Several Twitter conversations have taken since yesterday’s post with regard to my question –“What would you take?” They prompted me to dig out another object – a small pen knife. I figure that this could be very useful to have with me on my imagined journey as a refugee.

I was given the little knife several years ago by my husband. It’s a Swiss Army Knife and this ‘ladies’ version came in a choice of colours  including lime green, black, red and blue. I went for bright orange as it was favourite colour at the time. I’m sure it was marketed as a woman’s choice of knife so as to offer females a chance to buy in to the Swiss Army brand! Mine has a tiny pair of scissors (for nails and labels only of course!), a nail file (thank goodness-what a life saver), a tooth pick now lost unfortunately, a small knife and some tweezers. I haven’t tried them out on my eyebrows but they are actually really useful for splinter removal!

Every object has a story – and I would hope for those people fleeing their homeland in search of refuge that the familiar objects they take with them may give them comfort in some way.

Whilst not the biggest or strongest of knives my little orange knife would still be very useful and I would keep it close to me. Holding it now in my palm brings my late father squarely to mind. Dad was a farmer and a very resourceful man. His pen knife had a black handle rubbed smooth with use and he kept in his front pocket at all times.

With his knife and a piece of bailer twine Dad would happily attempt to fix most things. Gates falling off hinges could be temporarily secured with twine cut to the correct lengths and fencing tied together too; the cleft  hooves of sheep would soon be cleaned with this knife, often easing a pain or discomfort; grain bags sliced open to pour food into troughs for impatient and hungry animals; and at the table (I’m really hoping he washed the blade) apples would be sliced and shared as pudding.

On a couple of occasions I remember Dad losing his knife. Anxiety took hold of him “where could it be?” He would work hard on his memory to recall the last time he had used it. Then off he would go retracing his steps. Once I recall him finding it among the hay bales during harvest (pretty much like finding a needle in a haystack!) he was determined to find it. On another occasion he failed to uncover the knife and explained to us that he would have to buy a new one. It seemed very hard for him to give up on finding the lost pocket knife – he had a kind of unhappy acceptance that he had to ‘move on’!

He returned from town with the new knife – looking very similar to the old one. But he wasn’t sure of it at first – it didn’t feel quite right. But after a couple of weeks work the knife was accepted and took on its role as Dad’s handy, reliable pocket knife.

I often think that if objects could share the stories of their ‘lives’ we would learn so much about their owners. My knife has been very loyal – sitting in my bag all these years, but unlike Dad’s knives not put to much use. For now at lease it will become the subject of some drawing.

Back to my question as to what any one of us would take if fleeing our home. The experience of my father’s relationship with his knife reinforces to me the need we have for objects well beyond their functional purpose. They define us and our cultural beliefs and traditions in such profound ways. The loosing of possessions, leaving them behind, must be in some ways an insignificant part of fleeing one’s homeland. And yet to me it seems such a sharp indicator of how much is lost emotionally and physically, on an individual and collective basis.

A couple of months ago I watched a documentary about twin brothers, both doctors, in their thirties, who followed the journeys of refugees from Syria to France. In Greece they spoke to a girl of about ten staying in a camp with her family. She told them about life back home and how she wanted to be a doctor too. “What did you bring with you from Syria?” they asked her. She reached in her pocket and pulled out two coins – “I brought these”. The brothers were dumbfounded “is this all you have to remind you of home?” The coins were all she had. It seems so distressing but I sensed in her the spirit of optimism – at least she had them – and she lived in the hope that she and her family would make a new start in Germany. In a sense they had nothing left to lose. The massive migration of peoples from Syria and beyond is a highly complex situation which surely requires the empathy and compassion of those in receiving countries to understand and deal with. By taking things to a simple level  – a handful of possessions for example -perhaps we can begin to understand and commit to supporting our fellow human beings.


Another day at the studio working through ideas of upheaval and displacement, using objects as metaphors.

I’m struck by the impact that being forced to leave one’s home and homeland must have on an individual.

As objects can suggest so much about their owners circumstances I’m playing with the notion of what objects any one of us would take with us if we had to leave our home and country at short notice and with no certainty of the course and duration of our journey to safety.

Would we have time to collect important documents, cash and cards, our phones, laptops and chargers. Would we find suitable clothing for ourselves and loved ones?

Some of the objects that had seemed essential begin to have less importance as we make our way across boarders, negotiating transportation by land and sea. Would laptops be sold or bartered for food and clothing? Would we always hold on to our mobile phones no matter what in the hope that they link us to others outside the immediate situation.

In my drawing work I have imagined  a ‘what if’ scenario. What if all I have is the contents of my bag, purse or pockets? Will they help me to survive? Seemingly useless objects might find new use and thus new meaning. I imagine that whatever these possessions might be, as each day takes me further from home, they take on new significance.

Whilst working with a handful of objects I think about our ongoing fascination with artifacts found throughout history, representing the everyday experiences of our ancestors. We view them with fascination, with sadness sometimes. Here I feel, I am dealing with such artifacts in the present, revealing the plight of thousands of people affected at this moment. My little collection of objects rings with despair – would there be any point in trying to prepare yourself – would a bag full of possessions help you in the long run?

In my last post  I referred to a mobile app called ICOON which has been designed specially for displaced people, enabling them to communicate with people of other tongues using universally understood icons. The app is simple to use and really enlightening as to the kind of situations a refugee might find themselves in (it includes an icon for bribery if you can imagine what that might look like!)

One of the icons is a USB cable which I have used in my drawings as it struck me that this everyday object would be incredibly valuable.  The USB represents an opportunity to gain a little bit of personal power in a hugely impossible situation.