The List, a Turkish Artist’s Work Cataloging Refugee Deaths
Banu Cennetoğlu is a visual artist based in Istanbul. She was born in Ankara in 1970. She uses photography, installation, and printed matter to explore the classification, appropriation and distribution of data and knowledge. Her work deals with listings, collections, rearrangements, and archives. From stickers on ATMs to full-blown countrywide, this artist has spent 16 years of her life making the world wake up to Europe’s migrant crisis.
A refugee is a displaced person who has been forced to cross national boundaries and who cannot return home safely.
The biennial organizers are presenting the list in collaboration with the Turkish artist Banu Cennetoglu who has translated and widely distributed the list of names of refugees who have died which is compiled and updated each and every year by UNITED for Intercultural Action.
In 2006, the Turkish artist Banu Cennetoğlu’s started the ongoing work cataloging the names of refugees and migrants who have lost their lives trying to reach Europe since 1993. The List, which bears more than 34,000 names, is coming to New York as part of the third edition of the Forward Union fair, which connects the art world with social justice organizations.
The List, which has been shown in cities around the world, has been frequently defaced or vandalized, most recently at the Liverpool Biennial where the 920-foot piece was partially torn. Despite the damage, the artist refused to replace or repair it. She explained that preserving its ripped-up state served as a “reminder of this systematic violence exercised against people.”
The work was presented at Forward Union by the activist group UNITED for Intercultural Action, which has compiled and annually updated the list in an open-source .pdf file, has tapped into tensions surrounding the refugee crisis and the substantial influx of people coming to Europe to escape violence and poverty.
A spokesman from Forward Union said in an email that security staff will be on hand at the New York fair: “The List will be installed indoors, under the safeguard of Red Bull Arts New York. Security will be present during the fair.”
This year’s edition of the Forward Union fair at Red Bull Arts New York includes 25 participants and focusses on the themes of immigration, gun control, and healthcare, with the aim of provoking civic engagement through art, installations, and public programming.
“We are committed to supporting artists whose practices take complex subject matter with rigor and poignant critique,” Forward Union co-founder Jennie Lamensdorf said in a statement, naming participating artists, such as Jesus Benavente and Kameelah Janan Rasheed.
The List demands an extraordinary amount of work from the viewer. It is a challenge to the ways in which we consume and forget the world today, in which the deaths of refugees, or the banalities of our private lives, become commodities jostling for attention on social media feeds. As the commercial web further encourages that the list should be well kept and protected by people.