Art can be expressive in many ways. It can be an outflow of creativity, a reflection of moods and emotions, a cathartic release of hopes, fears, wants or needs; or an echo of joy or contemplation or endeavour or of life itself. And it can be a voice of conscience commenting on society, culture and politics.
Exodus: A Trip for Life is a full region installation which falls squarely it that last bracket: offering a voice of conscience in response to our societal and political outlook. In doing so, it touches – invokes – something we can so easily lose sight of – even when it might appear we are trying to empathize.
Designed by Kicca Igaly and Nessuno Myoo, Exodus: A Trip For Life deals with the discomfiting issue of the world’s refugee crisis, which became a hot button topic on several fronts of the past couple of years; one in which some essential truths have perhaps been lost in the clamour of angry voices, political posturing, and perceived threats to security, jobs and income.
“It almost seems,” Nessuno says in introducing the installation, ” As if all the evils of our society, unable to find effective solutions to the problems which from time to time appear, have found, in the dark threat of the foreign ‘invader’ , the perfect scapegoat.”
And yet the simple truth is, these feared ‘invaders’, these people risking life and limb and family, do so not because they’re seeking to exploit our vulnerabilities and our way of living. They do so because they already are vulnerable; their war of life has already been destroyed through war and / or political / religious upheaval and oppression. Everything they have known has been torn apart in ways we cannot understand; far from coming here as exploited, they arrive as the exploited, preyed upon in their journey by criminals and traffickers; people more interested in taking money and possessions than in saving lives.
All of this, and more is brought forth in Exodus: A Trip for Life. It starts out at sea, where a battered hulk rides a heavy swell, figures crammed into its rotting hold or crawling desperately up to the main deck and clinging in fear to anything looking remotely solid. The vessel is tossed by waves of money – a reference to the physical price those aboard have paid, while strings rise from the hull to a puppeteer’s controllers, a further reference to the exploitation inherent in trafficking the desperate, as they are time and again forced to travel in vessels unfit for purpose (and it is no coincidence that the bows of this ship bear two names, again underlining the dire circumstances faced by so many).
Ashore, the imagery continues. New arrivals walk along a road, watched from a distance by locals, the gap between the two groups as telling at the walls that constrain the refugees to that single, lonely road. A camp sits close by, but again separated from the locals as if in quarantine from the rest of the land, by walls and iron gates. Both the road and the camp stand as metaphors of how we see refugees; they may not be so alien, they may appear more human – but they are still “others” to be kept at bay. And we are far more comfortable when they can be moved from our sight and thoughts, as symbolised by the line of arrivals slowly vanishing into a white mist. They pass and are gone – to where does not matter, nor does the fact their plight still goes with them; we can resume our lives.
Poignant, pointed, provocative, richly nuanced and threaded with a wealth of observation and commentary, Exodus: A Trip For Life may not sit well with some; it may not even by easy to entirely decipher on a single pass. But it does have a voice; one that reaches into our conscience to whisper a stark reminder about the realities of the world around us even as sound bites, posturing and the fickle lens of the media would distract us and divert our thoughts and feelings.
- Exodus: A Trip for Life (LEA 24, rated: Moderate)