The Museum Without A Home: An Exhibition of Hospitality at the Chrystal Macmillan, conceived and curated by Oxfam, Amnesty International and Student Action for Refugees, seeks to celebrate small acts of kindness which have a big impact on the lives of refugees. The exhibition holds various items, all donations from Greeks to refugees who have settled in their respective local communities.
In full disclosure, I entered the exhibition with some trepidation. I feared that it would be fetishising the relationship between aid giver and receiver, whilst also bolstering the notion of ‘The White Man’s Burden’ in the face of the continuing crisis. However, what I actually saw was the representation of powerful acts of kindness motivated solely by a deep sense of collective humanity.
The exhibition works on two levels. At one level, the items on display may be understood as practical attempts to physically reconstruct the lives of displaced peoples. And on the other, the items donated represent the desire of the aid givers to embrace refugees in their community and country. In other words, the donated items create a sense of familiarity in the alien.
All of the items on display have emotional resonance, but the ones I found especially stirring were the items donated from Greek children to other children who have been displaced. In particular, the brightly coloured bracelets gifted from an Athens based school girl called Ioni to Kushie, a Pakistani girl of the same age. Kushie witnessed the murder of her father by armed groups, so Ioni gifted her the bracelets (among other items) to try and distract her from the burden of her trauma. Although there is nothing that can be donated to fill the vacancy left in Kushie’s life, this act symbolises the inherent empathy, warmth and generosity embodied in the innocent love of children.
Equally moving was ‘Witney’s Warm Welcome Quilt’, a patchwork quilt made by the community to welcome a new refugee family to Witney. The patches were created and decorated with personal messages by a large variety of members of the community, to then be sewn together by the Witney Refugee Action Group. Here too the gesture functions on two levels: it is literally ‘blanketing’ the family in support whilst also representing Witney’s historic blanket industry.
The exhibition concludes with information on the reunification of refugee families. Although there is no obvious link between this and the items on display, it does draw attention to issues central to the refugee crisis and the solutions. I really urge you to take a few minutes out of your day to swing by Chrystal Macmillan so you too can see this exhibition; it speaks to the profound role that small gestures play in the refugee crisis and humanising its victims.
Museum Without a Home is at the Chrystal Macmillan building until 07 Feb.
Image: Laila Ghaffar