A guest post by Gillian McFadyen
This past academic year, the Stitched Voices Embroidery Group, housed at the Department of International Politics at Aberystwyth University, has been working towards a collection based around the European Refugee Crisis. This project was established when we were invited to contribute to #IR_Aesthetics, a project funded by the Aston Centre for Europe at Aston University, Birmingham. This field research project investigated the stories of migration and the refugee crisis in Serbia, Macedonia, and Greece from an inter-disciplinary perspective, including through artistic expression. The culmination of this project was a week-long event at Tate Liverpool in November 2018. Stitched Voices were invited to exhibit work on the last day and run interactive sessions with the general public on stitching, discussing the refugee crisis and a small workshop creating arpillera dolls.
In the lead up to the Tate exhibit, Stitched Voices developed and created embroidered handkerchiefs documenting, in various ways, the refugee crisis. One of the central themes of the project has been drawing upon the UNITED for Intercultural Action list, that documents all reported deaths of individuals who have attempted to enter Europe. We drew upon the list, which sits at over 34,000 individual deaths and goes as far back as 1993, focusing on individuals who died within the Balkans regions from 2017 onwards.
Below is a series of hankies developed by the group for the Tate exhibit. In addition to being exhibited at the Tate Liverpool and the Department of International Politics at Aberystwyth, the work has also been exhibited at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre in connection with the “Evros: The Crossing River” theatre production.
The Balkans Route Embroidery Remembrance
Fortress Europe (2018, McFadyen): Hankie depicting the EU Project of Fortress Europe where the emphasis is on security, borders, citizens, and othering. Yet, the border is porous. Regardless of the policies implemented by the EU, refugees and immigrants are still able to enter into the EU zone. And every safe route that gets made illegal by the EU only results in multiple other routes emerging that are more hazardous and precarious for individuals seeking access.
Journeys of the Sea (2018, McFadyen): According to the IOM, in 2018 alone over 4,503 deaths were recorded in the Mediterranean Sea of individuals seeking access via the sea multiple routes into Europe. This piece depicts the tumultuous routes that these individuals take, in the quest for sanctuary – underlining the need for safe passage, safe routes, and hospitality. The 12 golden stars depict the EU, passive observers in the unfolding annual tragedy of the Mediterranean Sea.
Below are textile examples drawn from the United for Intercultural Action List. Important to note, that of those documented, these are only the deaths that have been reported.
Dr Gillian McFadyen is a Lecturer in international Politics at Aberystwyth University, Wales, UK. Her research engages with the theories of post-colonialism, hospitality and labelling, applying these approaches to the figure of the refugee. She has a particular interest in the practices and policies of the British refugee regime.