Dover, June 2000, 58 illegal Chinese immigrants tragically suffocate to death in a cargo container on the back of a truck, in a desperate attempt to seek asylum in England. Off the French coast a refugee vessel sinks at sea with an unknown human cargo. Off the north Australian coast perilously overcrowded, rusting , decrepit ships transport hundreds of Afghani's and Iraqi's families in search of safety. From Africa across the Mediterranean into Europe, overland from Kosovo into Italy, into Turkey, Greece, Spain, France, Germany, across national borders, desperately hidden people, at risk, endangered lives seeking sanctuary. Shipped as human cargo, blackmarket goods. Asylum seekers risking their lives, whole families fleeing from persecution, civil war, starvation, torture, death, anarchy, the breakdown of the rule of law. Men, women, children, on a perilous journey to reach the imagined safety of a civilised democratic country that does not want them, that does not care about them.
Human Cargo, transported in shipping containers, trucking containers, stowed away under ship decks, hidden in the landing gear of aeroplanes, human goods in transit. Families fleeing from terror and inhumanity, willing to risk their children's lives, by becoming human cargo in the desperate hope of finding safety.
Yet, when they reach their imagined sanctuary in a " Western Developed Country" they are vilified, demonised, dehumanised and promptly to be deported. Uninvited foreigners. Illegal Aliens.The illicit cargo the rejected human beings of the new global economy. Alas, the new world economic order cannot afford such unsolicited merchandise, the managers are refusing delivery. They are to be sent back. So sad, we don't want you. Can not, will not look after you. There is no room for you . You will have to go back and join the queue and wait your turn, to see if a miracle comes and you get chosen to join us in paradise. Desperation is no excuse. Brutality, torture, rape, murder, starvation, no excuse. We just can't fit you all in. Our government's are reducing foreign aid, can't you see. Government's have much more important concerns, like global competitiveness, economic restructuring, productivity and efficiency imperatives to meet. We have been too generous already. We give you our charity, what more do you want ?
There is no room for you in the borderless world of free trade, mass communications and information technology, of multi-national corporations, and multi-lateral trade agreements, of crippling third world debt, and billion dollar arms sales. So what, if millions of Europeans, immigrated to America, Australia, and Canada after the war to escape the devastation, in search of a better life. At least they waited until they were invited by their host countries. You people do not fit into the World Economy. You have no money. If you were millionaires it would be a different story.
Human Cargo is proposed as a multimedia installation set in a cargo container and a virtual container (an internet site) depicting and evoking the plight of illegal refugees or asylum seekers who risk their lives to escape war, starvation, torture and persecution in their own countries by hiding themselves in containers as 'human cargo' to try to illegally enter western industrialised countries to find sanctuary.
A shipping/truck container 6 metres long, by 2.4 metres wide and 2.4 metres high will be the exhibition space. The entire floor of the container will be digital image of refugees. The ceiling will be a reflective surface mirroring the floor and viewers. Along each side wall will be up to 100 portrait images of refugees currently seeking asylum. Under each image, will be their name and where they live, and the photographer will be cited. These faces will be of men, women and children from around the world. At the end of the container a video projector will screen footage of refugee camps, overcrowded boatloads of refugees, refugee columns, and images from refugee camps around the world.
Six plasma screens (flat screen monitors), three on each side wall will offer narratives from six computers. A narrow monolith down the centre of the container will offer keyboards and mouses to access the 6 computers.
Computer 1 will scroll thousands of names of refugees who have died seeking asylum.
Computer 2 will offer newspaper headlines from around the world of news stories of asylum seekers being deported, held in detention centres, who have died seeking asylum, refugee vessels that have sunk at sea, news stories from Australia, Europe and worldwide of asylum seekers and refugees. The 58 Chinese refugees who suffocated to death in the back of a lorry in England in June 2000, will be highlighted. Personal biographies of asylum seekers who have died as 'human cargo' will be offered.
Computer 3, "Go Home Refugee, I would if I could". Will offers oral accounts of refugees who very much want to go home, but can not because it is not safe in their home country at present.
Computer 4, will offer real stories from various countries such as Afghanistan, North Korea, Iraq and Kosovo to name a few, revealing the starvation, civil war, persecution, torture and the threats to life refugees are fleeing from.
Computer 5 will highlight success stories of refugees and asylum seekers who have prospered and succeeded in their newly adopted countries, and feature individuals who have made valuable and telling contributions to their new countries.
Computer 6 will offer a historical context to today. A brief history of European colonialism throughout the developing world in Africa, Asia and Latin America, during the 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th centuries will be revealed. Statistical data of the billions of dollars of armament sales exported to the developing world from the developed world will be highlighted. The slave trade from Africa and the West Indies to Europe and America in the 17th, 18th, 19th centuries, and the value of this unpaid labour will be indicated. The ongoing debt crisis of the developing world, and the value of repayments to the developed world will be underscored. The financial value of exports from the developed world to the developing world will be represented. The Cold War support of dictatorships and oppressive regimes in the developing world will be highlighted.
Global warming and climate change as a consequence of the developed world's industrialisation over the last 200 years will be highlighted and the consequences to the developing world of floods and droughts wreaking environmental and human devastation revealed. The reduction in overseas aid from the developed world to the developing world will be presented. Internationally recognised academic authorities, texts and international bodies will be cited and form the basis of this presentation.
Sound and music will form another layer to the work, as will the lighting design. The voices of refugee children, children playing and a solitary child crying will be part of the sound mix. All the materials assembled for each computer will be offered on an interactive website http://www.humancargo.org. Excerpts of the video footage will be compressed and offered, as will the photo gallery and lists of refugees and asylum seekers who have died seeking asylum. The planned journey of the Human Cargo container exhibition around the world will be offered.
Newspaper headlines and the political debate surrounding illegal refugees has depersonalised their humanity. These people are defined and identified by their nationality and numbers, never by their personal names. Globalisation poses many questions with regard to it's benefits to peoples from the developing world. The Cargo Container as a capsule for human cargo is a powerful metaphor evoking desperate people hidden from view in what normally is considered a vehicle of trade. I hope to seek funds to fully realise the Human Cargo Installation. I hope this might be a first stage in it's development.
I have previously developed new media projects exploring international social justice and humanitarian concerns. I created the Universal Rights Network, www.universalrights.net to promote the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I have developed theatre performances, documentary films and internet sites promoting humanitarian concerns on previous occassions. The photo images presented are drawn from the www.universalrights.net site.
Artistic Conception and copyright Kim Gleeson 13/5/2001