Why art and refuge, migration and refugees?

A few reflections about the connection between art, refugees and migration.

From a recent conference focusing on art as a migratory process:
“..Since the first manifestations of its genre, art historical texts try to understand the artistic processes of creativity as a process of migration; inventions are understood as mobile processes.”

From the practical perspective, it seems humans involved in art and culture activities tend to find themselves persecuted. Be it via physical punishment like incarceration, or a withdrawal of opportunities – work, movement, association and so on – sharing reflective thoughts comes as a dangerous practice.

Thinking about any given situation with a questioning mind, rather than accepting a rulers’ instructions or a socially expected scripts to follow, can come as a possible threat of being ruled out of life – excluded.

The children’s song: row, row, row your boat gently down the stream; comes precisely as a warning that rowing against the stream will sure come with a risk. Moving with the current is easy since there are less frictions, less to-and-fro between the movement and the stream. As the song promises, you should row down stream and get your life as a happy dream – not a nightmare kinda dreaming.
A reflection, is always to-and-fro set of movements. Place a water Lily by a river, and the flowers’ colours alter via their own reflection which, in turn, alters the water colour.
Every impressionist painter knows these colour-light reflective movements well.
A person, by their mere reflective act, alter their surrounding, affect the movement of the current around them.
Maybe such a person doesn’t want to dream, maybe they can not do moving down the stream, maybe they can not avoid a call they witnessed. However, as in impressionist paintings, by a mere sharing from a reflective mind, other minds around may change. Such changes tend to be perceived as dangerous by dominating powers. A perception that tends to put reflective humans in an instant need of refuge.

This project attends art in a reflective rather than a direct action way.
Art, even in the most naive and possibly lovingly ignorant manner, as making images of an encountered environment – is reflectively migratory.
A person may perceive a sensation like a coldness of wind touching a rock, and may try to make a something that’s a reflection of that sensation. Be it via a photograph, an AI program, teaching or a workshop; be it a painting or a poem – we get a reflective process that Migrates sensations, and ways of imagining, from one set of elements – to another.
The sensation of coldness from the wind touching a rock migrates to a canvass, or a program, or a story that reflects that particular cold sensation.
A reflective migration from an encounter with an object, to a language that reflects upon that meeting. A migration to a language that has to do with colours, paint, canvass and strokes (painting), with lights, time, colours and numbers (digital photography), a human language, rhythms, formations, and meanings (poetry), or approximation, statistics, heuristics, probabilities and mentoring – as in contemporary AI.
Sure, these alterations between languages have translatory as well as migratory elements and perhaps i am stretching a few terms a bit. Before the terms break, let’s remind that etymologically, both migration and translation have to do with a movement from one place to another. Migration is a passage, and translation has to do with a removing motion. A word, translated from english to portugese, for example, has been removed from meaning a word in a specific language, and into another term, maybe it’s “boca”, or is it “palavra”?

Both translation and migration are reflective in slightly different ways. The focus here comes on migration because migratory moves have been widely used in 20th century euro oriented art, but hardly talked of in these terms.
The contextual language, of taking an object from one frame of references to another, is migratory. The ironing board in a shop wasn’t translated into an image of an ironing board but was moved with a taxi from the shop to a gallery. The object migrated into the gallery where it became something else. The object became something of an art narrative.
When a human moves into a new locale, they find having to pass their lives into a new narrative; a textbook migration. A urinal, like a migrant, may have passed from a shop to a gallery- 2 different cultural locations, with references that place the object in different stories.
Note, that a bit like many migrants find themselves having to change their names, the urinal’s migration came with a new name as well – a fountain.

Art, even in a most simplistic naive manner as a compositional imagination, brings in questions of justice and therefore refuge. A person may stop moving elements, or end a process of composing an environment, when they feel the arrangement is justified.
The composition comes to a certain dynamics which feel like offering a certain respect for the elements involved.
Even in a simple room arrangement, a table in position B gets the respect it needs. A respect that’s justified by the other elements in the room, and therefore the room’s composer – often a human – may leave the table in position B. This happens when the composer feels position B, given all other objects in the room, feels like the justified position for the table.
It’s a personal feeling of justice.
Human painters tend to use compositions as a way to reflect a periods’ sense of what isn’t and is justified. A monarch in european medival times is likely to appear larger than other humans. A european monarch in more recent times, will likely appear positioned centrally but relatively same kind of size as they are compare to other humans.
I think that in both cases, painters and viewers, seem to perceive the compositions with a monarch – justified. A justification that’s both visual and cognitive – therefore aesthetic and comes concerned with justice.
Contrast that with compositions involving slaves. I think that in many such paintings from european minds, the compositions scream a mind set that considers people of a dark skin colour as both inferior, and of such a hierarchy – as a just one.

Justice, a justification from compositional perspectives, begs for a refuge, a new home. A welcoming haven within an accepting silence of a context.
The racist and hierarchical seeking minds accept compositions that attend these perceptions precisely because these minds think racism and hierarchies are Just.
A person looking at a magazine image of a human – often a woman – depicted as an Object, may offer that image a home in their living room since they think that human objectification image is Justified.
They don’t perceive anything awkward in an image of another human as an object.
Be it an institute, a person, a group, a publication, a network, and so on – some kind of a receiving body to the artistic migration is always sought after. A receiving body that offers a refuge.
Otherwise, the art activity – whatever it might be – will find themselves having to move on and on and on and on on and on on – restlessly without a pause, since a pause will bring an end.
Perhaps a fair few humans seeking refuge might feel a certain recognising affinity with a plight of some art practices.
Practices that require a refuge, a safe home.

We can perceive migrants and refugees as human embodiment of art throughout time, across places, and possibly throughout multiple cultures. (Yes, I have not seen a study to offer an empirical evidence of that intuition. So maybe my thoughts are indeed a mirage. Yet, in case they are and we do talk of euro-centric kind of artistic pursuits only, I still think the refuge connection is refreshing, and indeed may be nourishingly helped by learning from any other culture where art processes do not seek refuge.)