Strong Men / Heavy Rain / by 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.