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National Refugee Week – reflecting on nature and climate change

by Klaudia Januszewska on 21.06.17

It’s National Refugee Week and events and exhibitions around Manchester encourage people to reflect on the fate of past and present refugees and to think about the complex reasons why people are forced to leave their homes.

It is becoming apparent that aside from economic and political reasons, climate change is one of the significant underlying causes of the refugee crisis (see: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-23899195), as raising water levels, drying fields and natural disasters destroy places of work and living and thus destabilise whole cities and countries.

Our City, Our Home, a series of events hosted by Z-Arts, focuses of people’s stories and celebrates the ways refugees contribute to local communities, while exhibitions at the Whitworth and at the Manchester Museum encourage people to reflect on the past and present of people’s journeys and their relation to the natural world.

In the Manchester Museum, a ‘Nu Shabtis’ installation by Zahed Taj-Eddin, a Syrian-born artist, reimagines shabtis – ancient Egyptian servant figures placed in tombs, responsible for serving the dead on their journey to the afterlife – as modern-times migrants. Present-day shabtis are placed around galleries and even suspended from the ceiling and their journey into the afterlife as imagined by ancient Egyptians is changed into a journey to a new life, undertaken by so many. A group of ‘nu shabtis’ on a boat with the waves of the Mediterranean Sea in the background creates an eerie image and the sea normally connected with peace and times of relaxation is presented in a new context, as a dangerous passage.





Similarly, ‘Vertigo Sea’, a video installation by a British artists John Akomfrah, focuses of people’s difficult relationship with the sea. It juxtaposes poignant images, showing past and present scenes of suffering and cruelty such as slavery, whale hunting, and the present-day migration,taking place with the sea as the backdrop. Using three screens, it creates the feeling of being overwhelmed and inspires a strong emotional response.

The installations illustrate the complexity of the current refugees crisis and engage people in a debate using art and referring to the past in order to see the current problems in a new light. They also make us think about nature and how it is connected to dramatic events of the past and present times.Nature affected by climate change can impact people in ways difficult to imagine and work of arts like these can help to highlight the importance of making the future relations with nature more balanced and peacuful. 

For more information, please follow the links below.

Shabtis Suspended Truth: http://www.museum.manchester.ac.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/currentexhibitions/shabtissuspendedtruth/  

Vertigo Sea: http://www.whitworth.manchester.ac.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/currentexhibitions/johnakomfrah/

Our City, Our Home: http://www.z-arts.org/events/home-is-part-of-our-city-our-home-events-series/


Climate change and migration: