World Refugee Day
World Refugee Day is held every year on 20 June to commemorate the strength, courage and perseverance of refugees around the world.
To tie in with World Refugee Day and Refugee Week, PositiveNegatives have released two new animation films, Dear Habib and North Star Fading.
North Star Fading
North Star Fading is an animated film inspired by the testimonies of four Eritrean refugees who fled their homes to make the dangerous journey across Ethiopia, Sudan and Libya to Europe.
Karrie Fransman and Lula Mebrahtu
The artists behind the animation are Karrie Fransman (visuals) and Lula Mebrahtu (words and sound).
Karrie and Lula answered questions about their work:
What made you want to be an artist?
Karrie: An over-sensitive disposition and a bit of a morbid interest in death. You can’t really be a banker with those qualities, can you?
Lula: I didn’t exactly choose it. I tried other ‘more stable’ career paths; however, all roads always brought me back to here. At one point, I just stopped trying to run away from it I suppose.
Why is this project meaningful to you?
K: I’m Jewish and my grandfather was a political refugee. Our festival Passover commemorates our history as refugees, so there is a personal link. But, to be honest, I feel anyone who hears the testimonies of refugees should find their stories meaningful. I was really honoured to be asked by PositiveNegatives to take on this project. I’ve been so inspired by their previous work and was so excited to see them harnessing the power of comics to shed light on global issues for a wider audience.
L: I’m a first generation migrant. I was blessed. My mother and three sisters came here when I was very young, but this could have easily been my story!
How were you impacted by the fact that these were true stories that you were telling?
K: I’ve done a fair bit of comic journalism and created comics based on the true stories of refugees for the Red Cross and Christian Aid. I always feel an enormous pressure to help these people’s personal stories reach a wider audience. But it still hits me in the gut each time. All the more so with this project, because I drew this comic while pregnant. I’d frequently cry watching footage of raped, pregnant women and families with children being rescued from the rubber boats. I can’t fathom how humans keep going in these difficult circumstances. As our poet, Lula Mebrahtu, so beautifully put it: ‘Hope. For breakfast, lunch and dinner. Hope’.
L: It hit very close to home. I have family and friends who’ve made this voyage, some of whom never made it out alive. So, I wanted to do their story justice: pay homage to those who never made it; depict the warrior/survivor nature of those who made it through alive. The story of what happens is beautifully depicted through Karrie’s artwork. I wanted to put the audience inside Hanna’s head; hear her every thought; go through it with her. (I had to give the character a name, imagine I was her, so I could embody her thoughts/emotions).
What role do your own experiences play when you are creating?
K: Of course, as a white, Western woman I can’t claim my experiences are anything like those of the four Eritrean refugees that this story is based on. However, my experience as a comic artist helps me create visual stories that, hopefully, resonate with Western audiences.
L: My own experiences play a big role when I am creating. I remember a few years back, I watched a news report about a ship that had caught on fire and sunk near the border of Italy. A lot of ‘illegal immigrants’ onboard died. There were no names, pictures or interviews with those who survived, just factual news, and the narrative was focused on the immigration crises. That same day, my mother got a phone call. It transpired that a family friend had a son on that ship, and he died. His mother didn’t even know he made the voyage. My mother had to break the news to her.
What is the main message you want to send people who watch this animation?
K: We need to remind people that the UK has a proud history of providing refuge for people fleeing conflict and to counteract the growing voice of xenophobia. The image of the body of the little boy, Alan Kurdi, shocked our nation in 2015, but three years later it is as if we’ve become somewhat immune to these images. We see on the news and in papers images of heaving, flimsy boats and refugee camps. My aim is always to create renewed empathy. There are thousands of epic survival stories worthy of Hollywood biopics. These stories need to be heard.
L: This art was not for me to send a ‘message’, but rather to highlight an underrepresented perspective. So, I didn’t set out to have a ‘message’ as such… my aim was to affect people on a sensory level. I believe the animation does that. Watching it again, I marvel at her strength, which makes the ‘ending’ even more heartbreaking… I suppose the message I get from that: ‘policy is not just’!, I’d be curious to know what message other people get from the animation.
How is art well placed to open up discussions around complex issues, such as migration?
K: I think artists need to keep finding new ways to engage the hearts of audiences with these stories. One of the best things about the medium of comics is their ability to create empathy; we can put the faces of our friends and loved ones in place of the simple drawings. The ‘infinite zoom’ mechanism we used can be seen in films and online. But I’d not seen it used to tell a story before. The ‘zoom’ mechanism allowed me to place the viewer in the shoes of an Eritrean refugee, joining them in the journey to the UK and, quite literally, drawing them into the story.
L: Art has the ability to take complex issues and bring them to life, removing it from just being a cerebral conversation. As such, it is more engaging and inclusive. By this animation being in both English and Tigrinya, everyone affected by the subject can engage and participate in the greater discussion. It helps to speak to people on a human level, beyond just policy, legislation, propaganda and misinformation, hopefully leading to a better understanding of the world we live in.
PositiveNegatives are a non-profit organisation based at SOAS University of London, which work with people to tell their stories through comics and animations. PositiveNegatives’ storytelling focuses around a range of social and humanitarian issues.
Find out more
- Watch North Star Fading at Youtube
- MSc Migration, Mobility and Development
- MA in Migration and Diaspora Studies
- Visit the Centre for Migration and Diaspora at SOAS