We have heard countless stories about boat accidents carrying Syrian refugees escaping their war-torn country for an unknown future in Europe. Many of the refugees do not make it to their final destination and instead perish at sea and their bodies end up washed up on the shores of Turkey, Greece and Italy.
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), more than 8,000 people have lost their lives since 2014 in their attempt to cross the Mediterranean towards Europe. More than 1,200 of the victims have not been identified and have been buried in unmarked graves.
Humanitarianism still exists in the world however. Some, like British artist Arabella Dorman still believe in humanity. She is known as the “war artist,” but after seeing her incredible art installation at St. James’ Church in London’s Piccadilly, she should instead be called the “artist of humanity” because she is refusing to turn the Syrians who drowned at sea into just numbers and statistics. She instead chose to immortalize their memory in an artwork that speaks to man’s humanity.
The “Suspended” installation hangs on the ceiling of the St. James’ Church. It is comprised of some 800 discarded articles of clothing that used to belong to Syrian women, men and children and which she collected during visits to the Greek island of Lesbos.
Dorman told Asharq Al-Awsat that she visited many countries that have been destroyed by war, such as Iraq and Afghanistan. She also visited the Palestinian territories and met the people, who have been forgotten by humanity.
She has long been affected by the tragedies of the refugees of the countries she has visited. In 2014, she traveled to Lesbos and was struck by the image of the shore that was strewn with the discarded clothes of refugees.
“I had an urge to rise up against this cruelty. As a mother of two children, it pained me to see the clothes of children. The pain I felt cannot be put into words,” she said.
“I am an artist who channels her feelings into her paintings, but after seeing these clothes, which are the only remnants of these people, I decided to undertake a more powerful project,” she explained.
It was from that Greek shore that she decided to turn the clothes into an artwork that reflects the humanity of the world.
Hung in the form of the circle, to represent the earth, a light is shone through the suspended clothes in St. James’ church to represent the hope “that is inside us as humans.” When this light is turned off, darkness and human tragedy take over.
“Suspended” was possible through the efforts of the charitable Starfish Foundation and several volunteers, who collected some 1,400 articles of clothing from the Lesbos shore. Around 800 were chosen for the installation. The exhibit opened on December 11, 2017 and is expected to run until February 8. Dorman hopes that the artwork can later be installed at Canterbury Cathedral.
If there is one article of clothing that can shake a viewer to the core, she said, it is a shirt that reads “My first Christmas.” The artist added that she gets chills seeing that shirt because the child who wore it had no idea that his first Christmas would also be his last.