GHOST SHIPS 2017

The news in those days was full of war and migrants and nativists, and it was full of fracturing too, of regions pulling away from nations, and cities pulling away from hinterlands, and it seemed that as everyone was coming together everyone was also moving apart. Without borders nations appeared to be becoming somewhat illusory, and people were questioning what role they had to play. 

—Mohsin Hamid, Exit West
 

Though the refugee crisis today is dire, the plight of refugees is not a new phenomenon. Across time, the making of states, and their failures, have prompted the besieged and persecuted to flee, to neighboring states and across so many waters of the world.

 

The Ghost Ships series focuses on sea vessels that bear the desperate. The source imagery is derived from fables, myths and stories of peril and survival—from western and eastern cultures across centuries. The arks and boats are either intact or wrecked, but always emptied of humanity. Modern instruments of rescue—lifejackets—either fill their decks, float around the wreckage, or scatter to the winds. Occasionally, ravens or doves carry them in their beaks, arriving too late or withholding aid.

 

While there is much generosity offered to those crossing borders, there is also much resistance. Refugee boats are caught up in maelstroms of both nature and politics. Once afloat, their passengers must withstand the elements; but before, during and after their voyage, they face human obstacles as well—the crimes of unscrupulous smugglers and the underworlds of societies that prey upon the undocumented. Unseaworthy vessels are filled beyond capacity. Refugees have been fired upon from shore and at sea. The Identitarian movement promotes the preservation of national identity and a return to 'traditional western values'. They and anti-immigrant groups like Defend Europe, have vowed to stop the "invasion" of refugees attempting to sail to Europe, by disrupting rescue missions or physically blocking boats loaded with North African migrants.  Such groups accuse NGOs of colluding with traffickers to bring unwelcome migrants that they characterize as “enemies of Europe.”

 

The U.S. alt-right, and its favored website Breitbart, promote a white ethno-state, in alignment with Europe’s Identitarian movement. Such movements here and abroad demand stronger borders and more barriers; they are willing to thwart life-saving efforts in order to advance a xenophobic agenda. The majority of Americans oppose admitting large numbers of refugees from countries where people are fleeing war and oppression. Ghost Ships exposes the consequences of indifference, resentment or fear of ‘the stranger’—the denial of safe and humane harbor.