For ‘Common Ground’ Juan delGado has curated a programme of moving image works by and about refugees and migrants. From the everyday to the cataclysmic, the films and animations are tender, funny and heart rending. The programme features work by Amer Barzawi, Ayman Nahle, Basel Shehadi, Syrialism, Wael Toubaji, and Sarah Zeryab, alongside prints by Iranian artist Mohammad Barrangi.

For this exhibition delGado travelled to Greece, Macedonia and Calais to record the journeys taken by refugees. delGado has not filmed these ‘invisible’ people but the places they have passed through and the traces of their existence they have left. In place of the images proliferated by the media delGado presents fragments of experiences and fleeting moments that tell the human story of people caught in the unfolding sweep of history. Altered Landscapes (2016) is an immersive, multimedia installation that traces a personal narrative through the scarred vistas of Europe in the midst of the largest mass migration in living memory. The landscape bears witness to the traumas and displacements of the people that move through it. Through video, photography, light and sound, Altered Landscapes takes the viewer on a journey: an intimate account of the experience of travelling through an unfamiliar landscape echoing the real-life experience of tens of thousands of refugees.

Mohammad Barrangi, a young disabled Iranian artist and para-athlete has been exploring the cultural reality he grew up with. Using motifs from Persian traditional arts concentrating on the human figure (mostly female) and animals, he creates prints with a personal insight into a world he wants to intimately share with us. Barrangi won first prize in the IV International Tragaluz Illustration Award, 2017.

‘Common Ground’ brings together a programme of short films and animations produced by young people, mainly from Syria, who have become part of a growing diaspora: a young generation of filmmakers who were thrown into one the most terrible conflicts in living memory. Some of them, like Basel Shehade, felt compelled to stay in their country to narrate and record testimonies that mainstream media had no access to. This is the cinema of urgency, a cinema born out of rockets, rubble and the colossal cataclysm of this ancient and diverse society. There was no time to learn cinematic techniques, no resources to produce a steady shot, a nice composition – the cruel reality of bombs did not allow a moment to write a film-essay. And yet, the extraordinary talent of these young artists is evident in these films, their stories narrated with the primary necessity of being seen, acknowledged.

Fade
to Black, 2016, film, 1:08min. Directed by Amer Bazarwi. Fade to Black explores the dramatic change to the lives and dreams of Syrians, as the sky surrounding a young woman turns from a sunny, bright blue to a dark storm that envelops, surrounds and, eventually, engulfs her.

Now:
End of Season, 2016, colour film, 18:20min. Directed by Ayman Nahle. While US President Ronald Reagan is out horse riding, the Syrian President Hafez al-Assad tries in vain to reach him by phone. Ayman Nahle’s short film listens into this phone call with White House staff as we also follow the lives of Syrian refugees as they wait at Izmir Garage in Turkey. Some have chosen a café in the area to be the waiting spot; some talk and laugh, while the rest have settled into silence. Izmir Garage represents the midpoint in the long journey of the Syrian migration. After the stress of arriving in Turkey, another trip on the sea still waits for them before they can reach Europe.

Saturday
Morning Gift, 2006, film, 3:51min. Directed by Bassel Shahade. Based on a real story. A young boy lies in bed on a sunny morning, half-sleeping as he remembers how his mother used to wake him by tickling his toes and playing music. His dream quickly turns into a nightmare as an overhead airplane brings back memories of an explosion.

Nine and a half
, 2015, film, 7:34min. Directed by Syrialism. Nine and a half is the age of Maha, a Syrian girl who is the only survivor of her family. Left alone with only a picture of her parents, she embarks on a journey. Maha makes unusual friends as her imagination guides her through this difficult world.

Metaphor
, 2014, colour animation film, 3:32min. Directed by Wael Toubaji. Inspired by a work by Syrian poet Amina Ibrahim, this ‘poetic animation’ follows a girl peacefully wandering around her village, collecting jasmine flowers, as rockets and explosions punctuate her innocent singing.

Reflections
, 2016, colour film, 17:00min. Directed by Sarah Zeryab. During the three years Sarah has lived in Beirut, WhatsApp has been her only means of communication with her parents in Damascus. Sarah receives a voice note from her father as he sings her a song by Egyptian singer, songwriter, and film actress, Oum Kulthoum. It is through these ‘voice notes’ exchanged with her parents that Sarah discovers that the war has reversed their roles: the adults have become children who devour memories of the past. She, meanwhile, asks herself, “What do my parents look like now?”

‘Common Ground’ is produced by Isis Arts, and curated by Juan delGado for Platforma Festival 2017. Platforma is a biennial showcase of artistic expression by, about and with refugees and migrants.