These three youngsters with their beaming open-faced smiles could likely be anywhere in the world. They could be found scampering around in the leafy spaces of city parks. They could be found joshing around on the manicured lawns of suburban houses. They could be playing games on hot pavements, oblivious to the hustle and bustle of passing traffic.
But they weren't. I was watching a documentary on some wartorn part of Africa, the filming crew clearly stalled in their path by the hoards of excited kids flocking around them. These three boys, squeezed in the crowd, were looking directly into the camera. Their exuberant faces spoke nothing of the squalor around them, of the absence of shoes on their feet, of the random violence staining the days behind them and casting a shadow over the days ahead of them.
They were living in the moment, relishing the arrival of newcomers with as much enthusiasm as if the circus had suddenly come to town. And in a way, it had. The media was doing its job, drawing the world's attention to yet another outbreak of violence, suffering and carnage.
People sitting in their living rooms miles away, a momentary tightening on their faces bathed in the blue light of the TV. The news jingle signals a switching of channels. The scenes of abject poverty, wartorn communities, emasculated and emaciated villagers blankly describing the indescribable, are gone.
After completing this painting, I couldn't retrace the footage from where I extracted this image of the boys. I only hope they, and their joyfulness, survived.
"When we suffer anguish we return to early childhood because that is the period in which we first learnt to suffer the experience of total loss. It was more than that. It was the period in which we suffered more total losses than in all the rest of our life put together.”
― John Berger
This painting was donated to MOAS and is being auctioned online to raise funds supporting its efforts to save lives at sea in the ongoing refugee crisis in the Mediterranean. Click here to place a bid here:
RECOMMENDED READ: "The Other Hand" by Chris Cleaves. A beautiful and harrowing story. "The publishers of Chris Cleave's new novel "don't want to spoil" the story by revealing too much about it, and there's good reason not to tell too much about the plot's pivot point. All you should know going in to Little Bee is that what happens on the beach is brutal, and that it braids the fates of a 16-year-old Nigerian orphan (who calls herself Little Bee) and a well-off British couple–journalists trying to repair their strained marriage with a free holiday–who should have stayed behind their resort's walls. The tide of that event carries Little Bee back to their world, which she claims she couldn't explain to the girls from her village because they'd have no context for its abundance and calm. But she shows us the infinite rifts in a globalized world, where any distance can be crossed in a day–with the right papers–and "no one likes each other, but everyone likes U2." Where you have to give up the safety you'd assumed as your birthright if you decide to save the girl gazing at you through razor wire, left to the wolves of a failing state." —Mari Malcolm
Fancy a bit more harrowing reading?
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