Rule of Three



by Mona Hatoum
Installation art

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Suspended transforms the room of an art gallery into a playground of sorts. Thirty-five wooden swings fill the space, their surfaces red and black, sturdy chains affixed to the ceiling. They are not arranged neatly in line for safe use, but at angles to each other. If visitors were to sit and begin to rock back and forth, they would soon collide. Before long, the clashes would multiply. Looking more closely at the laminated seats in turn, this threat of conflict is given greater context. We notice that the swings bear a series of careful carvings, each a street map of a different capital city. Rather than foregrounding unity and solidarity, the artist raises questions about how geographical and imagined distance may interrelate.

Words by John Wadsworth

Viejo Niño

by Reinaldo Arenas

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‘I am that child’, begins ‘Viejo Niño’, or ‘Old Child’. The phrase is repeated in various forms throughout the poem, building the image of an impoverished infant on the street who is ‘sullen’, ‘unlikeable’, and ‘repulsive’. He addresses the reader directly, warning us that to pat him ‘hypocritically’ on the head places us at risk of a stolen wallet. In his words, he positions us as the privileged onlooker. Aggression builds over the poem’s duration, its subject growing angry and bitter. Yet these emotions are infused with dejection and loneliness. The third stanza hammers home his predicament of ‘eminent terror’, ‘eminent leprosy’, ‘eminent fleas’, and ‘eminent crime’. In a chilling conclusion, he predicts that we will one day join him in his cardboard box. Our fate is with his, he implies, in hell.

Words by Sophia Martin-Pavlou


directed by M.I.A.
Music video

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The camera tilts downwards, moving away from blue sky to reveal two lines of men jogging towards us. Their parallel paths could well represent the edges of a road or river, evoking transportation through their own movement. Soon after, the figures are seen scaling a fence to spell out the word ‘life’, emblazoned in capital letters. In one scene, they cram into a small boat. In another, they clamber to create their own vessel from human bodies. M.I.A. stands at the bow reciting a roll call of contemporary concerns: ‘Borders / Politics / Police shots / Identities’. After each issue, she adds an open-ended question: ‘What’s up with that?’ Through lyrics and imagery alike, she invites us to consider human crises, even while acknowledging that there are no easy answers.

Words by John Wadsworth

Today's connection

The three artists are all refugees. ‘Borders’ is also a song about refugees.

More to discover

Suspended: Read more about the artwork here. Farah Nayeri has interviewed Mona Hatoum for the New York Times, as has Rachel Cooke for The Observer (UK).

Viejo Niño: Read the poem here.

Borders: Watch the music video here.

Question of the day

Which artworks about or by refugees would you recommend?
Let us know on FacebookPatreon, or Twitter.

Refugee Tales, edited by David Herd & Anna Pincus. A great collection of short stories published each year based on a walk following the route of The Canterbury Tales, in which a number of well-known writers retell the experiences of refugees trapped within the immigration system. (→)

– Marina Lewycka, author (The Lubetkin Legacy, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian) (via The Brief →)

Counterpoints Arts is a charity that helps refugee artists to make their voices heard in Britain. This year one of the artists they sponsored was Gil Mualem-Doron, whose participatory installation New Union Flag engages people from diverse communities in designing a new Union Flag. (→)

– Marina Lewycka, author (The Lubetkin Legacy, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian) (via The Brief →)

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