This Spring Term, the Royal Drawing School continues its series of Creative Conversations; online dialogues between artists, curators and writers. Curated by Dr Claudia Tobin, lectures are held Wednesday evenings live on Zoom.
Poet Ruth Padel and artist Issam Kourbaj talk with Claudia Tobin about creating their poetry-and-art installation Dark Water, Burning World in response to refugees fleeing the Syrian war, arriving on the Greek island of Lesbos. Ruth, writing poems and essays on migration, visited Lesbos in 2016, a year after Syrian landings there shocked the world, and more were arriving. From Lesbos, she phoned Issam saying, 'We must do something together to honour the refugees and islanders welcoming them.’ Issam was already making boats out of bicycle mudguards, inspired by three small model ships in the collection of the Fitzwilliam Museum, where they launched their first edition of their collaboration. Later they worked on it together, taking Ruth's poetry and Issam's boats to Refugee Week at the Victoria & Albert Museum, universities in New York, the Venice Biennale, Athens, and Lesbos itself. Part of it is now in the British Museum’s permanent collection. In January 2021 Neil MacGregor chose it as his 101st Object for his BBC History of the World In 100 Objects.
This conversation will take place a couple of days after the 10th anniversary of the Syrian uprising in March 2011. Issam is currently working on a drawing performance, to be streamed live on 15th March 2021 to mark the first decade of the ongoing Syrian crisis. Ruth's new edition of her migration book, We Are All from Somewhere Else, includes her poem for Dark Water, Burning World and an updated account of the current immigration crisis on Lesbos.