Archive for category Visual Art

Behind the Razor Wire – the Refugee Crisis in Art

Tamara de Lempicka, The Refugees (1937)/Felix Nussbaum, The Refugee (1939)

The refugee crises which have characterised our age (as if there has ever been a time when people were not forced by war, persecution or natural disaster to leave their homes and seek safety in strange lands) have inspired artists throughout the generations to attempt, through different media and in different styles, to portray the plight of the refugee.

Tamara de Lempicka portrays two women refugees from the fighting in Spain, in something of a departure from her normal high society subject matter.   Felix Nussbaum painted The Refugee drawing on his own experience.   As a German Jew, Nussbaum was studying in Rome when the Nazis came to power, and spent the next ten years in exile in Belgium, going into hiding during the Occupation.  He and his wife were arrested in 1944 and were murdered in Auschwitz.  His painting powerfully depicts the desolation of exile, and the sense of a world of potential freedom and safety (the globe and the open window) that is visible but out of reach.

In much more recent times, we can see the work of Syrian women refugees, working with visual artists Aglaia Haritz from Switzerland and Abdelaziz Zerrou from Morocco, on a project Embroiderers of Actuality.  They asked women in different locations to create embroidery, which they then use as inspiration and/or material for their own images and sculptures.


The Refugee Art Project came about as a response to the plight of refugees in Australian detention centres.  More than 500 pieces of work have been displayed, demonstrating ‘the enormous talent, locked away, beyond the razor wire’.


One of the images exhibited by the Refugee Art Project is Alwy Fadhel’s instant coffee painting,  Endurance, by Alwy Fadhel.

The technique of painting with instant coffee powder diluted with water was started by an Iraqi refugee in Australian immigration detention who enjoyed painting and used the resources available in detention to do so. He taught the technique to fellow detainee Alwy Fadhel, who became the principal coffee artist and contributed to making the technique a tradition inside the detention center where he was held.


Syrian artist, Abdalla Al Omari, who has refugee status in Belgium,  has re-imagined US President Donald Trump and 10 other world leaders as refugees in a series of paintings (The Vulnerability Series) currently on display in Dubai.  The images draw on his own experience with displacement.


Giles Duley, a photojournalist, has recorded some of the stories of the refugees travelling from the Middle East to Europe in 2015.

The UNHCR gave me the greatest brief ever given to a photographer – just follow your heart. So, rather than try to cover the whole crisis, I tried to cover a few stories within it and that was how I kept my focus. There is no such thing as truth in photography, which is why the book has the title I Can Only Tell You What My Eyes See. As soon as I go to one beach and choose one person to photograph, I’ve made a decision and I’ve ruled out thousands of other stories. Politicians and the media often try to simplify the narrative, but the fact is, if you have a million people crossing into Europe, you have a million different stories. … I’ve worked in Angola, Afghanistan, Iraq, and have seen some of the worst of humanity, and yet I found myself standing on those beaches in floods of tears. It was hard initially to work out what was different. What was it I was seeing that I hadn’t seen before? I’ve seen a lot of refugee camps, but they are generally static places. What I’ve never seen is people moving en masse like that, putting their lives on the line, risking everything for freedom, for safety. To see the fear on their faces, but also the relief that they’d finally made it, was completely overwhelming.



Alketa Xhafa Mripa was living in the UK and studying Art at Central Saint Martins when the war in Kosovo broke out in 1998.

As a result, she had no choice but to seek refugee status in the UK. While Alketa didn’t flee her country, she faced the very real issue of being removed from her home. This fostered her fascination with the themes of identity, history and memory, with a unique focus on women’s issues. Her most recent project, Fancy a tea with a refugee?, is a mobile installation that tours the country, inviting people to share their stories and thoughts about migrants, refugees and displacement.



And under the sea, a powerful image of the fate of so many refugees attempting the dangerous Mediterranean crossing, in Jason deCaires Taylor’s sculpture The Raft of the Lampedusa, a sculpted boat carrying the figures of 13 refugees.  It’s part of an underwater museum, Museo Atlantico, in Lanzarote.


