The migrants

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© Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Eric Dupont
The migrants

138, rue du Temple
75003 Paris
September 8th, 2012 - October 20th, 2012
Opening: September 8th, 2012 3:00 PM - 8:00 PM

3rd Arrondissement
0033 1 44 54 04 14
Tues-Sat 11-7 and by appointment


This work was inspired by an image. A photography glimpsed in a community magazine, showing four bodies lying on the ground in a forest in the north of France. The caption indicated that they were Afghans, probably exhausted, taking a nap away from prying eyes. It was a violent image, a photograph of war. The bodies looked like corpses, layed out in such a way as to evoke the tragic aspect of a mass grave.

It was this image that I went to find in the Calais ‘jungle’, where migrants camp out in the hope of being able to make the journey over to England. I didn’t find the image, but it led finally to two series of photographs.

During the course of 2009, I visited this ‘wild’ forest in Calais several times. It is a weather-beaten place, shot through with a history.The traces of what used to be shacks and the remains of sleeping bags are the most visible signs of this. Some time after this, back in Paris, I made photographs of Afghan migrants who were catching a few hours’ sleep between daybreak and the arrival of the police, who come to move them on. The abandoned blankets I had seen in the forest were once again inhabited by bodies I could only imagine.

In 2012, I met Jawad and Mansour, Afghan asylum seekers in Paris. I gave Jawad some school exercise books and asked him to write down the story of his journey from Kabul to Paris. Every time we met, he would give me a few pages of his story, which he would translate for me. For me, these stories also contained the story of the modern age, the negative history of globalisation. Mansour lent me the exercise books which he had been using for his French lessons. A language of survival, a literature of emergency translated from Farsi. I haven’t changed anything in these writings ; the brutality of the text and the narrative of exile that it constitutes remain.

Mathieu Pernot
May 2012
(translation by Amanda Crawley Jackson)