Twenty-first Century Icons
How can I respond, in my limited role as an artist to the refugee crisis, to the obliteration of a culture and a people and the displacement of any survivors? The answer arrived last December 2015 when I came across the October 8, 2015 Time Magazine special report issue titled EXODUS. It featured a photo by James Nachtwey with the following caption: “A man walks with his son behind him as they make their way to the train station in Torvarnik, Croatia, on the border with Serbia…. traveling by foot, echoing more ancient journeys.”
The title of the special issue, the photograph and its caption gave me the historic perspective I needed, superseding my emotional response. Exodus has been a universal experience, displacing refugees of ancient and recent wars and disasters.
I began the painting with Nachtwey’s photo of the man and his son, which I collaged and painted in the bottom right corner. A narrative of the next stages of the refugees’ journey and the hopes that might be carried with them moves across the bottom panel toward the left: reunion with wife and family, shelter (but not lengthy residence) in an enormous refugee camp city, and the creation of home with palm and orange tree, a heart-nourishing image of a former life.
Hovering above the lower narrative panel is a symbol of the culture and homes left behind: the historic Yemenite city of Sana’a, inhabited for 2,500 years, partly destroyed by war in 2012.
Eight mosque lamps float up from the orange tree into the sky, symbols of the illumination and guidance of the divine.
The remaining background of stars and sky contain images that guide the journey. The stars in the night sky evoke celestial navigation and are presided over by:
the Queen of the Night in Mozart’s Magic Flute:
a crowned Uzbekistan bride representing the Shekinah, she who inhabited the pillars of cloud and fire that guided the Abrahamic refugees out of Egypt:
the pillar with wings- another representation of the Shekinah:
the Roman mythological figures Diana, goddess of the moon and her brother Apollo, god of the sun:
and finally, our Voyager spacecraft, destined to eternally wander the Milky Way, hopefully carrying its golden record to share earthling history with the unknown future, whether or not our planet or we survive.