From painting to sculpture, embroidery to installation, and finally (in this brief and inadequate review of the refugee crisis in art), to the graphic novel.



, , , , ,

Leave a comment

The Great Destruction

Just ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day 2017, I have discovered the work of Felix Nussbaum, a German-Jewish painter who was murdered in Auschwitz  in 1944, aged 40 (all of his family were killed in the Holocaust).

(The two self portraits are from 1940, from his time in an internment camp in Belgium, and from 1943, whilst in hiding in Brussels)

Born in Osnabruck, he moved to Belgium after the Nazis took power, but was arrested there when Belgium was occupied. He was sent to the internment camp at Saint Cyprien (in the Pyrenees) and was imprisoned there. In August/September he succeeded in escaping and returned to Brussels where he went into hiding with his wife Felka Platek.  His work during this period is characterised firstly by the number of domestic scenes and still lifes, reflecting the limited scope he had for direct observation, and secondly more surrealistic and allegorical works reflecting the fear with which he lived.

The subjects of war and exile, of fear and sorrow coloured his pictures. Nussbaum developed an allegorical and metaphorical language so as to create artistic ways of expressing the existential threat to his situation and to his very life that he was experiencing. His last piece of work is dated 18 April 1944. A matter of weeks later on 20 June, Felix Nussbaum and his wife, Felka Platek, were arrested in their attic hide-out and were sent with the last transport from the collection camp at Malines (Mechelen) on 31 July to the concentration camp of Auschwitz.


Clockwise from top left: The Great Disaster, 1939; Fear (Self-Portrait with Niece Marianne), 1941; Jew by the Window, 1943; The Refugee, 1939




Furnace Park // an introduction on the cusp of an opening

Reblogged from Occursus – Amanda Crawley Jackson’s account of the Furnace Park project.


In summer 2012, occursus – a loose collective of artists, writers, researchers and students that coalesced around a weekly reading group I had set up with Laurence Piercy from the School of English at the University of Sheffield – organised a series of Sunday-morning walks along unplanned routes in Shalesmoor, Kelham Island and Neepsend. As we looped through the chaotic mix of derelict Victorian works, flat-pack-quick-build apartment blocks, converted factories and student residences, sharing stories and sometimes, quite simply, wondering what on earth we were doing there, without umbrellas, in the rain, we came across the acre and a half of brownfield scrubland we’ve named Furnace Park. In collaboration with Matt Cheeseman (from the University of Sheffield’s School of English), Nathan Adams (a research scientist working in the Hunter Laboratory at the University of Sheffield), Ivan Rabodzeenko and Katja Porohina (founders of SKINN – the Shalesmoor, Kelham Island and Neepsend…

View original post 1,859 more words


Leave a comment

Pierre Alechinsky et les plans de Paris

LES LIGNES DU MONDE - géographie & littérature(s)

Comme je me renseigne sur Alechinsky, sa vie son œuvre, je finis par trouver des dessins sur plans – de Paris (ça me revient : “tu sais Alechinsky, il a utilisé des cartes comme support, ça devrait t’intéresser”). Je sélectionne ici les arrondissements que je connais mieux.

L’arrondissement de ma naissance.


L’arrondissement du Lycée.


L’arrondissement de l’université.



Je trouve aussi ces impressions de Cherbourg. Petit résumé en 7 vignettes.


View original post


Leave a comment

2012 – the best bits

2012, for me, has been the year of the blog.  The year that through this medium I found a creative outlet, met some fascinating people and discovered some wonderful writers, engaged in some stimulating and unexpected discussions, and generally had my optimism about the internet reinforced.  I’ve been uplifted, fascinated and inspired on a regular basis by bloggers such as Diana J Hale, Vertigo, The Fife Psychogeographic Collective, That’s how the light gets in, Weaver’s Journal, Steve Sarson and Decayetude.  And my blog on the US election led to a mutually respectful encounter with Rick from Billerica, with whom I would disagree about pretty much everything, except the principle of mutually respectful encounters with those who hold different views.    On the Our Island Stories blog, set up in the aftermath of  the Olympics to talk about questions of national identity, we’ve had contributions from some of the above, and also from Kate Elmer, Mike Press, Emily Wilkinson and  Diane Magras.  To all of those people, and so many others, thanks!

