Art Refuge UK in Calais, 14/15th October
There is the possibility that the Calais refugee camp will be dispersed and demolished early next week although the date has not yet been set by the French state, and the eviction could take place early the following week, or later still.
The anticipation and yet lack of clarity was expressed in a range of ways by those we came into contact with over the two days, in amongst which was the feeling of the calm before the storm and the need for perspective.
On Thursday we witnessed a dignified, peaceful but defiant demonstration on the part of a hundred or so Sudanese men, a protest against the atrocities being committed in their country, letting the world know their right to asylum.
In the CAMIE youth area we worked with 30 unaccompanied minors. There was good news with two young teenagers coming into the space to announce that they have gained legal passage to the UK, to be reunited with family under the Dubs agreement.
Throughout the afternoon other boys sat with us calmly to draw, while some seemed angry and anxious. Two boys turned to performance to communicate their frustration and find some meaning in their predicament. One 14 year old set himself up as Director of the Asylum Office - taking fingerprints from both workers and residents around the youth area, holding an ink-pad and pen, doling out a pass to one of us for the UK, withholding it from another - 'you must stay in France, come back next week!' Another young man acted out the fate of those persecuted and displaced by other wars, and then welcomed in - but he stressed that this isn't happening here, in this place, at this time.
On Friday, against the backdrop of a mounting armed police presence and busy NGO activity, we spent the afternoon reaching out across the camp, meeting people we know, reconnecting in our goodbyes and engaging in new conversations. On our walk we met some who seem to have accessed the information they need while others are struggling within the confusion.
Evident also was a renewed flourishing of the arts across the camp, so often the case at times of crisis - messages of hope, collective singing, communal cooking, impromptu exhibitions, new graffiti.
There was a different perspective when you climbed up the newly constructed Belfry Tower on top of the sand dune - people naturally want to get up high when something is about to happen. In France, and across continental Europe, many cities including Calais have a belfry tower, originally a watch tower to provide protection against hostile attack.
In the camp over the past week an international group of students have erected a flag-topped tower made from wood to mark the Calais camp as a mini society, a city in its own right with positive complexity, and networks across the world.
Anna Kalin, Bobby Lloyd, Jess Linton
Art Refuge in Calais, 15/16 September 2016
The Art Refuge UK team this week was Jess Linton, Naomi Press, and Tony Gammidge. We had two days of completely opposing weather, the first extremely hot and sunny and the next heavy and unrelenting rain. This echoed the unpredictable nature of the camp and how easy it is to be caught off guard and feel ill prepared.
We started by visiting a man in the hospital to give him a copy of the film about war in his country that he had made a few weeks back. He looked proud and delighted that his achievement had been recognised and acknowledged. He was particularly keen for the film to be shared on Facebook ('War Film' to follow).
In the CAMI (Centre Accueil Mineurs Isoles et Etrangers) space, stories were told in their own way through words, images, animations, models and sometimes through enactment, behaviour and boisterous energy.
A deaf and mute man enacted out extreme and traumatic experiences with the police in Libya and a nightmarish journey on the boat from there to Italy - shared with 280 packed in to a small space. This started from him picking up a postcard of a sailing boat from the table. Another young boy took a large roll of paper and enacted a scene of a man with a gun ordering him to leave his home town. This week we noticed that he couldn't sit still and needed to be moving around the space interacting boisterously with his friends.
Another man from Afghanistan made an animation film about people from his country but also Sudan and Turkey all dancing and celebrating together for Eid at the beginning of the week. He acknowledged a sense of community between the different cultures. He then went to do a drawing of a car but filled with love hearts. There is a sense that these young people are often thought of as children who have lost their carers but who are also becoming men with all of their frustrated desires.
Outside, working with materials at a table in the shade, a young man confides that today is his 16th birthday and what a big day that would have been for him at home, his first day as a man. We had little to offer to acknowledge this momentous day. Another of the boys started to sing him happy birthday asking him mid song what his name is - highlighting the lone paths these men have been forced to take, even if met with solidarity by those in similar situations in the camp. Conversations of lost families, childhoods and education came throughout the two days.
