A collection of evocative and symbolic objects about flight, tribulation and growth, exhibited in Castrum Peregrini. Through their stories and objects, collected at the Turkish-Syrian border, in the Netherlands and in Germany, we connect with them. These stories are not all about current realities, but place mobility in a broader, historic context. They attempt to shed light on the human condition of being a refugee.
The refugee status makes you anonymous, this exhibition turns numbers into people. The objects, stories and installations on show in the studio of Gisele Waterschoot van der Gracht interact with the history of Castrum Peregrini as a former Second World War safehouse. Sometimes objects are presented as valuable artefacts on a pillar, in a display case. Other times they are enlarged and printed on plexiglass or canvas, always accompanied by the story that gave it its meaning. Refugees will guide visitors through the exhibition.
Human kind is shaped and enriched by a history of mobility. While the West sees vast streams of people coming and is afraid to lose its identity a schism is created. An invisible divide separates the world into ‘us’ and ‘them’. That’s where communication falters and connecting becomes complex. Politicians fence our borders and lobby for more and bigger walls. When we build a wall, do we lock another out, or do we block ourselves in? Does it take away our fears? This selection of personal stories and objects wants to make holes in the invisible walls of the mind. Read someone’s story and you can become them, like a character in a book.
Emerging HiStories places central the personal story. The curators have a background in journalism and worked in the Middle East for many years. They are in search of a universal reality and a sense of empathy for the involuntary identity of being a refugee.
When her group left Mosul at dawn, it had started with a slight drizzle, nothing unusual. But in the afternoon the rain was still falling. As everyone was winding down for the night the drops kept falling. Quicker now and in larger succession, it had become a constant rhythmic flood.
It kept pouring down endlessly when they got to Mount Sinjar the next day. It soaked her feet, her clothes, and trickled from her brows. It altered the skin of her hands and feet, making it oddly wrinkled, thick. Fourat had not a soul left in this world. Her only travelling companion was a grey toy bunny that seemed to get a little bigger with every step. It was somewhat heavier too. Fourat didn’t mind at first.
But Bunny kept on growing. So much so, it became an unbearable weight for the small girl to carry. The dry fluffy bunny of no more than 200 grams slowly transformed into a wet dripping giant. That is when she had to leave it behind. When she looked around, the salty tears on her face mingled wit the sweet water from the sky. The world is heavy, and not meant for one set of small shoulders. The weight of the world can sometimes be like a bunny, soaked by endless rain.
Nasser became familiar with all different prison systems, first under the Shah, later under the Ayatollah’s. Dictatorship begins when a government starts patrolling the minds of its people calling it protection of ‘God’, ‘freedom’ or ‘law’.
After a monthlong search for his son, who was arrested age 17, Nasser’s father bought a radio with world reception.“I could communicate with virtually no one, when my father opened a door to the world, invisible, over the radio waves. (..)
One of the Shah's prisons that I was kept in, has been turned into a museum (..) On two endless brick walls, small nameplates have been mounted, honouring all the people once imprisoned here. The big lettering above it says: ‘The walls speak the truth.'(..) But the walls are as silent as the dead about the thousands of prisoners with little plates who, like me, ended up in jail again under the Ayatollahs, and perished there.”
Nineteen days and 5 hours and 34 minutes it took to get out. From 5pm on the 1st of September 2013 to 8.34pm on the 19th of September 2013. I remember every moment. Small things will cost you your life, you know. So why did I survive? Maybe it was harder for them to kill a local guy called Mohammed. Or was it the doctors I had been providing with medication who told them; "Hey we are treating you. We patch you up. Let Mohammed go." In any case, my Western friend wasn’t so lucky. After being their captive for 14 months, they beheaded him.
The night I was released my guard Abu Khatab, opened the door and said."Didn’t they kill you yet? Didn’t they behead you?’' I started laughing hysterically. "What for?" I said "What are you talking about?" He said, "OK" and closed the door.
19-09-2013, 8pm. That was a funny day. After 19 days of captivity, having waited for a bus to be executed twice and being propped up against the wall to be beheaded, they ask me: “What if we let you go now, where would you go?” I smile, I have no idea…Aleppo? “There is no transportation to Aleppo now. You don’t even have money.” I’ll be fine, if you are going to let me go, do it already. “But you have no shoes..” I can do it, sir, it’s fine, I can do it , I’ll take a cab, I’ll be ok.. “But the shops are closed…" Aaargghh.....Then he gave me a pair of shoes: "You are free to go…”
Dust fills the air before it settles to form a thin grey vale on his brown skin. On his arms, in his neck and in his nostrils, it gets everywhere. It itches the folds of his skin and pierces his lungs. For Amr this is a day like all the others, endless and suffocating. He is eight years old, working ceaselessly against the mountains of fabric and buttons. Piles that, the moment their size diminishes, are stacked up again and again. Little buttons are diligently sown onto shirts by the small fingers that skillfully operate the sowing machine. They form infinite heaps beside the bulging bales of fabric and the stacks of elastic band. Amr was born and raised in the countryside of Aleppo, but he can barely remember a time of peace.
