A conversation between Alice and Tamsin
TK: When did you become interested in the topic of refugees and asylum seekers?
AK: I became better informed through your research and your interests. Your progression from studying anthropology to becoming active with volunteering, and then deciding to go to Dunkirk because the “crisis” became so critical.
Finding a way of participating usefully in Dunkirk was quite difficult for you, but you found a way – and I was an observer of that process. You became more than an observer – entangled in the complexity of it, but you still felt impotent to some extent. It made me start questioning everything I’m doing – thinking, how do I acknowledge what is going on, within my way of life?
I have come to recognise that I can do something: the best way to help is to advocate, to show that you care, and to use what it is that you’re best at.
So I suppose that’s what I’m doing – but I feel it’s very channeled through you – and our relationship is critical to this, because otherwise I wouldn’t know where to begin and I would remain as an observer, an uninformed observer.
TK: How has the news inspired the piece that you’re making now? (‘The Sea’ piece).
AK: The fact that the people were landing on Greek soil has really affected me. They arrived in places that we have a personal relationship with – it felt very much as though we knew that place.
TK: Your artwork wasn’t especially political in the past. What changed? What made you start getting more political in your artwork?
AK: I don’t know – probably you to be honest. And probably as I got older a lot of what I’ve had to sort out in my own life, I’ve kind of done now. Most of my personal crises (though they do continue) are somewhat resolved. Maybe I’m less inward looking and more outward looking.
I suppose there were those terrible famines and crises in my thirties and forties, and the IRA attacks – but I think the nature and scale of what’s going on now is different. It feels like there’s been a global shift – and the issue touches us all.
TK: Also I wonder if your ‘politicisation’ was also to do with your discovery and engagement with feminist theory through writing your PHD. Through this process, you increasingly felt confident that you were entitled to say something, and to vocalise your opinion.
AK: Yes, that’s very insightful. I think because I’m doing textiles, and embroidery, and I’m a woman, and I’m doing it in a decorative way – there is this sense that you’re not doing something serious enough to comment on, because other people can be quite dismissive of it.
But what I’ve realised is that there is an underlying power just by recognising that I’m doing what I’m doing, and I have every right to comment on things as well, and actually it allows you to have a view from this particular point of view – which is just as relevant as somebody else’s.
I feel I have an obligation to in some way attempt do something [to support/ engage with the issue of displaced people]. I don’t know if I’ll succeed, but at least I’ll try.
TK: Can you describe the feelings you have which make you feel like you have to do this?
AK: I feel like if I don’t do something, I’d turned my back on people, and on the world as I see it. I’d be buying into a world I don’t want to be in, a system I don’t like. I would feel a lot of guilt if I didn’t do anything.
Partly it is also because I’ve got you, my girls, and the world is your future. I want to have grandchildren. And there’s all these people making new lives and finding new places, and we have to make a future for them too.