We were on Sicily, an Italian island at the very southern tip of Europe and it was slowly dawning on me that it wasn’t all turquoise water and pungent tomatoes.
We rented a house from Rosa, a wonderful woman with a long list of qualifications that included mediation and Fine Art. She has a son who she adopted years ago when he arrived on a boat. He was a teenage refugee from the Congo. Rosa with a small budget and a big heart.
It was strange to be in a European place that felt so African. The hot wind and the dust come across the sea from Africa. So do people, fleeing lives that are unsustainable, taking unimaginable chances to make the journey in overcrowded vessels. Sicily is littered with evidence of thousands of years of occupations and influences. It has a kind of frontier feeling to it; I suppose if you are booted off the mainland you are bound to pick up this kind of traffic.
Fortification dominates the architecture. We drove into the hills around Syracuse, where many of the rock faces have been carved out by people seeking refuge. This has been happening since about 800BC. It is easy to see why the pull of beautiful, strategically situated Sicily was so strong. For most of today’s refuge seekers, however, the push is a stronger factor than the pull.
I returned home, my head spinning with ideas. Unearthing my sense of belonging is a recurring idea in my work. Fleeing one’s home and clinging to the slim hope of being accepted elsewhere is an extreme test of belonging. The Welcome Stranger exhibition came pouring out, but there is still more work to be done.