Another man is able to express his rage at the fact that he has been in the camp for a year and that his phone is broken and he can't contact his family. He challenges the boundaries of the space with his frustration and a sense of impotence but it feels like he does manage to process something and he perhaps communicates what many people are feeling at the moment.
On the second day in the Médecins du Monde France tent it starts to rain as we start the group. A man from Syria who perhaps in defiance of the rain outside states a desire to make something fun. We make a group of puppets that turn out to be a group of dancers perhaps in a circus act, one sits on another's shoulders and others are clapping and cheering. This animation film is indeed playful and celebratory and he is clearly very pleased with what he has produced.
A young man who has only been in the camp for ten days introduced himself to the team and asked if there was any musical instruments he could play. The only thing we had was a keyboard on the iPad which he immersed himself in for the next few hours, happily playing the piano, very much in his own space but still sat at the table with us.
A man from Afghanistan did an animation of a strong man lifting weights and then continued with some much more vulnerable drawings of scenes of violence and oppression in his home country. His works, though very different both showed courage, openness and an impressive ability to express what he needed to. He stayed for most of the afternoon and before leaving he was keen to welcome us to his home and garden in the camp.
By this time the rain was torrential and was leaking into the tent which made the goodbyes as we packed up much harder than usual as people ran off through the rain to their inadequate shelters. Though on both days people had fully used the space we had offered we still couldn't help but feel a sense of impotence as we left, in particular with numerous reminders of threats of eviction of the camp.
Art Refuge UK in Calais, 25/26 August 2016
We adapted to the extreme heat and humidity over the two days by utilising both the inside and outside of our spaces. The Sudanese young men did not struggle in the heat and played very energetic games of football and rugby, dipping into art making and looking together with us at postcards of art and photography, some helping to mark the extended space by pinning up the cards on the portacabin door.
A small ten year old boy dressed in traditional Afghani clothing, created an abstract painting with charcoal shapes and scribbles, using a stick of oil pastel to roll the thick white acrylic across the dark lines, sitting quietly for some time before running towards the basketball net to find other ways to exert his stored up energy. An adolescent Afghani boy with him had arrived only two days previously and he had been brought to the CAMI by a community elder to try to trace his family and find a way to acquire phone. After being supported to speak with the Red Cross visiting the CAMI to offer a tracing service, he sat with our team outside painting. When introduced to the space he was quick to share that he was stressed and concerned having not had contact with family back home for a number of days, which impacted on his ability to rest and sleep. Another elder of an African community brought a teenage boy to CAMI for a welcome pack, whilst a noticeable number of young boys came seeking essential phone fixing and credit.
A young boy from Darfur came back to see us after regularly accessing the Art Refuge UK space for a few months, where he chose to use the quieter inside space of the portacabin to return to making scenes of plasticine men riding animals, this time starting to open up through one-to-one work with the team - telling his deeply saddening story of loss which had led to him fleeing his country. Two young adolescents from Afghanistan also appreciated the calm settled spaced inside the portacabin and sat for some time occasionally breaking in to song about "Kabul, Kabul...".
Friday's session in the Medecins du Monde space offered a return to cyanotypes and a sharing of different objects and skills across cultures to play with ideas and 'sun-printing'. Some of the objects were plasticine models from previous weeks and two friends from Sudan drew in onlookers from the group as they played the wind instruments they had made with the unused plasticine, making bowls that were then curved to make a hollow shape, removing small circular pieces to makes holes, and then making music that could be heard both outside and inside the tent.
The cyanotypes continued to bring together natural and man made objects - found close to the tent or from a growing collection of the group; comb, toothbrush, half a CD, tent poles, rubber sole of a shoe, tiny fragments of tiles, pots and discarded bricks. Group members also made stencils as an extension and exploration of the cyanotypes; creating images from items or pieces that are removed. People gathered to watch each other position chosen fragments on the prepped papers; how long to leave them on the paper in the sun?; what grades of shadows would appear?; what would happen when the paper was placed in cold water?; did we recognise these plants from home? One man explained "Here's a chosen collection of basic objects found in every home - comb, toothbrush, cutlery and plates for our table..."
We wondered about how Art Refuge UK's absence is experienced in between sessions and about the hope that is left in the place of the few young boys and men who successfully leave the camp at night and who don't return, having made it to the UK, and how we remember each other throughout shared absences.
