Arabella Dorman’s “Suspended”: A Cry for Help by Carol P. Christ
Starfish Foundation, a local NGO founded to help refugees and migrants arriving in Lesvos in one of the largest population movements in recent years, along with the Dirty Girls volunteer organization, helped to collect and wash clothing that contributed to the artwork “Suspended” by Arabella Dorman, installed at St. James Church in Piccadilly, London for the holiday season.
On a visit to Lesvos in 2015 Dorman was moved by the clothing abandoned on the sea shore by refugees and migrants arriving wet and shivering, who were given changes of clothes by the volunteers who met them. “There were thousands of items of clothing discarded by refugees. I was struck by the concept of the empty garment, evoking the hidden presence of the person who had worn that item. These clothes reveal what is now being forgotten,” was how Dorman described the inspiration for the installation. Most moving, of course, are the garments of small children, uprooted from their homes by war, and forced to flee across the water to start a new life. Tiny shirts decorated with sequins, small socks, little boys’ sweatshirts emblazoned with team names in English. Dorman said that she “suspended” seven hundred items of clothing from the ceiling of the church in order to call attention to the “limbo” into which refugees and migrants have been thrust—with their futures unknown and their very survival in jeopardy.
Though the refugee crisis in Lesvos has faded from public attention, there remains a real need in the Aegean islands and in Greece as a whole. A report released by the UNHCR in December estimated the total population of refugees and migrants stranded on the island of Lesvos alone at over 7500 people, including unaccompanied minors, families with small children, and single women. People may wait months or in some cases over a year to have their applications for asylum processed. The camps are overcrowded, unheated, and often filthy. Despite pleas by local authorities, the Greek government and the EU have yet to develop comprehensive plans to care for the refugees and to begin to integrate them into new lives in foreign countries.
Starfish Foundation thanks Arabella Dorman for highlighting the on-going nature of the refugee crisis, and for calling attention to our work in conjunction with her installation. “Suspended” will be on display until February 8.
Carol P. Christ, an internationally known writer and educator who lives in Molivos, Lesvos, is working as a volunteer with Starfish in outreach and communication. She wrote a blog inspired by washing refugee clothing, titled “Crossing the Sea of Death” in 2015.