It has been an increasingly difficult week on the ground in Calais with everyone reporting to us the gravity and inhumanity of the police and municipality tactics; halting the midday meals, preventing the provision of food and water. The nourishment and care that organizations and volunteers work so hard to maintain is being interrupted and blocked, as people’s most basic needs are purposefully disregarded and denied. The continued and escalating physical violence, tear-gassing, and the destruction of peoples belongings, leaves groups and individuals exposed in the hot sun; walking along the edges of roads in search of places of safety and rest.
Our friends gathered in the room today to share updates on their health and asylum claims with us, and we shared news from the UK. There were discussions around the situation for people struggling to exist outside and the observance of Ramadan in these circumstances. One of the men was eager for us to photograph the artwork he had created during the week between our visits.
As we arrived young people waiting outside were keen to help us in bringing our materials into the centre, the now familiar map was unfolded and spread across the table and people quickly sat down to settle into art making alongside us. Bricks and drawings emerged, structures were carefully made, and ambitious buildings were begun. The precariousness of these shelters seemed to replicate the group’s experiences in the hostile environment outside.
Some structures collapsed, others were left incomplete only to be dismantled by another person waiting to take their place and rebuild from memories of homes left behind. The table quickly transformed into a hub, people sat, whilst others stood and watched, helping us to take photographs. There was more improvisation and experimentation with materials; buildings were built on the foundations of dictionaries, a backdrop was made using chalk pastels, and scenes slowly came to life with small plasticine objects being offered from around the room.
People talked of the families that they were missing and separations across borders. Long journeys to try and find a place of welcome. The drawings produced were both sensitive and nostalgic; one young man spoke of how he had taught himself to draw over the two years he resided in Finland, sharing how this creative practice had helped him to manage his loneliness and isolation. As we came to end of our time today, there was a reluctance for us to leave the space, we felt the sadness in our packing up materials that had momentarily brought some respite.
Today we worked with a group of very young unaccompanied boys who had been gathered in the space by the safe house staff for some temporary rest and care for the afternoon. We sat down together at the table and gently began to explore the materials. Yet again, ambitious buildings were undertaken, and the tenacity and perseverance with which these young people pursued their creations was impressive to us all. Plasticine figures were created and added to the final scene, a culmination of dwellings made by the group, determined to persist and find a place to make home.