Over the last few years I’ve tried to post after terrorist atrocities and mass shootings the names, not of the perpetrators, but of the victims. It’s the same principle that informs so many projects arising out of the Holocaust and other genocides, of restoring to the dead something of who they were, in the face of their dehumanisation.
The refugees who have died attempting to find a new home in Europe, driven from their own homes by brutal war, terrorism and desperate poverty, deserve no less. But we know so few of their names.
On World Refugee Day (20 June) The Guardian published The List. It goes back to 1993, when Kimpua Nsimba, a 24 year old refugee from Zaire, was found hanged in a detention centre, five days after arriving in the UK. It’s the work of United for Intercultural Action, a European network of 550 anti-racist organisations in 48 countries.
It lists only those whose deaths have been reported – 34,361 of them. The total is almost certainly much higher than that. Many simply disappear.
Istanbul-based artist Banu Cennetoğlu, whose work explores the way knowledge is collated and distributed, and its subsequent effect on society, has worked with the List since 2002.
This is the first time the List has appeared as a supplement in an English-language newspaper; it is also available from today as a downloadable PDF on the Guardian’s website.
The List is not an artwork in itself – the art lies in its dissemination. Cennetoğlu always ensures that the look of the list remains the same – a grid of data, showing the year, the name of the refugee, where he or she came from, the cause of the death and the source.
The most recent version of the List was finished on 5 May 2018. Other material has been produced by Guardian journalists, using the List as a source, to report on how the shape of the refugee crisis has changed over the years.
The List is a stark depiction of the scale of the refugee crisis and the human suffering it has caused over the past 25 years – misery that seems to have no end in sight.
This edition of The List has been commissioned and produced by Chisenhale Gallery, London, and Liverpool Biennial in conjunction with Banu Cennetoğlu’s exhibition at Chisenhale Gallery (28 June-26 August) and as part of Liverpool Biennial of Contemporary Art (14 July-28 October).