Artists can stage the encounter of the state with the refugees it presumes to judge. In this searching personal essay, Niels Bekkema, a Dutch artist working with the Polity of Literature series, recalls some of the ways that art and justice intersect and shed light on one another.
In 2013, when Australia began to detain refugees in off-shore prisons on Manus and Nauru islands, concerned Australians tried to help those held captive get their stories out. One, a recent immigrant from Iran called Moones Mansoubi, recalls that time and the talented writers she was able to help.
Refugees are often treated like prisoners, yet their stories differ. The editor of the Polity of Literature series surveys recent and past books from both refugees and prisoners to discover the unique insights opened up when refugees begin to write and publish.
When Angela Davis was imprisoned on false charges of abetting murder, in 1970, her friend Bettina Aptheker visited her in jail over a year-and-a-half to co-write and co-edit a foundational book of the prison abolition movement, If They Come In the Morning.
Turkish courts staged the trial of activist and philanthropist Osman Kavala several times, always returning him to prison despite a variety of outcomes. Simon(e) van Sarloos attended once, and tells us what it’s like when the state scripts our destinies.