Friday, 20 March 2009

Still human, still here.

Wednesday (18th March) was the opening night of "Still human, still here" at Host gallery. This is the first fruition of a long project by my friend Abbie Trayler-Smith. The exhibition, in conjunction with Panos Pictures and a coalition of like-minded NGOs aims to highlight the hardships and systematic prejudice faced by asylum seekers in this country.

Over the past year or so Abbie has been spending time with asylum seekers from Iraq, Iran, Zimbabwe, and the Congo amongst other nationalities and documenting them as they wait for the legal process of their cases to unfold.

Abbie has approached this project with a subtle lightness of touch. The portraits of those she has followed are accompanied by documentary observations of the objects and rituals that make up their day to day existence here in the UK. 

Shying away from blatant narrative, she tells the stories instead by showing the ripples on the surface of their submerged lives.

Some of these photographs have an almost dream-like otherworldly quality. Often giving pause for thought, they are suffused with hope rather than grinding despair. 

Walking around the exhibition  (a feat only possible once the massive crowds had thinned toward the end of the evening!) the large portraits gather more and more meaning as the smaller pictures start to flesh out the lives of the subjects. I found myself constantly switching between the large and small prints as I started seeing new layers.

The subtlety of displaying some of the strongest images as subordinates may not be to everyone's taste. But the interplay of these elevates the exhibition, drawing the viewer and immersing them in a conversation.

I would urge everyone (though not all at once!) to go and see the exhibition, which runs until the 4th April 2009, and see this thought provoking, wonderful set of pictures that gives us a glimpse of those we too often ignore and a chance to understand the asylum issue in a way that might galvanise us into political action. 

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