The internet comes in for some harsh criticism – and I read ‘below the line’ often enough to be brought almost to despair at the bigotry, the hatred, the cruelty that’s out there, only needing the anonymity of an internet forum to come spewing out.   But my own experience has been entirely positive.  Through blogging, through Facebook and Twitter, I’ve made friends, had fascinating conversations, shared enthusiasms, learned stuff.  I’ve connected with people I would never have encountered at all  otherwise, and connected in unexpected ways with people I already knew.  This obviously doesn’t invalidate the experiences of those who’ve been subjected to the viciousness of trolls and the deceit of sock-puppets – but it needs saying, that it can be, and often is, an enormous force for good , and that connections made via the net are not intrinsically less ‘real’, less worthwhile than those made by other means.

So, looking back at 2012, these have been some of the best bits, culturally speaking:

  • John Akomfrah‘s extraordinary The Nine Muses
  • Watching the ever elusive and enigmatic  Last Year at Marienbad twice – to be the subject of a later blog.
  • TV : Homeland –  plot holes wide enough to swallow up the odd aircraft carrier, but the degree of ambiguity in all of the main characters has been wonderfully sustained, and the denoument was unforeseen.   Line of Duty and Good Cop shared the best of those characteristics.  Misfits and Being Human somehow survived a brutal cull of main characters to emerge still witty and surprising.  The Walking Dead kept us on the edge of our seats, where we must remain until February, and anxiously awaiting news of Daryl’s fate (and the others, obv, but hey, Daryl!).  Oh, and Dr Who continued to be marvellous, moving and magical.
  • I’ve been reading Proust.  A statement which will probably feature in my summaries for 2013, 2014 and possibly beyond.   I’ve been fascinated by two particular elements recently – the constant referencing of the Dreyfus Affair, and the theme of sexual ‘inversion’ – and rather less fascinated by some of the aristocratic dinner parties that one has to endure almost in real time, such is the detail with which they are described.   There have been moments when I’ve wished Robespierre had been a little more thorough.  I’m about at the halfway point in the whole A la Recherche project.
  • New great stuff from Stephen King (11.22.63), Hilary Mantel (Bring up the Bodies) and Jon McGregor (Even the Dogs)
  • First encounters with writers I should have read before and will read more of  – Hans Fallada, Alexander BaronHaruki Murakami  and Wilkie Collins.
  • Lynn Shepherd’s Tom-All-Alone’s – I approached with caution knowing that she was riffing on my favourite novel of all time, Bleak  House, but I need not have worried.   Indeed, I went straight from Tom to her earlier novel (Murder at Mansfield Park), and have her next on pre-order – and she led me to The Woman in White as well.
  • Theatre –  Geoffrey Streatfeild in both  Macbeth at the Crucible and Copenhagen at the Lyceum, Betrayal (lovely John Simm) at the Crucible
  • Tramlines festival – Screaming Maldini and Early Cartographers in Weston Park, The Third Half at the City Hall, Soukous Revelation in the Peace Gardens, Jim Ghedi & Neal Hepplestone at the Cathedral, and Frankie & the Heartstrings, Field Music and We are Scientists on Devonshire Green.   Three days of music spilling out of every bar and coffee shop, of sunshine and people dancing in the streets – literally – and generally being nice to each other.
  • Music in the Round – a fabulous Quartet for the End of Time, an introduction to Louise Farrenc, and the early polyphony of Pérotin and the Notre Dame composers in Sheffield Cathedral.

2012 has been the year that the Hillsborough families were vindicated, utterly and unconditionally.  The year that the truth was not so much revealed – it had been in plain view all the time – as spotlit, so that there were no shadows in which the lies could continue to lurk.  And that justice seems finally to be within reach now.  Massive respect to all of those who fought this battle when it must have seemed hopeless, when everything and everyone seemed to be against them.

