"The Angels Cried - As They Knew it was Never Only…26”is inspired by the 26 young Nigerian women and girls who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea on November 5, 2017. These women were between the ages of 14 and 18. Survivors on a nearby rubber dingy said that they were Nigerian and had left from Libya. It was suspected that these women were victims of sexual trafficking but at the same time, this is the same route traveled by 100’s and 1000’s of migrants trying to reach Europe.
Many will question why people would make such a perilous journey. Societies often classify migration in terms of economic versus victims of war, political unrest, famine, etc. with one issue being granted greater understanding and acceptance. I also note that compassion and empathy are often afforded to the migrants according to skin color and their country of origin.
From my world-view, it is a difficult, risky and soul-wrenching decision to leave home in this way as expressed in the poem HOME, by Warsan Shire who concludes by saying
no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
away from me now
i don’t know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here.
This piece resonates with me because I think it is important to note that when you have an incident like this the loss is never specific only to those 26 young women. While many were buried as unidentified: a family is now missing a daughter, sister, niece, aunt, friend, etc. In addition, two of the women were pregnant so this loss affects more than one generation. We also do not know what the future held for these young women. History is full of people who arrive in their new country in the most difficult circumstances and go on to become major contributors to their new society. Perhaps in those waters was a future doctor, prize winning author, lawyer, etc. This loss was far greater than the original 26 lives.
The topic of immigration remains constantly present in my life. I have seen first-hand the impact of communities and families when a loved one suddenly disappears and over time, they come to accept that he or she may have left on their journey. Working in education, you have the opportunity to meet children and families that arrived at their migrant destination both legally and illegally. Their efforts to stabilize their lifestyle are often tenuous and few arrive to a world of
My piece was created to offer a great deal of reference to the water as it is so symbolic of new life. I drew influence from the Lucille Clifton poem “blessing the boats” that says….
may you open your eyes to water water waving forever and may you in your innocence sail through this to that
For these women the journey from this to that was perilous and the skulls symbolize not just the 26 but also the tragic number of the many other souls lost at sea. The angels cry as this is such a profound loss it affects both heaven and earth. For the remainder of the narrative, I think the viewer should take time to view the piece. As an artist, I have created the piece and titled the work. Viewing a piece of art is a mutual experience. The audience must also work and in doing this will often have more appreciation for the piece.
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) the UN Migration Agency, 171,635 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea during 2017, with just under 70 per cent arriving in Italy and the remainder divided between Greece, Cyprus and Spain. This statistics are only for entry to Europe yet North American is also experiencing massive migrant numbers.
This piece is not to defend or malign immigration whether legal or illegal. I mourn their deaths and all of the others before them. I attempt to understand their journey as I think often of WarsanShire’s introduction to her poem “Home” when she says,