Anna Kalin, Sarah Robinson, Jess Linton
365 days / 8,760 hours / A year that has gone at 100 miles an hour for some but stayed slow, stagnant and stuck for many others /
This week marks a year since Art Refuge UK and Médecins du Monde France (MdM) - instigated by the brilliant Naomi Press - sat down together and agreed that a partnership to establish psycho-social support for the residents of the large camp in Calais who found themselves there was much needed.
We have found ourselves very much moving with the tides and shifting landscapes of the camp, starting in a small sinking tent in the formally run MdM and Médecins Sans Frontières clinic, moving to what is now the state run hospital and clinic at the far Northside of the camp, the Hummingbird Project- Calais and Dunkirk - Aid and Solidarity 'safe space' nestled in next to the large church and services such as Jungle Books, to new psycho-social spaces. Always responding to physical, social, psychological changes and needs, but very much standing our ground and letting residents know that this is what we intend to continue to do; returning each week; offering consistency. This is proving to have really paid off. We work with many new people each week but also individuals who have been with us for a considerable amount of time, and who are feeling worn and despairing of this time, which painfully reminds them of changing seasons around, changing / aging characteristics and character, whilst they feel physically stuck, some would say paralyzed.
Each week we continue to think together as a team about ways we can remain 'unstuck' in this context - working in solidarity with residents and other services to acknowledge these strong external pressures that often none of us have control over, but whilst hoping to find some fluidity, strength and survival in the internal resources that we can lay claim to own, occupy and utilize. To me, our weekly updates are one of the elements of the work that I feel supports this on different levels. We continuously reflect on the work with the individuals that we work with, and we share our and their perspectives on what feels to be the essence of that week via the Art Refuge UK Facebook page and website blog. Whilst remaining a-political as an organisation, the very being of the 'portable studio' practice is underpinned by a social action perspective. Working in collaboration with individuals who have experienced political conflict and social upheaval - who have been persecuted for who they are and what they believe in - makes an online playing field even more valuable.
An ‘online resource’ - the world wide web – often feels an ‘in between’ space; not internal, not external, but a bridging 'potential space'. As we might see a piece of paper, an art material or art object, which allows the internal, the personal, to feel fluid; be externalised; freed; shared. It is a space outside of self which could be considered to be self-managed (or at least it can be in the UK where we are lucky enough not to be monitored and where space can be reclaimed and voices can be heard).
The partnership of our bringing the work back, to supposed safety, to freedom, to be posted online - on an international platform, to a multi-national community- feels more and more substantial and symbolic to me. Of course this online space / resource/ internationally shared place (reinforced with my first troll caller also marking this week!) is a vast subject area and it's vast space can feel uncontrollable, exposing, falsely perceived as fairly owned by all, and we do continue to hold this in mind, trying to find balance on this fine line.
Last week's update can be found in full below. Follow the links to the full ‘collection’ across the year/ 365 days/ 8,760 hours, which are starting to feel like a small but solid way of making sure we can make sure that the lives of so many inspiring individuals we have worked with in the camp and the life of the camp itself is shared - honestly and without sheltering others from the truths, highlighting the stomach wrenching realities. For the people that we work with and due to the others who continue to struggle to make humane decisions and actions in order to support human rights, freedom of movement and speech.
Please continue to follow the work and support. We are so grateful of the support that has been given in all different shapes and forms, thank you!
This week the team was Anna Kälin, Jess Linton and Sarah Robinson. We started out on our two days in camp by running our first session for unaccompanied minors in the protected and lively young people's space co-ordinated by Medecins Sans Frontières. Both organisations along with the Refugee Youth Service (formerly Balloo's) and a visiting NGO 'Step Up' were offering a range of spaces, activities and interactions, throughout the day, as we awaited Lille's administrative court ruling on whether the kid's cafe, amongst others, was to be formally closed on health and safety grounds.