And it’s been the year of Inspiration for Life.  The year a dear friend and colleague, Tim Richardson,  was diagnosed with a terminal cancer, and a whole community came together to support him, and to help him set up a charity to do the things he believes in – supporting living, giving and learning.  We’ve been both devastated and uplifted.

So – onward to 2013.

No resolutions as such.  But anticipations and aspirations –

  • Graduating (again), and planning the next stage of my lifelong learning, and publishing (if I can, in real, proper, academic journals) some of my work on Michel Butor
  • Fundraising for Refugee Action – having hung up my trainers, I’m not sure yet how I can best do this, but their work is vitally important and I want to do what I can
  • Reading Proust, and lots of other stuff.  Lots and lots.
  • Enjoying to the full Sheffield’s rich cultural life – theatre, arthouse cinema, Music in the Round, Tramlines, Festival of the Mind, Arts-Science Encounters, Site and S1 and Bloc, and more
  • Blogging, about Butor, Sebald, French cinema, refugees, Dr Who, national identity, and whatever else is buzzing around in my mind at any given moment
  • Enjoying working with physicists, astronomers and other scientists, and facilitating what they do, through what I do
  • Continuing to be an utter geek
  • Listening to as much music as possible,  with as eclectic a range as possible
  • Getting Inspiration for Life going – with the 24-hour Inspire at the end of Feb (24 hours of lectures, activities and entertainments), the publication of Tim’s diary, and the art exhibition in May, funds from which will go to local cancer charities (Weston Park Cancer Hospital Charity, St Luke’s Hospice and Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice).
  • Going on about stuff that matters – refugees, environmental issues, injustice, inequality, that sort of thing.  Going on and on.
  • Doing all the above whilst being a good-enough parent, partner and friend

Phew!  No pressure then.

Thanks to all who’ve enriched my life  in 2012, and with whom I’ve shared the best bits.   Here’s wishing you all good things in 2013.


, , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Celebrating Creativity

I’ve been involved in the visual arts for a long time now.  First, through working at the – now largely demolished – Psalter Lane Art College site of Hallam University, and subsequently as a member of the board of trustees for S1 Artspace.  I didn’t anticipate that working with physicists and astronomers would give me another, equally rewarding, chance to engage with artists and creativity.

Some years back, a colleague in the department sent an email round, asking if anyone else, like him, was doing creative things in their spare time.  The result surprised us all. We’re now in our sixth year of holding an exhibition of work by staff and students – now from across the University – and each year people emerge from the shadows, often apologetically offering their work with disclaimers about being an amateur, a novice, not being sure if it’s good enough to be seen in public, but thrilled by the opportunity to take that chance.   It’s an annual celebration of creativity.

It’s caused me to ponder on the gulf that often seems to yawn between the two art worlds that I am involved in.   One is rooted in the art colleges’ and fine art departments’ contemporary practice, and ideas about that practice.  The other is rooted in the individual discovery of the life enhancing and affirming value of creativity, with or without external validation or theoretical context.   There’s no value judgement involved here, for me at any rate.  But the two worlds communicate very poorly with one another.   The contemporary artists often struggle to value work that has no theoretical context.  The ‘amateurs’ struggle to comprehend work that requires that kind of context in order to be appreciated.   Both are baffled, both lack the language to mediate their own work to the other.

I love both worlds.  I’m fascinated and challenged by many contemporary artists whose work I’ve seen – many here in Sheffield at S1, Bloc or Site (Becky Bowley, James Price, Charlotte Morgan, Haroon Mirza, Richard Bartle, George Henry Longly, Jennifer West, Allie Carr, Nicolas Moulin, amongst many others).   And I’m exhilarated and moved by the work that is presented to us each year, to go in display in a physics lab, by professors of physics, sociology or medieval French; researchers in electrical engineering, infection & immunity or cosmology; librarians and technicians, receptionists and administrators.

