Boats to Life, Boats to Death

Oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas. 
Oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas. 

Brainstorming how to remake this marvelous Kindertransport memorial at Friedrichstrasse station—”Trains to Life, Trains to Death”—for the current child refugee crisis. 

What is different and must be updated:

– What were then trains now are boats. What was then a centralized effort, is now comparatively decentralized—and unreliable. The trains went to life and to death, because centralized actors (like the German state) sent them there. The boats go to life and to death, because so many are not seaworthy, don’t get where they’re going, are interfered with or turned away in less explicitly governmental ways. 

– The refugees then were mainly European, and now are mainly Middle Eastern (Iraqi, Syrian, Afghani) and African (Somalian, Eritrean). 

– They carried briefcases then; now they carry backpacks and smartphones. 

– Someone puts fresh flowers in the girl’s hands every morning to remind Berliners of our history. But the distancing problems with the current child refugee crisis are less about time, and more about:

     … attention (so many competing concerns),

     … blame (America has been destabilizing the Middle East for generations, but America is Europe’s geostrategic friend—so German culpability here is somewhat at a remove), 

     … Othering (They are Muslim, They are brown, They have Their own history and problems—the voices of Islamophobia or xenophobia at some times, racism at others, broader us-versus-them psychology more generally—although this is just anti-Semitism in another incarnation), and 

     … magnitude (the scale of the current crisis being too big to comprehend, and of the coming increasing waves of mass displacement due to climate change and its geopolitical destabilizing effects being even greater—although this too is just another historical moment’s Holocaust). 

So the first effort painting in this vein here has not hit the spot of updating all these points and coming up with a current version of fresh flowers to close the space of these forms of distancing. It might need to be three-dimensional and I’m not a sculptor, and I don’t want to spend three months learning 3D printer and laser-cutter tech to draw and render what I think I want to see here (I gotta remake an oeuvre, curate it more properly, and start selling again). But this seems important and that’s the idea…