Today I would like to introduce you to an art project for children of asylum seekers from Sudan in Arad, Israel. Click here for more information about the small city of Arad.
As we already know, Israel is a colonialist country which does not comply with internaional treaties for refugees, even if Israel signed the UN Refugee Convention in 1951.
But the reality is completely different from the legislation: indeed, Israel practices the detention of asylum seeker from Sudan and Eritrea to force them to voluntarily go back to their country (by self-expulsion). The asylum seekers are jailed or even exiled to a third country like Uganda or Rwanda where they do not belong. The detention is practiced with single asylum seekers while family men are not jailed.
The biggest problem for the children is that they live in a situation of complete insecurity, suffering from enormous identity conflicts. The Israeli education system does not hold out any prospects for the future. In Israeli schools universal history is not taught, only Jewish history alone. The racism towards Africans in Israel is heavy. Our German editorial team has already published a paper about it by the Israeli journalist and activist David Sheen.
And we have also talked about Dr. Rami Gudovitch who works with African asylum seekers in Tel Aviv and with expelled people in Africa.
We fell in love with this artistic project for children of asylum seekers because it is creative and innovative, so we interviewed Ana Camusso Wapner and David Wapner, two artists born in Argentina who have lived in Israel for 17 years now.
Before introducing you to the interview ProMosaik e.V. did with Ana, I would like to briefly introduce you to her and her work. For this purpose, I would like to give the floor to Ana.
A few words from Ana Camusso Wapner
My name is Ana Camusso Wapner. Together with my husband David, I am leading the crowdfunding campaign with the aim to offer our art summer workshop for asylum seekers’ children in Arad, the city where we have been living for seven years.
We have lived very hard times in this city. We were witness of the South Sudanese asylum seekers expulsion. We were not involved with the refugee issue and at that time we opened our eyes to this so critical and serious situation.
As an artist, I paint with different tools. I have also worked in multi-media videos with my husband David Wapner. I have illustrated many books for children, also with virtual tools.
The last exhibition I did in 2014 was entitled “The Ice and the Mud,” focusing on the Italian poet Dante Alighieri, and the “Divine Comedy.” It was a completely free showing about the masterpiece of the Italian poet. David participated in the writing of two apocryphal trios of Dante. It took place in The White House Gallery of the kibbutz Nir Oz next to Gaza. At that moment, we could feel that the situation was very tense, but we could not even imagine what would have happened in Gaza, the aggression, the war … All the innocent civilians dying …
My country of birth is Argentina. There, I suffered political persecution during the so dark times of the “Junta Militar.” Between 1976 and 1983, my family had to live in exile for many years.
The present project is my contribution to a promise I have made with my husband David to the children of the Nubian community in Arad. We hope that this project will be reality soon, and thank you all for your support!”
The association ProMosaik is firmly convinced that art and artistic values can change the world. Our dream is exactly the same dream Ana has: she wants Israel to do exactly the opposite with asylum seekers of what it is doing at this moment.
Thanks to you all for your attention and your support!
The ProMosaik interview
Dr. phil. Milena Rampoldi: Ana, what is the most important thing you keep in mind when you work with refugee children?
Ana Camusso: When we work with refugees children in art, we frankly do not behave differently from how we do with “normal” children. Art is a universal and very democratic process, because it is the expression of humanity in its best sense of the word. It is one of the deepest human experiences. One possible definition of art: art is the capacity of humans to express their feelings and discover their internal world to project it towards the external world. This internal perception is inserted into a difficult and interesting world, so step by step by specific tools — visual art, music, literature — you will understand yourself and your relationship to the world. Of course, this whole process is full of contradictions and emotions, problems and solutions. It is an open and endless process.
And parents feel that they have lost their authority toward their children what is extremely frustrating. All these children go to Israeli public schools and receive very little information about the rest of the world. This is a key point we have to consider. In public school children do not learn universal history. Their learning is limited to Israel and the history of the Jewish people.
So, under those conditions, you can imagine how this child with African roots has to try to survive in such an ethnocentric culture. And the fact that this child has no legal status in Israel, makes the situation even worse. On one hand, Israeli society asks the kid to forget her/his identity, and on the other hand, it rejects him completely. It is a pity that parents let their children forget African culture, for example African songs, just because they want to avoid the discrimination by Israeli society. But it is not just a pity, it is simply wrong. It is wrong because African children could contribute a lot to the new society, and they could do it with a lot of success.
In the stop motion movie, entitled “The Dream of the Magical Sofa,” you can see a clear example of that big transformation children are living. Haifa models a sofa an expression of comfort in the middle of all the difficult circumstances. Is it that what she was asking for? A place where to rest? A place where to talk to others? A place protected in the middle of a dark jungle? All these are very interesting questions …
Since we know the children and try to understand them because we are also immigrants, and we have lived our migration history, even if at a different level, but it is in our memory … The State offered us a frame. Israel offers you a frame, and if you do not accept this frame, you will not succeed. The frame cannot be changed or transformed.
