Back in November Tate Britain brought together over 100 seminal works by Monet, Tissot, Pissarro and others in a compelling exhibition. The first of its kind, it charted the stories of French artists who sought refuge in Britain during the Franco-Prussian War. The exhibition mapped the artistic networks they built in Britain, considers the aesthetic impact London had on the artist's work and presents instantly recognisable views of the city as seen through French eyes. Although dull the exhibition highlights issues that are still relevant today, how we accept refugees and the role they play in our society. Monet is usually painted (excuse the pun) as a founder of French Impressionist painting, and the most consistent and prolific practitioner of the movement's philosophy of expressing one's perceptions before nature. But he’s barely ever referred to as a war refugee. He fled France for fear of the ongoing conflict between France, Germany and Prussia that killed his best friend. His story is similar to so many that come out of Calais and Syria today, but in 1869 you didn't need a passport to come to the UK and the negative connotations around refugees weren’t as severe. Time and time again we’re told that refugees are a drain on our country's resources, that they are the ones to be blamed for all our problems and misfortune. They take up places in hospitals, whilst also taking jobs and somehow stopping corporations paying tax?
These refugee artists were among many that changed the representation of London through art. Their work demonstrates originality as they championed subjects that Victorian artists deemed too prosaic. They tackled everyday subjects that we would take for granted, like the Thames and the city’s fog, with the novelty of an outsider. It highlights the continued contributions that refugees make throughout the history of Britain.
It is fitting then that in celebration of the 20th anniversary of Refugee Week, London street artist Lakwena is creating a huge mural. It combines her distinct, colourful, graphic style with bold typography by acclaimed fashion designer Katharine Hamnett, on the bustling Southbank. Lakwena’s iconic, kaleidoscopic work is informed by the use of decoration as a means of communication. As a form of expression within a political world, Lakwena explores how the use of adornment in worship and myth-making translates into contemporary popular culture. Central to her practice are words, used as both images and anchors of meaning, borrowing from the techniques and conventions of traditional sign-writing and contemporary graphic design. The mural is an Unfinished Animals production.
Help Refugees works on the frontline of the refugee crisis in 10 countries across Europe and the Middle East. Founded in 2015 as part of a grassroots movement of volunteers, in just two years they have become one of the most prominent and effective humanitarian aid organisations working directly with refugees.
Responding to urgent needs rapidly, and acting where large NGOs can’t or won’t, Help Refugees now supports over 80 different projects which have reached over 722,000 people escaping war, violence and persecution.
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