Social justice is a concept of fair relations between individuals and the society. It means equal access to wealth, healthcare, opportunities and privileges within the society. Refugees and migrants normally do not enjoy their rights and privileges as members of the public; to them social justice becomes social injustice. There are different definitions of the term “migrants and refugees” but the common thing in all of them is that they are people who are forced to leave their homes for various reasons. According to Pope Francis, “Migrants and refugees are not pawns on the chessboard of humanity. They are men, women and children who leave or are forced to leave their homes for various reasons, they share a legitimate desire for knowing and having, but above all for being more.”
The lives of refugees and migrants can be termed as a “nightmare” since they go through things that are unimaginable as they move from their homes to most of the times unknown destinations. Physical, sexual and psychological abuse is among the different kinds of torture that they go through. In some cases, loss of lives becomes the end result.
More than 34,000 refugees and migrants, most of them coming from Africa, have lost their lives while trying to reach Europe since 1993. In 2006, a Turkish artist Banu Cennetoglu started an ongoing work cataloging the names of those refugees. The list of the refugees which has been shown in different cities around the world has been frequently vandalized, recently, the same happened at the Liverpool Biennial where the 920foot piece was partially torn. Despite all that damage, Banu declined to replace that particular piece explaining that preserving it in its ripped state would serve as a reminder of the systematic violence against people. Sad, right? Violence is taking place even on a “list of people” whom we owe so much respect.
New Yorkers will have the same list of the fallen heroes with them. The list is soon coming to New York as part of the third edition of the Forward Union Fair from September 29th-30th which connects the art world with social justice organizations. Art communicates and in this particular situation, it is going to remind us of the courageous heroes who lost their lives while trying to get to Europe to escape violence and poverty and have a new beginning but that was a journey that took a different turn all together.
This year’s edition of the Forward Union Fair at Red Bull Arts New York includes 25 participants and focuses on the themes of immigration, gun control and health care with the sole aim of provoking civic engagement through art, installations and programming. The list will be installed indoors under the safeguard of Red Bull Arts New York.
The Co-Founder of Forward Union Jennie Lamensdorf says that their intention is to support artists whose work focuses on complex subjects among them Jesue Benavente and Kameelah Janan Rasheed.
Sadako Ogata once said “I wish to call on you to join hands in the building of a world where less people will be forced to flee and in which refugees are protected until they can safely return home one day.” The list will somehow bring us one step closer into realizing the words of Sadako that the least we can always do is protect the refugees. Refugees are not illegal, no human life is.
The list will be a form of art celebrating lost lives. Yes, art goes that deep!!