And this is exactly the problem of Israel: that its society is built on the basis of those frames. Many people who wanted to change Israel, are stigmatized and socially marginalized. So, all those experiences we got through are our own experiences. So we can understand the situation of those children better. However, in the workshop are let me live art, by forgetting everything, and this is good for them.
MR: How can art contribute to help these children and why?
AC: You can find some aspects of this question in my first answer. Art can allow these children to discover who they really are, and to accept their real identity. Art can also allow them to discover a new reality in front of their eyes. And finally, and this is maybe the most important aspect, art can allow them to build another reality, to create another reality, to imagine new alternatives and solutions to a problem, or to many, many problems.
I feel that art means thinking and feeling. Of course, sometimes the process is very painful, sometimes it is even funny, and confusing. But it always contributes to release you of a very, very heavy load you are carrying with you. If this happens, children do feel much better. But this process takes time, much effort, and needs continuity. For us, this workshop is a complement of the others organized by other NGOs in the city. They are a very important presence for the children, but they do not do artistic work with them. So, with our work we try to fill this gap. Unfortunately, there are no funds for it, and we had to start our campaign.
“The Dream of The Magical Sofa”: A stop-motion film created by the children of Sudanese asylum seekers in Arad, Israel
MR: For ProMosaik e.V. working with refugees is important to change our own society, to abandon racism, and discrimination. Why is this so important for Israel today?
AC: Israel considers asylum seekers a burden. Many Israelis consider them as infiltrators. But asylum seekers in Israel are used as manpower in many places. They work hard, and their lives are full of incertitude and fear. Israel signed the UN-Refugee Convention in 1951, but does not comply with it at all. Israel does not fulfill its obligations towards these asylum seekers. Their children do not have any status because their parents do not have any. So the chance of becoming part of the society and of being able to change it, is very little.
You cannot change a country if you cannot become part of it. This is the negative aspect of Israeli politics related to asylum seekers and refugees. But there is also the positive aspect to be noticed: the African community in Israel is very dynamic, and has a changing potential, in particular for what concerns the reality in Tel Aviv. There something important is changing. You notice it if you see the interactions between the African, and the Jewish community. It is difficult to name what is happening there, but for sure something is deeply changing.
MR: Open prisons for asylum seekers are a sad Israeli reality which is not known abroad. What is wrong with Israel and what must change urgently in the refugee politics of the Israeli regime?
AC: Israel is a colonialist country, so it is not difficult to understand how wrong its way to look at things can be. On one hand, Israel does not offer any legal status to asylum seekers. On the other hand, it creates many Palestinian refugees.
At the moment, Israel is governed by a right-wing coalition destroying all not accepting their dogma. And their dogma is to give people very little information and a lot of empty propaganda. Of course, this political principle, affects all aspects of Israeli life. Many times it is amazing how human right activists are absolutely surprised that their government builds open jails for refugees, even if they perfectly know about the administrative arrest of Palestinians, and about how Israeli soldiers treat Palestinian children.
It is difficult to respect human rights in a country which works day by day for the perpetuation of a colonialist and racist regime. So it is clear that the bad situation of African asylum seekers will never change, if the occupation does not stop. What I would like to say is that if the occupation has an end, many other things, and mainly the injustice regarding refugees, will have an end as well. Refugees will be considered as human beings, instead of as infiltrators.
MR: Art is a way of self-expression which can heal the soul of these children. What does art mean to you applied to the work with asylum seekers’ children?
AC: I would like to refer to what I said in the beginning about it. What I can add in this context, is the question about how the art of asylum seekers’ children influenced my own art.
And about this, I can tell you a lot. I admire the artistic production of these children because it is full of energy. These children have a good disposition towards everything you give to them. They are happy, and they feel joy when they paint and model. They show a positive attitude towards their problems. They express their conflicts and try to solve them. Sometimes, they solve them with violence, sometimes with tolerance, but in all cases you feel that something very important is going on in their lives and that they do not give up. So this is the best an artist can learn from them.
MR: What is your dream and hope for all these asylum seekers who are not accepted in Israel?
AC: First we hope peace will come in their countries of origin. We would like to see a Sudanese country which is democratic and to which one day people can return to live in peace in a tolerant society where they can practice their religion and live their cultural life. And I hope the same for Eritrea. But for the moment this remains a dream.
The reality is that there are dictators supported by Western countries, and that people are displaced because of war, climate change, and terrible poverty growing day by day. So our dream is that Israel will do what it has to do. Israel is a full member of the United Nations and has signed the 1951 Refugee Convention. At the present, the Government of Israel does absolutely the opposite of what is indicated in the 1951 Convention. It prohibits to Sudanese asylum seekers to apply for asylum, and treats them as if they were infiltrators. Israel ignores their individual needs and requests.
Our dream is that Israel will do exactly the opposite in the near future.
Originally published by ProMosaik.
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