Elda Abramson spent 10 days as a volunteer in the Calais Jungle in September 2015 helping out in the refugee camp. It was an overwhelming experience but rewarding because she got to know people as individuals with personal stories and developed an understanding of their plight.
Elda says: “They were kind and considerate and even though I had gone to help them, they wanted to take care of me. Of course, these people have nothing and are completely lost but their spirit is strong.”
The experience inspired Elda to create a series of around 40 ink paintings to express the complex and difficult emotions she came away with.
My husband David Connick and I helped out with a very well attended and successful private view on Sunday 7 February at the Birley Centre in Eastbourne.
The Calais Jungle is a controversial topic and people’s reactions seem to be polarised… there are those that see and respond to the humanitarian needs of the 5,000 refugees and those that ignore the needs of individuals and fixate on it being an ‘illegal camp’ full of young, male ‘economic migrants’ who should have sought asylum in the countries they arrived in.
Conditions in the camp are vile and unsanitary and there is little or no support from the major aid charities. There are men, women and children of all ages living in conditions that we wouldn’t accept for farm animals. The refugees have left their homes for many different reasons – some no longer have homes because of bombing, some are scared and traumatised, some have family in the UK that they are desperate to join. All are seeking a better, safer life.. trying to find a way to have some kind of life.
Sadly, much of the UK press coverage plays on people’s fears of mass migration. The volunteers I met during the private view had a very different perspective. Having met many of the refugees and listened to their stories they see them as human beings, individuals with the same emotional and practical needs as we have ourselves and the same rights to food, shelter, healthcare and a decent life.
Elda’s ink paintings are remarkable… firstly I’m incredibly impressed that she produced this extraordinary body of work in such a short period of time and I know she has worked night and day in a strong, emotional response. Her paintings deliver powerful and thought provoking messages but they are dignified, subtle and beautiful too. The subject matter includes tear gas, tents, the fence, the muddy road, the camp fire and the people themselves…
My photos are not the best as the reflections have distorted some but they do I hope give a sense of the atmosphere and feeling behind the paintings.
The exhibition runs until 28th February 2016 (Saturdays and Sundays only) from 11am to 5pm at The Birley Centre Gallery, 4 Carlisle Road, Eastbourne BN21 4JR. Elda is kindly donating profits from the sale of her paintings and cards to initiatives to support the refugees in Calais.
Get there if you can!
You can see more of Elda’s work on her website at www.elda-abramson.com/