Being Human exhibition recreates Calais

“Is this voyeurism?” the artists ask, writing on the walls of a recreated bedroom of Calais’s ‘Jungle’. “Yes”, the same artists reply, questioning the ethics of their form of activism – but it’s necessary.

In fact, the whole exhibition was a recreation of the camp’s reality, which was even more moving and overwhelming with whistling wind, banging and moving doors. Set up in the Norwich Cathedral’s cloister, three wooden boxes became rooms and makeshift shelters in which art and truth merged, covering its walls to ensure we don’t forget about what is still far from being over.

The exhibition includes paintings by people in the ‘Jungle’, children’s drawings, poems of refugees screaming “truth”, book extracts, films, music, photographs… all developed by ‘Jungle’ residents, and being brought together with surveys, statistics and endless lists of hundreds of names and causes for migrants’ deaths. They all surround you, fighting against the silenced humanity and individuality of the people that we so often call a “crisis”.

The exhibition, part of the national Being Human festival, is a project by the charity Imagine which, based in Calais, aims to make use of artwork created in the camp as a form of political activism. The purpose of the exhibition is to shine a light on the situation of the refugee camps in Calais, which we don’t hear about much anymore according to Harri, who set it up after spending six months with Imagine. Accompanying her project, the film Calais Children also aims to shine a light on the silenced stories of children’s experiences in the Jungle and after being denied the access to the UK.

Using ‘artivism’ to individualise migration and conflict, and remind its audience of the pain, suffering, and most importantly, humanity of the Jungle residents, the exhibition succeeded in engaging with its audience and giving voice to those without it. The artwork in the recreated rooms shouted, wishing to be heard beyond its four walls, reviving the inhumanely forgotten daily reality of many – what is art, after all, if not human?


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July 2021
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