“Beauty is personal and political; it can be read both aesthetically and within the context of cultural studies.” – Deborah Willis
Proud recipient of MacArthur Genius Award and Guggenheim Fellowship, curator and author of multiple books including Posing Beauty (2009) and Reflections In Black (2000), Deborah Willis is a contemporary African-American artist, photographer, and educator. She is currently Professor of Photography and Chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts of New York University. She has also taught a seminar entitled “Beauty Matters” at Harvard University. Willis has pursued a dual professional career as an art photographer and as one of the nation’s leading historians of African American photography. She has also curated multiple exhibitions promoting African-American culture and heritage. Read more
Documentary filmmaker Daphne Matziaraki followed a Greek Coast Guard Captain for 3 weeks as he and his team rescued refugees from the sea off the Greek Island of Lesbos, 4.1 miles from the Turkish coast. Her documentary short film was nominated for a 2017 Academy Award.
“When I returned home to Greece last fall to make a film about the refugee crisis, I discovered a situation I had never imagined possible. The turquoise sea that surrounds the beautiful Greek island of Lesbos, just 4.1 miles from the Turkish coast, is these days a deadly gantlet, choked with terrified adults and small children on flimsy, dangerous boats. I had never seen people escaping war before, and neither had the island’s residents. I couldn’t believe there was no support for these families to safely escape whatever conflict had caused them to flee. The scene was haunting.”
In 2015 about 154,000 migrants from Northern Africa had arrived to Italy after the EU-Turkey deal. Under this agreement migrants who arrive in Greece after 20 March, 2016, will be sent back to Turkey if they do not apply for asylum or their application is rejected. Both Turkey and the EU would benefit from this exchange. Turkey will work towards fulfilling the human rights requirements needed to enter the EU. In addition to this, Greece’s current financial crisis will be eased due to Turkey’s cooperation in taking back migrants who put a strain on Greek infrastructure. An October 2016 article from the Independent states that the number of migrants may have gone up due to “the EU stepping up its naval Sophia mission in the Mediterranean to go after arms traffickers and train the Libyan coast guard.” Smugglers place migrant families on unreliable and dangerous boats, so EU officials feel that they have the obligation to rescue these people and bring them to Italy. However, EU guidelines do not permit these migrants to be eligible for asylum, so as a result they will be deported. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports that Nigerian migrants make up approximately a fifth of the arrivals in Italy, Eritrean migrants are at 13 percent, and finally they are followed by Sudan, Gambia, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Somalia, Mali, Senegal and Bangladesh.
About two weeks ago, an estimated 500* refugees drowned after the vessel smuggling them to Italy from Tobruk, Libya wrecked somewhere in the Mediterranean. Crowded into a dilapidated, repurposed fishing boat, these Somalis, Egyptians, Ethiopians, Sudanese, and Libyans set out to cross the sea with hopes of escaping the tyranny, poverty, danger, and instability they faced in their home countries. On April 16th, 41 people were rescued near Greece after days of drifting at sea.
It’s hard not to wonder why there hasn’t been much productive conversation in the last two weeks surrounding the aftermath of this tragedy. Or to wonder why it took major media outlets like The New York Times and CNN until almost a week after the fact to post their first acknowledgments. Or why this story wasn’t given the chance to occupy major headlines long enough to touch people the way it should have. Or why the E.U., NATO, and the U.S. are choosing to treat these people’s struggle for safety and freedom as a police issue, deploying more warships to turn individuals and their families around. People don’t cram themselves into a 30-meter-long boat with 100-200 other people and head for the open sea simply out of frivolity. They do it because risking their lives trying to reach sanctuary is less dangerous than staying at home. They do it because they face the relentless threat of death, or torture, or kidnapping, or rape, or bombing, by any of the numerous assailant groups active around them. They do it because they want safer, more stable lives for themselves and their families.
With the current refugee crisis facing Europe and the United States, there are many people and policymakers who are debating how to ethically deal with all of the refugees. There are currently many different ways in which countries are aiding refugees. In Italy there has been a huge influx of refugees, over 153,000 in 2015 alone according to the online newspaper West. The Italian government is working with the EU to provide aid. According to the European University Institute’s Migration Policy Centre, last March Italy pledged more than 19 million USD to provide aid and humanitarian support to the Syrian refugees in Italy, see Syrian Refugees: Aid and Asylum Map. The United States has been under heavy criticism for being extremely selective in who they will allow to seek asylum. In many cases, EU countries do not have that option. Agence France-Presse correspondent Dave Clark wrote that “U.S. President Barack Obama has promised that the United States will admit 10,000 Syrian refugees for resettlement over the next 12 months, after criticism that America is not doing enough.” (Business Insider UK). One thing I have found extremely interesting while listening to the debate surrounding current events, is how much the approach to Syrian refugees is similar to how Jewish Displaced Persons (DPs) were dealt with following the Holocaust and World War II. Read more
The upcoming dialogue on April 18th, The Lost Generation, will discuss the numerous phases of the European welcome of refugees as documented by photographer Alessandro Penso. Penso studied clinical psychology at Rome’s La Sapienza University and photojournalism at the Scuola Romana di Fotografia. His deep dedication to social issues is reflected in his decision to focus on the issue of immigration in the Mediterranean in recent years. Penso’s experience witnessing an attack on a group of migrants in Corinth, Greece when young man, Mostafa, was hit by a car has continued to motivate him to redouble his efforts in raising awareness and combating the issue of injustice at Europe’s margins.
In light of the recent Paris attacks, countless politicians have expressed their opinions about the current refugee crisis. It’s interesting to see the different ways that the United States government and the European Union are handling the aftermath of the attacks. Several American governors have openly stated that they will refuse entry to any refugees, because in their opinion there are bound to be ISIS militants in the incoming groups. They say that America should mainly worry about its own safety, because the influx of refugees could pose a future threat. While members of the European Union have a similar opinion on the matter, stating that Europe needs to increase security for fear that ISIS militants may infiltrate the group of incoming refugees. Both the U.S. and the EU have allowed fear and generalization to cloud their judgement about an innocent and desperate group of people. By definition, a refugee is a verified asylum seeker meaning the person is fleeing from persecution and immediate conflict. Innocent Syrian civilians have had their country and homes destroyed. They need the world’s help, and America needs to begin helping Europe by sheltering these refugees. In 2015 alone more than 750,000 migrants arrived solely by sea. This doesn’t include the thousands of migrants that filtered through landlocked countries in the EU. It’s not only a crisis that affects Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa anymore: it’s the world’s crisis. Read more
One weekend in the wake of the tragic Paris attacks, I was in Vienna and I happened to walk past the French embassy where the front gates had been carefully decorated with flowers, fallen leaves, posters, and candles meant to express support for the country of France, while all over the world, social media has become inundated with people sharing their opinions on militant extremism and the flood of migrants searching for asylum from the violence and devastation in their home countries. Despite there being a number of other bombings and violent attacks in multiple other countries near the same date as the Paris strike, the major outpouring of support from the United States and the majority of the western world has been focused on Paris. This is strikingly illustrated in Facebook’s controversial decision to only supply the option to temporarily change one’s profile picture to France’s flag, rather than Syria’s or Lebanon’s or any other country that has suffered a devastating extremist attack. Read more
This week New York filmmakers Elizabeth Hemmerdinger, Anne De Mare, Kirsten Kelly and Laverne Berry are joining us to present award wining film The Homestretch, about the problem of youth homelessness, and works in progress including Dance with Me “a universal story of children struggling to be accepted for who they are, not for what they look like or what they cannot do as easily as their peers.”