my own body of work, part of which is an art installation “Am I my Brother’s Keeper?” which I made out of a Syrian refugee tent from Zaatari Camp, I am raising issues and communicating questions that we ask ourselves in this turning point of history, the 21st century. It is bit like that game, “You show me yours and I will show you mine”. Someone has to make the first move. So in this particular game, the one starting is me.
I want to give a voice, in unexpected places, to the voiceless. Most of all I want to ambush passers-by with joy. We learn about ourselves from other people’s stories, through engagement with the world around us, and through art.
That is why I took to the streets, in a series of written interventions that has now grown to some 400/500 separate places on 3 continents, writing thought-provoking and inspiring messages in my desire to bring home to us, in every day life, mankind’s innate hopefulness, constructivism and commitment to brotherhood.
As the great 2nd century Emperor Marcus Aurelius said, “The universe is change. Our life is what our thoughts make it”
To show this, I have written on every imaginable support, from tree stumps to public monuments, from garage loos to the Empire State Building and Trump tower, from tattoos on the arms of rockers, to entire landscapes in renowned museums. I invite you to see some of my work around New York City in the film alongside this article.
This beautiful film was made by a friend of mine, actress Odessa Rae. She had never made a film before. The music was given by the musician Moby, because he loved the film she made so much. “Same Blue Skies” illustrates my point perfectly.
Everything is possible. One minute the film was an idea. Next, it had been seen by hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people, and distributed by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. As Alyiokhina says, once we start to pass from thought to action, “We live and breathe astonishment.”
Of course, a feeling of helplessness can build up. World affairs are going through a period of turmoil. However, political chaos and environmental degradation are not inevitable, as sometimes seems to be the case. Quite the contrary. We can seize the chance to build and grow, and learn from the past to improve the future.
It is a perverse truth that those worst hit by tragedy can often the most positive. From refugees, who have gone through so much trauma and loss, I have learned energy and conviction, hope, and resilience. I have seen generosity of spirit that defies the imagination. We are each and every one of us capable of the best.
We don’t need to do anything radical to commit to this. Even a small child sharing his toys is engaging in a political gesture of great significance. Kindness is at the core of all human structures. This is what the future can be made of.
My work has become a sort of love letter to enthusiasm and optimism. I hope you like Odessa’s film.
Odessa Rae’s film can be found here:
Kate Daudy, born 1970, is a British conceptual artist who lives and works in London. She has three children.Her participatory map project, “A Psychological Landscape of London” is being distributed for free to all customers and online at http://www.selfridges.com/GB/