Exhibition showcases plight of displaced persons and migrants

Some of the art pieces on display at the exhibition titled ‘Freedom| Flight| Refuge’ at Circle Art Gallery in Nairobi.

The exhibition at Circle Art Gallery showcases internal displacement, migration and need for a safe place to call home, themes that are now a global concern.

‘Freedom| Flight| Refuge’ is a collection of 35 contemporary works from six artists who employ different mediums. Ray Piwi showcases the plight of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) after the 2007/2008 post-election violence in Kenya following the disputed presidential election. Eight years later some families still live in IDP camps.

Piwi depicts the camps with a photo of iron-roofed, dung-coated houses lined up in a row.

He calls for celebration when a family’s wish to have a home is finally fulfilled.

“It becomes headline news only when people have drowned or been deported in large numbers,” he says.

The artist further points out the need to avoid past mistakes that lead to displacement of individuals from their homes.

This exhibition that opened last week was marked by performances by poet Sitawa Namwalie and author Yvonne Owuor.

Ms Owuor performed an excerpt from her short story ‘Weight of Whispers’ while Sitawa performed her poem ‘God’s Favourite’ that stated “we divided the world up with our stories” while ‘Home’ by Warsan Shire explored the migration crisis.

“No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark. You only run for the border when you see the whole city running as well... You have to understand, that no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land,” an excerpt from Shire’s poem reads.

Martin Onyis’ ‘Leaving Home’ and a series of works titled ‘Papers of Freedom’ also sheds the light on the plight of migrants.

In ‘Leaving Home’, Mr Onyis depicts a man who does not want to leave his country because of violence but he has no choice. He has written a letter, quoting lines from Warsan’s poem.

In ‘Papers of Freedom’ he depicts a helpless man who has national identity documents but rethinks the meaning of ‘freedom’.

While the man is free in his country for possessing the documents, he is not free to move to another country as he wishes.

“It is an attempt to argue on when we say we are free, how free are we. While I am still in agreement that a person can be free in a specific environment, all freedom is bound and limited by space and time. We always need permission from something or someone otherwise we are trespassing,” Onyis explains.

The exhibition that ends on March 13 also features Jackie Karuti whose series of works identified as ‘There Are Worlds Out There They Never Told You About’, Shabu Mwangi’s ‘Fugitive at the Frontier’, Sidney Mang’ong’o’s ‘Bantu River’ that explores the Bantu migration then and now and Longinos Nagila’s untiled pieces that calls for humanity beyond borders and the hope of the people to have the world as a home for everyone.