value the brain & cut the priviledge
October’s multi-talented feature artist at the GAG is Karin Sandberg of Sweden.
Muna, Where Are You Now?
Essay by professor Christina Szurlej
Imagine being forced to leave everything you’ve known and love behind. To be separated from your family and friends. Crossing borders to a place where few understand your language or culture. Underage and unaccompanied, you risk your life for the chance to preserve it. Making it to Europe is no guarantee.
According to Europol, over 10,000 vulnerable refugee children have disappeared in Europe since 2010. This includes hundreds from Sweden alone. Among them is Muna, a refugee from Somalia, who was no more than fourteen years old when she disappeared. Her abduction didn’t take place during the perilous journey from Somalia to Sweden. No, Muna was taken from her foster parents’ home in Sweden in the middle of the day, possibly by traffickers or smugglers. Though her foster parents reported her disappearance to local police, no substantive investigation took place.
Against the backdrop of a continent-wide pattern of disappearances among refugee children, European States are failing to ensure the safety of this vulnerable group. For the State where refuge is being sought, it’s more convenient for refugee children to disappear, rather than “pose a burden to the welfare system.” Is this why police are unable or unwilling to prevent, or at least investigate, the disappearance of refugee children? Inconsistent data collection and poor information-sharing across States, compounded by varying national legislation on cases involving refugee children, only further point to State negligence. A single child disappearance due to negligence is a tragedy—10,000 disappearances is a crisis.
As per the International Convention on the Rights of the Child—the most widely ratified international human rights treaty—States have a duty to prioritize the best interests of the child in all decision making. The fact that the missing children are refugees doesn’t negate these duties; rather, it has the opposite effect by creating an extra layer of protection found under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its Optional Protocol. Sweden, the world is watching.
Deeply thought-provoking and reflective from the planning phase through to its execution, Karin Sandberg’s project is based on an account of Muna’s story as originally published in Wagner and Mikkelsen’s The Lost Children (2013). Eerily capturing the voices of unaccompanied refugee children who have disappeared, Sandberg and the Gothenburg India Choir illustrate how art is a powerful vehicle for evoking emotion and inspiring people to think and act. The status quo won’t budge without resistance or activism, though there is no set formula. Be creative. Use your talents. Activism can take countless forms and still advance the promotion and protection of human rights. As Martin Luther King Junior once said “Life’s most urgent and pressing questions is ‘what are you doing for others?’”
With the eruption of technological advancements over the last several decades, activists have access to audiences without borders at unprecedented speed. Harness these advantages to advance a worthy cause. Those who live in a free and democratic society, and enjoy access to unlimited information, have no excuse for ignorance and inaction.
Because of Sandberg, I carry Muna’s name on my lips. With the power and force of ten thousand voices, I now ask “Muna, where are you now?”
© C. Szurlej – October 2016
My work is characterized by an interdisciplinary openness, embracing equal parts audio- and visual expression. The art-making process is very precise, as each day is divided into the same rhythm: breakfast, work, snack, work, lunch, work, coffee break, work, dinner, work. I find comfort in the routines of everyday life, in trying to capture the small distinctions within apparent sameness. This has been my working method for the last ten years. ‘Time’ as a central theme has created a huge archive of songs, writings, drawings and photographs. However the final outcome of my work is depending on context to decide whether it should be presented as film, music, drawings, books, karaoke, performance, or something else.
In my artistic practice I work with themes of identity, specifically identities marginalized in history and society: It’s about the stories that are not told and the voices that are not heard. I use my own voice as a medium in place of these unheard ones, for inviting the viewer into my works. To write site-specific texts and music—to compose based on literature or personal stories—has been a central part of my methodology for some years now. Projects I’ve been engaged with share an interest in language, social practice, activism, feminism, voice and collaboration, artist-led initiatives and art outside of the normal exhibition-frame. My interest in the ‘Group’ as identity marker has become evident in my art and research: The group that is collective—the group as inclusive, exclusive, the group as threat, group security… Present are also ideas of ethnicity, of gender, of the artist-as-mother, and of class-belonging. I wish to include people into my work where I raise, highlight, and question various social issues.
All this is underscored by using music as the essence of a unifying force.
– Karin Sandberg, 2016