I’m awed by creativity, because I’m not capable of it myself.  I envy those who are.  I’ve tried – playing the guitar, writing poetry, sketching – but there’s some essential spark missing.   That’s OK, this blog is my creative output now, and in connecting with artists, musicians and writers I can share in the magic.   I believe utterly and passionately in the creative enterprise – Michel Butor said that ‘every word written is a victory against death’ and with Butor you know that he means not just words but sounds and images.

So this week we’ll be celebrating lots of victories.


The exhibition is open from Wednesday 16 to Friday 18 May, 10 am to 4 pm, in E32, Hicks Building, University of Sheffield, Hounsfield Road, Sheffield S3 7RH.


Michel Butor et Dirk Bouts, Lomme, le 19 mai 2012

Les éditions invenit,

avec L’Odyssée – Médiathèque de Lomme

vous invitent à rencontrer

Michel Butor autour de son livre : “Dirk Bouts, Le Chemin du ciel et La Chute des damnés” dans la collection Ekphrasis

le samedi 19 mai à 16h00

Dans le hall d’entrée de l’Odyssée, jusqu’au 19 mai,
venez découvrir une sélection de livres, d’objets et de photos liés à Michel Butor et son travail, qui montrent le poète dans son cadre quotidien de création entouré d’amis et d’artistes.

Possibilité de s’inscrire à des ateliers d’écriture autour de la peinture, dont le premier se tiendra à 15h00, avant la lecture.
Inscription obligatoire auprès de l’Odyssée, places limitées.

L’Odyssée (Auditorium) 794, avenue de Dunkerque, Lomme
03 20 17 27 40

Leave a comment

Butor exhibition at Museo Universitario Arte Contemporaneo (MUAC), Mexico City

See below for details of a new Butor exhibition/event at MUAC, Mexico City:

The MUAC, through the Arkheia Documentation Center will present an exhibition on the french writer Michel Butor’s (France, 1926) file, including some of his works and books about artists and contemporary art.

Michel Butor has over 1500 publications covering various fields such as music, science, philosophy, literature and the arts. He is known in the field of French literature, mainly due to his most famous novel The Amendment, considered one of the pillars of what is known as the new novel (Nouveau Roman) written from start to finish in second person singular, the spanish equivalent to “thou”.

This novel was adapted by Michel Worms into a film in 1970 with the same title. After posting grades in 1960, Michel Butor stopped writing novels and by 1991 he abandoned teaching and retired to a village in the Haute Savoie. Since 1986 he has worked with over two hundred painters, sculptors, printmakers and photographers from different nationalities and published with them essays and books.

As part of this exhibition, a group of Mexican intellectuals close to Butor, undertake a series of conversations to be held in the auditorium of the MUAC.

Mexico City
Insurgentes Sur 3000 – Centro Cultural Universitario
+52(55) 5622 6972

Michel Butor
dal 20/4/2012 al 20/5/2012

Wed-Sun 10-18, Thu and Sat 10-20, Mon-Tue closed



Parallel Geography – Marc Jurt & Michel Butor exhiibition, Lyon, 13 July – 23 September

The Lyon Printing Museum and the Fondation Marc Jurt pay tribute to the great draftsman, printmaker and Swiss painter, who died in 2006. Professor at the College de Saussure and an avid traveller, Marc Jurt met Michel Butor, a writer he admired, and began a collaborative work. The museum presents some fifty paintings, regarded as the highlights of his production produced between 1994 and 1995.

Collaboration is a vital aspect of Butor’s oeuvre, and his work with visual artists, which in a way began with a very early (1945) piece on Max Ernst, continued and grew, encompassing words about, words to go alongside, and ultimately words within the visual works. The list of artists with whom he collaborated in this way is lengthy – there are around 200 – and includes Alechinsky, Starisky, Kolar, Maccheroni, Monory (see Elinor Miller’s book Prisms & Rainbows for more about three of these).  Butor chooses to make his home close to a border (between France and Switzerland) and the idea of crossing or blurring frontiers is key to his ‘oeuvres croisées’.


Leave a comment