Image: Paul Motion’s The Story of Maryam, a Soul Note album issued in 1984 and a Safe Passage, Lesvos Solidarity purse made out of a refugee lifejacket gifted by Greek economist Yannis Varoufakis at the Sheffield Festival of Ideas: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IyEm3WJyyVw
Maryam is a name that combines east and west, south and north, religious, social and cultural history and crops up all the time…
There are many Maryam refugee stories:
And a name, like a memory or anything that you are left with, can make meaning or sense but only if we want it to. We can, if we so choose, really, really help other people through what we see and know but don’t realise that we have permission to do so.
As Barbara Brownie observes in her article ‘The Mystery of Abandoned Clothing‘, there’s always personal, cultural and social meaning in clothing left behind, whether it’s in war or peace: below left: a child’s shoe in among shoes discovered at Auschwitz, 1945 and right, artist, Pam Longobardi, sitting amongst lifejackets of Syrian refugees.
Pam worked in Mytilini, a vibrant city on the island of Lesvos, where greek people work with Afghan Iraqi, Syrian and African refugees (a project called Lesvos Solidarity) and fire up others, like Yannis Varoufakis, to change the current economic system by sharing his social confidence that things can work differently and better for more people, more of the time.
It’s about working with love and hate and making something better: dystopian and utopian realities: refugees having access to some of the tools they need to make a new life as well as refugees setting fire to the camp that holds them down and back.
Above left and right: the promise of meaningful employment and the frustration of refugees aspirations for a meaningful way of living and working results in a cycle of riot, arson and criminalisation, well known in our prisons in the UK and Europe today.
And for people like Varoufakis, a man of high status, well connected to the bad and the good as we all now can be, there’s a mission: to boldly go out from the wreckage of the greek economy and connect great people and projects across the world: to continue a sense of momentum around more generous views of people, resources and human nature, a place where professional skills and training can be shared with more people, more of the time.
We need to create the conditions for real, not phoney, innovation that starts at the environment we all feel, touch, experience.
Yannis Varoufakis sees the bureaucracy above, within and around the migrant camp system where the amazing potential of the people who become migrant and refugees turns cruelly into self harm and destructiveness.
At the talk at Sheffield Hallam, I won the purse he had brought from the Mytilini, Lesvos workshop which started by creating a flag of belonging, has grown a bag and purse making business around a need for recognition, hope, fellowship, community and solidarity:
Above a refugee flag made out of Life Jackets and the Levososolidarity shop and online retailer that’s grown from it.
And it’s happening across the world. Projects like Brave New Alps Rovereto, in Italy, and Leeds, Studio Polpo Sheffield, particularly their Tingas project, Raumlabor Berlin, Isacco Chiaf Italy Friederike Haberman, Berlin, Armin Bernhard
Living in a way that includes more people, more of the time means becoming someone who can listen and learn, be as alert and curious as a child throughout our lives but with a sense that maturity and wisdom are central human goals.
Instead of war.
Instead of seeing sensitivity as a weakness, knowing what hurts people as well as what makes them feel good, being alert to each other, finding a way to reach them, means ‘listening so that everyone feels heard and can hear themselves, they can hear things that surprise them, hear where they stumble, choke, where they don’t expect to be upset where they’re angry they can hear the silences, where the words won’t come’
Because this leads to real creativity and innovation.
Wars and the impact of old, new and in the middle wars across the world mean that now 65 million displaced people are moving across the planet without rights, or advocates or destination.
While they’re unsettled, so are we all. The fragmentation and ambivalence we see and feel in these stories we can also see in our own lives, on our own streets every day and it’s the link between the local, the regional and the global that lets the light in.
We need to shine on, like the crazy diamonds we can become: living less like a consumer and more like a producer. We are very, very wealthy.