Making the world more beautiful
Migration is a wide-ranging topic, affecting people all over the world. Worldwide there were 10,404,806 refugees and asylum seekers in 2012. In the same year, there were 74,961 refugees and 13,053 asylum seekers staying in the Netherlands. Migration is broadly discussed in the Netherlands, due to controversial incidences, the most recent being the Vluchtkerk (literally ‘flight church’, also known as the refugee church). The Vluchtkerk is a church in Amsterdam that is occupied by a group comprised of over 100 asylum seekers, all of whom are facing deportation. The asylum seekers have set a great example to other asylum seekers in the Netherlands, by standing up for their own rights and demanding respect from the authorities. This protest is only a small example of the major effects of border control on migrants. Amnesty International is currently standing up for the rights of migrants and asylum seekers in European countries and according to Amnesty, some border control measurements have contributed to the serious violation of human rights.
It is clear that migration is an important topic concerning many more people than only the migrants crossing borders. However, the discussion on migration often takes place on such an abstract level that we tend to forget the actual faces, stories and lives underneath the surface. This is essential when examining different issues with migration in order to acquire true awareness and understanding. It is one of the reasons why the Mirroring Migration festival was organized 22-27 April 2013. The festival offered many different events, the first being an interactive theatre workshop held by Farhad and Nasrin Foroutanian. As both Farhad and Nasrin are refugees from Iran, their personal experience made the workshop into a fascinating experience.
The participants came in, and were then asked to show their passport and give personal information. ‘Why are you here? Who else knows you are here? Does your family know?’ They were then placed either in a red or a yellow area in the room and forced to wait, uncertain of what was about to happen. The red area was meant for those who did not bring an ID card, or who showed suspicious behavior. The yellow area was meant for people who were able to identify themselves. The aim of this rather strange start of the workshop was to give the participants a hint of how it feels to enter a country as a refugee. Next, participants were given different fascinating stories from refugees and were asked to read them out loud. When everyone was finished, Nasrin pointed out to one of the stories saying: ‘This one is mine’.
Most interesting however are perhaps Farhad and Nasrin themselves, and the way they are able to handle severe stories with humor and enthusiasm. In Iran, Nasrin had a successful career as an actress in TV series and films. Farhad, apart from acting, is also an artist. His way of making art differs from painting to making cartoons for newspapers. Cartoons are for him a way to express political opinions.
‘Beauty, of course, is the most important element in our work. The world is not always beautiful, also not aesthetically. If you look from up above, some parts of the world are very beautiful, some are rotten. It can be much more beautiful. If the world becomes more beautiful, we become more beautiful as well. This is the task of the artist. To make the world more beautiful.’
Farhad currently does cartoons for the main Dutch and German newspapers. Before however, he was making his art under the threat and censorship of the Iranian government. Nasrin and Farhad were forced to leave Iran, as their opinion on the government was no longer tolerated. After traveling with a theatre group and living in Italy for seven years, their road led to the Netherlands where they have been living to this day. They were not allowed to return to Iran for over fifteen years. Now, they occasionally return and use theatre to create space for discussion of different taboos in the country. Also in the Netherlands they organize different theatre workshops to raise awareness on different matters. Theatre allows people to actually experience something instead of just listening to a lecture or reading a book. This is why creativity is such an important way of communicating to them. Farhad: ‘The main concerns in my work are justice and truth. It is that simple. Justice is what we need in order to survive in this world. That is what drives me. That is what I find very important and what I try to communicate. And truth cannot be found. Truth is hope, such as democracy, it simply does not exist. But it gives us a direction, gives us trust to follow a certain road. This is what connects people to each other’.