The war he remembers, even if his family moved to Gaziantep, Turkey, almost two years ago. The sounds of war have not left his small body. The hissing of bullets cutting through the air and the jarring whistles of bombs before they crash to the ground with a burning thump. If a truck drives over a speed bump it sends a shiver through his body, and he shudders if weddings are celebrated with wild shooting and fire crackers. In these moments he is catapulted back into the war and flares of images bombard the walls of the barren sweat shop. They are louder than the rattling machinery.
Amr’s place is on the right side of the work floor, a room not much bigger than a garage box. The air is filled with dust and the never ending rattle of dozens of sewing machines. It is harshly lit by fluorescent tubes attached to the ceiling. There are no windows, but there is an old radio that plays traditional flute music somewhere in the background. Children are sitting huddled by their workstations, squatting on the floor next to some grown-ups, and then there is his brother. Together they provide the family with extra income, enough to feed them all. That means working five days a week, 12 hours a day for 100 Turkish Lira, or around 28 euro. His parents are grateful. With every question Amr turns around, answers briefly and goes back to work. The intense rattling of the machines takes over. He works on an order of shirts that will not wait for idle hands or decorative talk.
“Doctor” he says without a moment’s hesitation when asked what he wants to become. “So I can go back to cure the injured.” Yes, he misses Syria, the home they had to leave so suddenly. “Only some clothes and food” was what they could take. The teddy-bear, his favorite toy, was left behind too. Amr has no money to spare for a new teddy-bear, “I don't spend money, I save. For a new phone, so I can call my mom if I get lost.” Everything about this place feels lost, but a different kind of lost, not one that can be solved with a phone call. This is a place of standstill, a world between purposes, without bombs that tumble from the skies. After this, life can start again. And doctors will be needed.
Nadette de Visser is an author/journalist on issues of culture and conflict.
Since 2008 Nadette de Visser has been a regular contributor to The Daily Beast (http://www.thedailybeast.com/search.html?q=nadette+de+visser). She covers the news in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany on all subjects. Starting form the nineties, her work has been published in/by: Newsweek, Time Out Amsterdam, NRC, Het Parool, de Volkskrant, Bright Magazine, Vara tv Magazine, de Groene, Print Magazine and Reporters Without Borders.
She teaches writing classes at the Writers Academy in Leiden since 2012.
Nadette de Visser is the author of 'Jerusalem/Al Quds', published in the series 'From Our Correspondent' by Kit Publishers (2008). It details her experiences as a journalist living and working on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
She initiated different projects amongst which the traveling exhibition and catalogue Objects in Conflict, in which the biographic story attached to personal objects, in the context of war is featured www.objectsinconflict.com. In het project Worldvillage Westerpark (2009) a inner city neighbourhood project gives a new perspective on people’s every day realities. Through the lens of a camera people from all ages (9 to 70) show their lives to one another in image and word.
Nadette de Visser has a masters degree in Art History and Cultural Studies at the University of Amsterdam. In 2008 she completed modules in Peace Education at Columbia University and International Humanitarian Law at Harvard University.
Özkan Gölpinar (1968) is publicist and a member of the Dutch Cultural Council. The Cultural council is the legal advisory organ of the Dutch government on the arts, culture and media.
He was attached to the Leiden University Center for the Arts in Society on the research program Contemporary Art Beyond Boundaries. As program maker he was attached to the Mondriaan Foundation and the Foundation for The Arts, Design and Architecture (BKVB).
Gölpinar studied Journalism in Utrecht, Film & Televisiostudies at the Amsterdams Hogeschool for the Arts and has a Masters in Film & Photographic studies at the University of Leiden.
He has 20 years experience as reporter with: Volkskrant, Trouw etc. Gölpinar has written several books, essays, theatre plays, documentaries.
He was a member of the council of the International Cultuur Centre Mozaïek and the Maurits Binger Film Institute.
He was part of the advisory comission of the Foundation for the Letters, the Dutch Foundation for Film, the Rotterdams Arts Foundation and the Foundation for Amature and Stage Arts.
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