Spending the day with Roaming was such a welcoming experience, full of warm exchanges and mutual curiosities. Right from the start, our conversations weaved between history and modernity via found artifacts, bus-trips, ley-lines and pilgrim routes in the UK to refugee camps and field hospitals in South Sudan and Nigeria.
Ideas of chaos and symbolism led to thoughts about old ways and new – from wooden clubs to metal machetes in Papua New Guinea, from herding to agriculture in Ethiopia, from common land to holiday homes in Penwith. We talked about community voices and the creation of myth and memory, the passing down of oral histories and song; we discussed the act of bearing witness and taking testimony at times of great trauma; we wondered about feelings of anger and helplessness, whether truth always leads to reconciliation, how healing begins… and we thought about solidarity or being present as a kind of compassionate action in and of itself. Phew! It was a great morning.
Looking at possible frameworks for our art, we shared some of our creative experiences while writing and painting, e.g. using subtitles or fragments to help form an essay or using imagery in art to represent deep layers of emotion or thought. I admired all the different works of art in the exhibition and at Breadline and I heard about some of the ways in which paintings can reflect the individual self as well as speak to a wide audience.
A lot of our discussions seemed to take on the theme of borderlands: ideas of migration in Europe - birds and people; different cultural beliefs about the living world, the spiritual and the liminal zones between. We hopped quite easily across the traditional borders of art to examine it as gesture, as tool, as communication.
Over a deliciously spicy Mexican lunch we shared ideas about veganism and vegetarianism and looked at the sorts of dilemmas and wobbles that exist in everyday lives – whether finding affordable ways of living and traveling in and out of Cornwall, or coping with ‘normal’ life after working in humanitarian emergencies. There were thoughts about right and wrong: whether ‘wrongs’ can be mistaken by-products of good intentions (we discovered ‘evil’ is a word that some of us struggle with!) and how solutions to one problem can sometimes cause unintended consequences, both at political and individual levels.
In the afternoon we collected the exhibition from the Redwing Gallery and I enjoyed reading some short excerpts from my writing. The pieces were mainly set in field hospitals or refugee camps and reflected on relationships and meaningful dialogue between people: patient and practitioner, outreach worker and mother – those micro-relationships contrasting greatly with the larger bureaucratic systems and political backgrounds against which they are sometimes set. At one point I was pleased to receive a standing ovation from Olive, Laura’s dog, who shook herself to show solidarity with the refugees’ animals who can also suffer in the chaos of motion.
It was an active, gentle day of finding common ground and connection through story, art and companionship. I was impressed by this group of engaged artists and found them a real inspiration and example of how making space for one shared passion can bring people together and spark conversations about so much more.
Frances Orrok works with people in crisis and her humanitarian work has taken her to Cambodia, Nigeria, South Sudan, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, South Africa. She is currently working on an essay collection and writes between Cornwall and New York.
This is a page for notes about how Roaming is related to contemporary art as a whole. We hope the contributors list will expand.