The title of the Croatian national anthem in Arabic? The number of refugees who perished in the seas? Posters about refugees in public transportation? An exhibition of thought-provoking and emotional posters has been displayed in buses and trams of Dubrovnik, Osijek, Split, Zadar and Zagreb, designed by famous designers Ana Kunej (Kuna Zlatica studio), Dejan Dragosavac Ruta, Iva Babaja, Bruketa&Žinić&Grey and Šesnić&Turković studio.
This engaged art project focusing on the position of refugees around the world and in Croatia has been designed and implemented by the Festival of Tolerance – JFF Zagreb and UNHCR Croatia. According to the official UNHCR data, the current global forced displacement number has reached 70 million, over 85 per cent of which in developing countries. During the Croatian War of Independence, 400 thousand refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina found refuge in Croatia, adding to the 500 thousand of our own refugees. This is the connection lacking in the public discourse as a catalyst of solidarity and empathy for people currently experiencing traumas similar to those that befell many citizens of these areas only a quarter of a century ago. Since 2004, when the Asylum Act entered into force, Croatia has granted protection to 920 refugees, mainly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.
“The idea of the ReD exhibition is to raise awareness, to spar dialogue about the position of refugees, as well as about how we, consciously or unconsciously, treat ‘them’ – in direct contact, by examining and speaking about them. The key of the ReD exhibition are designers. The name resulted from joining the words ‘refugee’ and ‘design’. The word ‘red’ also signifies the level of emergency of this issue, recurring constantly for over seventy years. The number of refugees in the world today is twice as high as it was five years ago,” said Nataša Popović, the managing director of the Contemporary Jewish Film Festival Association Zagreb.
Who are refugees? What are they running away from? How to they run away? What awaits them when they arrive? Why help them?
Dejan Dragosavac Ruta resorts to illustration to remind us that more than half of refugees are children. Ana Kunej sees the feeling of losing home as a gap in Earth’s crust, an uninhabitable incandescent abyss, and only the outlines are left to remind of a once familiar place called home, which they now flee. Iva Babaja conveys the message that refugees and immigrants should not be seen as a threat, but rather as a prologue to a new chapter of a society more tolerant, more inclusive and more creative thanks to the contributions of new cultures. Šesnić&Turković and the 27000 poster communicate the number of refugees who perished in seas and rivers on their way to their desired destinations. The list of deceased persons briefly describing the way they died is extremely shocking and transforms this immense abstract number into a series of realistic and personal unhappy endings.
“The poster examines whether we as a community have the capacity to become homeland to people who weren’t born here and who belong to a different culture,” say Bruketa&Žinić&Grey.
“The COVID-19 crisis reminded us we are only as strong as the most vulnerable among us. We can succeed only by standing together. And the posters we share with people across Croatia to mark this year’s World Refugee Day are a call for solidarity. The creative perspective offered by some of the best Croatian designers helps us see clearly what we might have otherwise had missed: Everyone has a role to play. Everyone can make a difference in the lives of people forced to flee their homes,” says Giuseppe Di Caro, the head of the UNHCR Office in Croatia.
The ReD exhibition is made possible thanks to the support of the City of Zagreb and UNHCR Croatia and will be on display until 28 June.
Photo: Buga Cvetojević