The Calais Jungle was an unauthorised migrant camp that materialised between 2015 and 2016 on a redundant landfill site on the outskirts of Calais and close to the ferry port from where trucks travelled to the UK. The camp had the appearance of a shantytown, and like many camps, such as those in the Arab world, Africa or Asia, it had a randomly organised social structure, with dirt roads and temporary dwellings, buildings and shops, etc. Estimates vary, but at its height the Jungle was reported to have had between 6,500 to 9,000 people of diverse race, gender and age living in the camp, including over 1,000 unaccompanied minors.
In October 2016, under political pressure to take control of the problems of migration in France, the French authorities began to clear the Calais Jungle of its inhabitants and demolish the structures. A mass, forced evacuation took place, and the people in the camp were moved to migrant centres across France. About a thousand, mostly adolescent males managed to remain on site, and a fierce battle broke out between those remaining on site and the French police attempting to evict them. The youths threw stones and the police responded with tear gas and batons. A fire began that quickly spread throughout the mostly wooden and canvas structures and rapidly overwhelmed most of the camp. Whether the fire was by accident or started on purpose is not clear, but by the following morning; the camp was mostly ash and smouldering debris.
Rukban: the camp of the living dead, a non-place built of clay and sand.
At its peak, Rukban was the largest encampment of displaced people in the Arab World, containing an estimated 70,000 to 100,000 people, comprising mainly of war-displaced Syrian families. The camp is positioned in a triangle of desert close to the shared borders of Jordan, Syria and Iraq. Run by a council of tribal chiefs, the camp is internationally categorised as ungoverned, a so-called, ‘Village of Clay’ in no-man’s land. Apart from what the inhabitants have built, it has few amenities and little infrastructure. The people live in tents, and, as the population increased and a community developed, makeshift, but more durable, dwellings were constructed with whatever building materials could be found locally, including mud to make clay bricks dried by the sun.
Because the camp was thought to contain members of so-called terrorist groups, such as ISIS, the border crossings that surround the camp were sealed from all sides. With movement restricted, vital provisions of food, water and medicines essential for survival are scarce, and international aid convoys so desperately needed were blocked or discouraged by the States surrounding the camp. Besides the constant shortage of basic commodities, extreme weather conditions, such as frequent sandstorms, seasonal rainstorms, high temperatures in the summer and extreme cold in winter, all take their toll on the health of the inhabitants. The people living in Rukban say that they are trapped in a prison, where they are abandoned with no way out, in what they call, ‘the camp of the living dead’, a non-place built of clay.
I am an artist/researcher who studied for an MA and PhD at the University of Brighton centring on societal, cultural, historical and political issues. My art practice focuses on war and conflict and its effects on cultures and societies, specifically the effects that arise due to environmental and ecological damage – damage caused by conflict and war that lead to climate change and worldwide migrations. My work is a combination of disciplines that uses aesthetic notions of making art alongside the research and analysis of key texts. I consider my work as a process of making art that opens up sites and places for discourse focusing on human disharmony, conflict and war. Although trained in traditional art practices of painting, sculpture and photography, my current work gravitates more toward digital processes as a foundation for the over-layering of paint, pencil, pastels and found organic materials.
My work has been exhibited in the UK, mainland Europe, the US and Asia, and he is a member of the IWM War and Conflict Subject Specialist Network.