‘The List,’ a Turkish Artist’s Work Cataloging Refugee Deaths, Is Heading to New York

In 2006, Turkish artist Banu Cennetoğlu’s started an ongoing work cataloging the names of refugees and migrants who have lost their lives trying to reach Europe since 1993. Now, 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 (from September 29-30), 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 List of 34,361 documented deaths of asylum seekers, refugees and migrants who have lost their lives within or on the borders of Europe since 1993. Documentation as of 5 May 2018 by UNITED for Intercultural Action. Facilitated by Banu Cennetoğlu. Presented at Great George Street, Liverpool Biennial 2018. Photo taken 14 August 2018.

The work, 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 for Forward Union told artnet News 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.

Other highlights include a multimedia installation by Azikiwe Mohammed encouraging civic engagement by getting visitors to register to vote in order to participate in the upcoming midterm elections; a protest banner workshop hosted by Chicago-based artist Aram Han Sifuentes, the current artist in residence at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation; and Jesus Benavente’s recent work exploring the timely theme of police brutality and separation of migrant families at the US-Mexico border which uses vinyl and gradually deflating balloons to as a metaphor for change over time.

Alongside the main fair, Forward Union is also hosting a complementary program of lectures, creative discussions, and workshops to explore and raise awareness of how civic engagement and social awareness promote democracy.

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