Imagine using a beach covered in discarded life jackets and turning that into art.
For most people, a life jacket is a utilitarian item, but the Seeking Refuge exhibit with the Save Our Souls art installation at the Canadian Museum for Human Right makes these items into something much more significant.
When Achilleas Souras, a teenager currently living in Spain, saw images on the news about thousands of life jackets discarded on the beaches of the island of Lesbos, he had the idea of turning them into a shelter, highlighting the plight of the world’s 65 million displaced people.
He asked for and received four hundred of the life jackets that actual refugees used on the dangerous trip across the Mediterranean Sea and made a tent from them.
Together with video clips featuring Souras and the story of a teenage Syrian refugee named Mustafa Al Said from Aleppo, the exhibit highlights the plight of only a portion of the world’s refugees, but it represents what has become a worldwide crisis.
“The exhibit brings together the experiences and perspectives of two teenage boys,” the Canadian Museum for Human Rights website notes, with the powerful combination of the images of people in need combined with the actions of a youth who is determined to do what he can to alleviate the situation. The focus on youth is important, as these are the people who will have to deal with the repercussions of the situation.
In an interview, curator Isabelle Masson noted, “Achilleas wanted people to pay attention to what is going on right now, and like he did, in a way to become involved.”
Canadians have seen before how powerful an image can be, as the photographs of two-year-old Alan Kurdi lying dead on a beach spurred Canadians to action in the past. For the curator, putting the exhibit together has been a learning experience, both in finding the information and helping visitors understand what they are seeing.
The plight of refugees and other displaced people can seem remote to many people living in the safety of Canada, but the Seeking Refuge exhibit, with its connection to real migrants, might help.