In December 2015, the British street artist Banksy revealed an artwork in the refugee camp of Calais. The graffiti depicted the founder of Apple, Steve Jobs, with a black bin bag thrown over one shoulder, and meant to point out that Jobs was the son of a Syrian migrant who went to the United States after the second world war. More recently, Banksy criticised the use of teargas in “the Jungle” of Calais with a new artwork on the French embassy in London. The work depicted the young girl from Les Misérables with tears in her eyes.
Ai Weiwei, the Chinese artist and activist, also used art as a way to raise awareness. He recently recreated the image of Aylan Kurdi, the infant whose body was tragically washed up on a Turkish beach and who instantly became the symbol of the plight of refugees from Syria.
Thank God artists are there as guardians of our moral standards! The number of novels, feature films, documentaries and other creative works that, in recent years, have dealt with migration issues and the tragic fate of many migrants is extraordinary. Think of the recent novels “The Illegal” by Lawrence Hill or “The Year of the Runaways” by Sunjeev Sahota.
As usual, just like Picasso with Guernica, artists are ahead of the curve in expressing profound social and political changes.
As usual, politicians are way behind, especially nationalist populist politicians who don’t want to understand that we have collectively entered an era of mobility and diversity.
We citizens should pay attention to the artists and push back against politicians who are trying to hold us back into 19th Century fantasies about who “we” are.