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'Disappearance At Sea' at Baltic...

By Lucy Harbron - 11:16




Today I went to Baltic in Gateshead while I'm on a little tour of the North East art scene. All the exhibitions were amazing, the building itself is glorious, topped off with some amazing weather. But I felt like I needed to talk a little about one exhibition; Disappearance At Sea - Mare Nostrum

Disappearance At Sea is a collaborative piece created by artists across the world. The exhibition is focused on the refugee crisis, but more specifically the awful awful awful journey refugees are forced to take and the insane scale of life loss at sea. It's created in collaboration with Amnesty International with many of the videos made and research done being used to build cases and fight against injustices.

I'll start by saying that it is not an enjoyable piece. It is cold and confrontational and brutal. It denies any of the romanticism or the blame that often taints reports on the crisis. It presents you with facts, evidence and first hand accounts from survivors and refugees in camps. It's not enjoyable but god is it heartbreaking and god does it leave an impact.

The first thing that hit me was a video about a case of a 'left-to-die boat'. A boat in crisis was left floating for 14 days in the most surveyed area of the sea. It's distress calls were heard, it was passed by many military vessels, but no hope was given and very few people survived. The video broke my heart even though it was nothing but fact and satellite tracking of a small boat in a vast sea. Because governments refused responsibility and no one stepped up to save these people, they suffered 14 days worth of a distress I can't even imagine. It struck me that I'd never heard of the case, then it struck me how many of these cases must happen every week that I'll never hear about.

The second room is completely submersing. Headphones play ocean noises merged with sounds of distress and it was honestly hard not to panic. It's unsettling, hearing these sounds while watching artists films about the sea makes you feel the danger. It's in this room that videos of refugees telling their stories play. A woman talking about rape in refugee camps, another questioning why humans have become so uncompassionate, another talks about the bad treatment they faced from traffickers when they were forced to put all their trust in them. They're so real and honest. I think we need more of that. Maybe if the news showed first-person accounts, showed this pain and begging for compassion rather than their selfish, politicised view of the situation; maybe more people would realise the necessity for help.

What got to me most was the maps. Hand-drawn maps from refugees recounting their journey. The amount of money they had to give to traffickers that promised bad condition but no guarantee of success, the number of set-backs, jail-time, punishment faced just for trying to reach safety. The fear and the pain. The sheer amount of time. Some of these journeys started back in 2013, 2009, 2015. It's been going on for so long, these people have been seeking safety for so so long. It broke my heart.

My mum said to me 'it shouldn't have to be this way. There should be a legal route people can take to get to safety without having to do this.'

I said 'when it was world war two, we had legal evacuation schemes and routes, we set up trains to help get people out of Germany and other countries, That's what this is, it's an evacuation. They don't want to leave, they've just got no other option than this. They should be helped.'

I left with a heavy heart and revived sadness and passion to do what I can to help. I'll sign all the petitions, I'll protest, I'll do what I can. But it's perspective that needs to change, and maybe if every person and every politician could go to the exhibit with an open heart, it might go some way to help.

It wasn't enjoyable, but it was heart-shattering and necessary. I urge everyone to go if you can.

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