Thursday was spent in the Dunkerque camp. Winter has settled hard and fast the air frozen, heavy and still. Members of the team had a brief walk around and saw the burnt out women’s centre, being knocked down to be rebuilt. Rubbish lines the paths around the huts making the camp both feel more inhabited but also more dishevelled.
The butterfly house was slowly filled with a mixture of men women and children. A familiar rhythm is building both with the Médecins du Monde team and the camp residents, a recognition that we will be there on Thursdays. There were many repeated visitors in the space, slowly relationships are forged and deepen, people feeling more comfortable and trusting in our presence.
The overhead projector remained on throughout the session and lit up a large white sheet of paper, filled with silhouettes. There were several changes of scene with an ongoing story as random found objects created a narrative; a figure moved about, a tree was added, a biscuit became a sun and a half moon peaked out on the opposite edge. Coffee stirrers became reeds or flowers, children and many of the adults became involved throughout the afternoon and gently added then took away from the tableau.
As the white paper was drawn on, another element was added, another layer, with it’s own story began to emerge. A resident who had had used Art Refuge UK’s space in the Calais camp, drew out a scene across the paper, then sat and told one of our team their story as they drew out their journey. This brought us back to our experience in the previous camp, reminding us of the mapping work that had been such an important layer in our work there.
Meanwhile young children played; one boy delighting in cutting up paper, determined and mindful he cut and cut until he ran out of steam. He then stuck carefully small pieces on top of each other, playful in a game of running back and forth to claim sellotape and additional layers to attach. The adults around him able to indulged him in his game.
A girl painted a portrait, very clear she wanted a big piece of paper, steadfast in her desire to make her make her image. Another adult joined her to paint the hair, which was then repainted by the child, perhaps a gesture that this picture was her own; her own space to make a mark. It led us to wonder that whilst the children are cared for well by the community, do they struggle to find spaces for a sense of individual self? Amidst such close quarters is there any room to be themselves?
On Friday morning while some of the team attended meetings and hospital visits, other members of the team went to the lace museum in Calais. The museum showed a different side of Calais – a different context –an older history of migration and flux. It showed the textiles and the intricate patterns made by lace-workers. It felt a poignant reflection of what is history in the making. The migrant lines drawn on the maps, which were so present in the now ghost Calais camp.
Friday afternoon was spent in the safe house with a group of minors. As the group moved in and out from the outside, they dressed wearing layer upon layer of clothing to keep out the bitter cold. We sat around the table with the smell of frankincense. Young Eritrean men steadily worked on their images. The postcards were used, explored, discussed; some drawn and some traced.
As the group drew to a close and the artwork gathered together, different images were moved around and placed on or alongside each other. Collages and drawings were merged then placed on different coloured backgrounds. A healthy dynamic interaction, the context and feel of the image changed with the different coloured and textured backdrops.
This seems to reflect the displacement of people so caught in their movement through different contexts, the multitude of layers to their perspectives and experiences. As our personal interactions and connections with people deepen, we are aware of new layers to personal stories carefully opening out to be shared and seen.
Miriam Usiskun and Naomi Press