This week in Calais was framed by spikes in violence, and the World Cup, including England’s loss in the semi-finals accompanied by a fair amount of playful teasing of us across the two days. We were joined by Miriam Nabarro, a visual artist who works with cyanotype, a 19th century photographic process in which paper and cloth are exposed by sun and washed out with water, leaving a unique blue print.
We made our usual visit to our friend, sitting together on a bench outside the reception in overcast Calais weather. We were delighted to Introduce Miriam who has spent time in our friend’s home town in North Africa, and to find that they share old friends. The homeless hostel is full of characters and it was good to witness many positive interactions between local men from Calais and older refugees from Nigeria, Sudan, Egypt, DRC...
The centre was quiet on our arrival. We were told that there had been up to 250 refugees watching the semi finals this week on the big screen set up in the main area, so people were probably now resting.
Our own plan to capitalise on the magnificent sunshine of recent weeks to make cyanotypes was challenged by the day being overcast. But the atmosphere was welcoming and people started to drift into the centre. We ourselves responded to Secours Catholique’s desire for the large outdoor space to be occupied more by setting up a table and encouraging those who walked across the space to play with bricks, cars and rubble - laying them out in compositions and exposing the coated paper to what little sun there was. Today was about occupying space outside, introducing a new technique, blue prints strung up on a washing line.
This marginal space has an increasing sense of edginess with people living temporarily on the outer frame of town and many struggling to cope. We witnessed an increased use of alcohol and people with evident mental health issues. Once again we needed to adapt our response to what we found - the large map slipping off the fence and needing to be placed on the ground, while the tablecloth could be tied and looked at vertically. Both worked beautifully - the floor map becoming the site for play and storytelling with boats and vehicles used as props to communicate journeys and permission to play taken up by several young men.
Interactions were however fleeting within this increasingly precarious environment. Following yet another clearance by the CRS of people’s tents and belongings, and the continuing absence of basic services - water and power - and another change in schedules making it unclear when food was being offered, there is an increasing sense of instability. No cyanotypes were possible here due to the lack of water.
We were informed of spikes in violence in the form of champagne corks studded with nails that had been strewn on the road outside the Day Centre mid-week, as well as increased tensions and incidents of direct vigilante violence against refugees.
At the team meeting particular disgust was shared at the nail studded corks. Also discussed was an inspiring march of solidarity through Calais last weekend and the successful hosting of the two nights of football in the centre. There was planning and discussion about the coming weekend of Bastille Day and the World Cup final. One volunteer echoed many in the group by calling on the courage of the team to resist the hardening of attitudes towards the refugees, finding ways to transform the negativity into something positive.
Our counter response to the violence of the spiked corks was possible through the arrival of the sun. We were able to make a series of new blue prints, transforming the objects of hate Into art objects. The centre Director, Hisham MH Aly, himself an artist, made some potent prints using the corks and his hand print to block and say ‘NO to the violence!’
We are always impressed by the sense of a functioning family home in the safe house whose occupants get on with the daily routines of living. The house was at full capacity and full of domestic activity with young men coming and going, cooking, cleaning, washing, showing images of Asmara. There was also a new sense of order in the small back yard garden, full of clothes lines and plants. Around eight young men moved between the dining room table (our normal base) and the outside space and this week we followed suit, engaging with the domestic rhythm of the house as the sun came out.
Beautiful prints were produced with delicate shadows - 3 dimensional forms of home, journeys, shelters, dreams. As we’d seen across the two days, football can be a great unifier. As we left a cyanotype of Ronaldo was pinned up on the newly painted wall, alongside an image saying France - Champions! - a prophecy? Allez les Bleus!