Such a simple idea, yet one which combines prophecy and emotive impact as it speaks truth to power – Sam Ivin physically scratches portraits of asylum seekers erasing their eyes in order to convey the frustration engendered by the ‘hostile environment’ for migrants, introduced by Theresa May as Home Secretary, which blights lives and erases the identities of those detained in its clutches.
Ivin’s Lingering Ghosts exhibition is at St Martin-in-the-Fields until 31 August and offers a space in which to contemplate the often underreported plight of those who wait for the possibility of asylum in a place of limbo; without work, with little money and in temporary accommodation. Away from the glaring lights of the media, his modified portraits simply and powerfully give a view on the plight of those that wait for asylum.
Ivin’s work documents social issues through individual’s stories, with a focus on migration. Born in High Wycombe in 1992, after graduating in Documentary Photography at the University of Wales, Newport, he was awarded a residency at Italian communication research centre, Fabrica. During his stay he finalised this project, Lingering Ghosts.
Ivin’s research began at a drop-in centre in Cardiff, Wales, and continued all over England. Asking the question ‘What does it mean to be an asylum seeker in the UK?’ was the starting point. The series seeks to raise questions about how the UK’s migration system treats those who arrive in our country seeking safety.
Once arrived in the UK, these people find themselves in a state of limbo, having to await news of their application for asylum for months or even years. They become the ‘Lingering Ghosts’ of this exhibition. These physically scratched portraits attempt to convey the cruel loss of self, and the frustration that befalls them as they wait, wait, wait and wait to learn their fate. Despite being represented without their eyes, these people do have an identity and we recognise them as fathers, mothers, sons and daughters – human beings, after all.
Having supported an asylum seeker through this callous and inhumane process, administered often by those who seem to have no desire to mitigate the misery that the ‘hostile environment’ causes, I identify closely with statements made by those who were photographed for the series: ‘I don’t want them to treat me like a king or whatever but like a human’; and ‘Feeding my family, looking after them and building a future. I haven’t done anything wrong.’
There is a fundamental hypocrisy and selfishness to the rhetoric of those who oppose migration, as we are denying others access to the opportunities we crave for ourselves and think we have the right to roam the world for our pleasure while denying that same right to those who are most in need. Ivin’s simple but powerful effect of erasing the eyes of these migrants exposes this hypocrisy by making it clear that through the ‘hostile environment’ we are treating human beings as though they were less than human.
Together with many other churches, at St Martin-in-the-Fields, we have found migrants joining our congregations and enriching our liturgies and educational programmes and deepening our understanding of scriptural stories like those of the itinerant Abraham and the refugee Hagar. As a result, as our Vicar Sam Wells has stated: ‘Migrants are not fundamentally a threat and a danger. They are first and foremost a challenge to the church to re-inhabit its true identity and a gift to the nation to rediscover its lost energy. You can have too much of a good thing: but immigrants are fundamentally a good thing. We’re all migrants or the sons and daughters thereof; Jesus was a migrant too. To forget that is to forget who we are and to forget who God is.’
Words: Revd Jonathan Evens © Artlyst 2018
‘Lingering Ghosts’ by Sam Ivin in the Foyer of St Martin-in-the-Fields until 31 August 2018