Our flight over to Nepal was a powerful and memorable start to our trip. We watched our flight path across Europe, over Turkey where we changed planes and then kept on, over: Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan. As we started this second leg from Turkey we followed the shadows of the mountain ranges below us and thought about the turbulent lands beneath us and the challenging journeys that many people were taking to escape them, whether heading East or West. It reminded me of some of the unaccompanied young people I had worked with in the UK. I thought about how this journey is often made on foot across mountains; through snow, in excruciating heat, against fierce security; not in the comfort we could enjoy. So much so that our own journey was forgotten until we reached Kathmandu with a bump.
The mountains have had a clear presence in our thoughts and our work here with Art Refuge UK over the past 6 weeks. They keep returning to our own artwork. Naomi and I spend as much time as we can outdoors and neither of us are exploring mountains in our artwork for the first time, but this time we have the new experience of sharing the mountain range with each other and the people that we are working with. Both as we find our place in Kathmandu, surrounded by the very present Himalayan mountain range and Kathmandu Valley, and in our artwork and the images produced by our clients.
For me there has been something in the act of trailing a pen, a tear of the paper, a paintbrush, across the line of the mountain range. This line grounds the mountains on the page, giving weight to their presence, but it also marks where the mountains reach the sky. I keep returning to this; tracing the contours of a mountain range and marking their place in the land alongside sky (air); water; the ‘fire’ of the bright round sun, being reminded of the Buddhist prayer flags we see all over Nepal.
As we work we think about our clients; working alongside them in the space; observing their marks, their narratives. I think about their personal story, wondering about whether they would position themselves at the beginning, middle or end.
Different routes, different mountain ranges, different experiences of land, sea and sky passages to sanctuary spaces, but we seem to regularly witness similar experiences being re-lived by our clients here, from the safer distance of the paper and art image.
We have witnessed some sense of reassurance or relief in realizing that some experiences are collective, or shared, and an important support network found amongst themselves.
The mountains seem prominent and significant in a number of clients’ work. Do the mountains reinforce the concept of divided lands, unyielding borders? Perhaps their scale attempts to represent the scale of the hurdles many of these refugees have (and continue to) face.
As I’ve watched young unaccompanied children find their way on the paper and amongst the materials I have thought about their separation from their mothers. Are they craving the comfort of their mother and all that their parents provide? Has it dawned on them that they may never see their families, their foundations, again?
But ultimately we can’t dig for answers. We are there to sit with the painful and difficult, thoughts, feelings and memories alongside our clients. We hope that given this time and space our clients can be supported to unearth their resilience so that they can start excavating and beginning to process at their own pace. So that they can find a way to start to rebuild themselves, their ‘homes’ and their lives.