Over the five hours that we were in Centre pour L'adolescents et Minors Immigrants (CAMI), we welcomed faces old and new into the portacabin which became a space for art making, talking, sharing music, photos and videos from their phones. In particular, a young person with learning difficulties, who the team had not seen for five months, returned with two gentle guardians to be greeted by Jess, and was shown developed photographs that he had taken during the participatory photography project. He repeatedly flipped through the photos trying to remember the camp's layout from that time and, to some extent, to recognise himself in a photo that he had asked Jess to take of him. We understand that since March, he has become an avid photographer and has taken hundreds of photos with his phone.
One young person explored this new space, coming and going over the afternoon, not directly engaging with the materials on the table but clearing the stones in the yard outside with his feet to make a giant outline of a heart where his peers played football and badminton all afternoon. Simultaneously, inside the portacabin, two boys sitting opposite each other, coming from different continents, made images of hearts, which were put up on the wall for the rest of the day.
On Friday, back in the Médecins du Monde tent, one of our regular group members explained about a "main vein" that runs straight from the heart to the wedding ring finger, before drawing around his left hand, filling in the shape with red, black and green, the colours of Afghanistan's flag. Whilst for some their imagery was of homeland, for others they focused on what life might offer in a hoped for future and some of the men, young and older appeared to be more comfortable in here-and-now-life such as mending ripped clothing with our embroidery kit and taking photos of their friends alongside Art Refuge UK team members.
One young person returned again to kite flying, perhaps making and attempting to keep a treasured connection with an object, people and places far away. We continued to notice a tension within him between staying grounded in the camp and taking flight to other places in Europe, and kite flying seemed to support him to tolerate being where he was in that moment.
On the crossing between Calais and Folkestone we heard the news that the seventy shops including the much loved kid's cafe in the camp, won't be destroyed, maintaining calm meeting places only, as the population exceeds 9000 and anticipates an imposed curfew. Next week we will have had a consistent presence in the camp for one year, building relationships between organisations there and witnessing incredible levels of creativity, resilience and kindness in trying times.
On Thursday morning we visited the inpatient hospital in the Calais camp for a series of moving and gentle encounters with a small group sitting outside in the wind and sun, made up of both inpatients and friends come to visit. These regular visits are much appreciated on both sides, and there was a lot of getting up for others to sit down and looking out for each other across ethnic groups.
An Afghani man we do not know felt able to show us a series of stab wounds across his body, caused after he'd intervened to break up a fight in the camp; and how he feels safe in the hospital area and intends to claim asylum in France but settle elsewhere, away from the dangers of the camp. The Sudanese teacher we have got to know well over the months joined us this time in a wheelchair, accepting the supply of art materials we'd brought for him as a gift to share with others.
The Medecins du Monde tent was busy all afternoon with about 35 people coming and going, but again in a gentle companionable way with the table laid out with pared down materials of paper, tracing paper, postcards and pens across the map surface, and the usual kite-making to the side of the tent.
At a table placed in the channel area, three members of the Sudanese group that had made t-shirts a few weeks ago returned to get on with their project. They carefully and methodically set about stencilling their emblem onto cotton bags, getting ready for a dance celebration for Eid in mid September. They worked with commitment and immense courtesy, offering four bags as a gift to us while the other four would hold ceremonial objects and fruit.
In the evening we ourselves searched the landscape for discarded objects - from current residents and past histories - to take back as a resource for the tent on Friday. Serendipitously, we discovered a line of found objects that the neighbouring Sudanese residents had themselves gathered, painted blue and placed in a line in the sand.
On Friday morning we led a short training session for Medecins du Monde volunteers focused on found objects as a medium to work with. Interestingly all chose objects that referenced both the violence and hope that is present in the camp. These objects were spread across a table as a backdrop throughout the afternoon - an underbelly of the camp present in the space.
Throughout the afternoon there was once again the gentle comings and goings of people which spoke to us of community, the importance of habit and consistency, and the known as anchors particularly for some of the most vulnerable residents who return each week.
There were small and informal discussions on issues of freedom, education and politics, with favoured lectures and readings cited. It was also a good couple of days for good news stories with someone gaining asylum status in France and another enrolling for a university course in Lille. Proud moments, companionship, community.
"If I trust myself I can change ideas inside me, and then I believe I can do something, and then we can do something. We need to face the problem, sit and talk and find a solution."
Anna Kälin, Sarah Robinson, Jess Linton