Recently I was informed that two of my books had been chosen to represent the UK in the Biennial of illustration in Bratislava. The two books are One Cheetah, One Cherry from Otter-Barry Books and The Quiet Music of Gently Falling Snow from Graffeg. It’s a great honour. The work will be exhibited in September alongside many other artists from all around the world.
I was also asked to produce a postcard, 15 x 10cms for an exhibition that will run at the same time. This is what the brief said
“From 09 to 30 September 2017, the International Centre for the Picture Book in Society (ICPBS) will host an exhibition in collaboration with BIBIANA, the International House of Art for Children in Bratislava, Slovakia. The exhibition, titled MIGRATIONS, will coincide with the Biennale of Illustration in Bratislava (BIB) and its symposium.
MIGRATIONS hopes to draw attention to the plight of thousands of children and their families who are, as a result of oppressive regimes, violence or poverty, forced to migrate to safer places in the world. Artists may not be able to change regimes, influence governments or save the migrants, but they can raise awareness of a reality that has become part of the contemporary socio-political environment. As visual storytellers and communicators, we can continue to pose questions and challenge indifference through our work, at the same time highlighting the positive impact that the migration of peoples, cultures and ideas has had across the globe.
An installation of between 100 and 200 postcards (or more!) from illustrators all over the world will make up one half of the exhibition. Each of these will show a migrating bird, ‘flying’ or ‘perching’ in a room in BIBIANA. This installation will in itself emphasize that culture and ideas migrate across human borders, barriers and bans. Well-known picture book illustrators such as Isol from Argentina, Roger Mello from Brazil, Shaun Tan from Australia, Laura Carlin and Petr Horacek from the UK and Marit Törnqvist from the Netherlands have already agreed to take part.
A catalogue of the postcards will accompany the exhibition and will include a foreword by Shaun Tan, the 2011-winner of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. This installation will complement a series of illustrations created by the staff and selected alumni of the University of Worcester, UK, and its International Centre for the Picture Book in Society in response to the theme: Migrations.”
This is what I chose to do. Peregrine, because they are pilgrim birds who know nothing of the borders of man. And because I once met a peregrine who needed help, who stayed for a while then returned to the wild. Because Robert Macfarlane has a special relationship with J A Baker and his Peregrine. Because people talk of hawks and doves, as war and peace, but I see only humans making wars.
I spoke to Robert Macfarlane, asked if he would write on the reverse for me. My plan was then to cut the image in half, to make two postcards. I had designed the image so that it would work as one, and separated. It was up to Robert which way he chose to write the words. When the peregrines returned from their flight to Cambridge what was written on the reverse was just, well, perfect. And how the words were placed to. Even the stamps were beautiful. And how fitting that our migrants travel second class.
I knew if would be hard to cut an image in half, but hadn’t anticipated how hard it would be to slice across Robert’s words.
Beautiful stamps, from Robert.
Then I had to put them in the postbox.
I think they will be collected tomorrow. We hope they arrive at their destination. When I have shown people the painting, how small, covered with gold leaf, and said that , yes, I am going to post it, like this, no protection, they have been shocked. Cut in half, each stamped and addressed to the same place, they should travel together, arrive together, but who knows what will happen. I now wish I had put them in different post boxes. They’ve a long journey still to make and their journey began with an idea in a sketchbook, travelled to Hay on Wye, then Pembrokeshire to Cambridge and back ( protected by Special Delivery) But now they are alone and vulnerable.
But they are only paper. Paper and image and words. This is our language.
Flesh and blood make these journeys every day. Hard journeys, sometimes with hope, running from fear to fear. Some travel in pairs, or as families, many alone. Some will be separated. Some never arrive. Many of the lone child refugees become lost, victims of child trafficking. They meet closed doors everywhere they go and the fear of the settled. Is it that when we look at them we know there’s not much that separates us, who still have a home, from them, the lost, the stateless, who have nothing?
If it feels hard to send a painting out into the world like this.
Imagine if it were your child.
This is what the words said when the card was whole. Perhaps one day they will come together again.