Blog: Cyrus Mahboubian presents MIGRATE

"The war in Syria is now in its seventh brutal year. In recent months, the world has witnessed the bombardment of East Ghouta, a suburb just outside the capital Damascus, reminding us again that the devastation has no end in sight.

According to the UN, the war has caused the largest migration of people since the Second World War, resulting in a refugee crisis that is truly catastrophic. Millions of people have fled their homes seeking safety. For so many, perilous journeys have only led to the dead-end of refugee camps that have sprung up across Europe.

Living in the UK, we aren’t exposed to the refugee crisis in the same way that our neighbours on the continent are. Being an island, we are inevitably harder to access and haven’t received anywhere near the number of refugees that many European countries have. It’s easy to go about our lives – to go out for brunch, a film or gig – and forget, at least temporarily, that it’s even happening.

Over the last few years I have felt a personal connection to the situation. I was born in London, but my family only settled in the UK after the Iranian Revolution of 1979. The revolution, followed by the war with Iraq which lasted for most of the ‘80s, made life in Iran dangerous. Thousands sought asylum abroad, including my parents. When I was younger, I didn’t consider why I had relatives spread throughout Europe and the United States, but I now understand the circumstances.

Through conversations with my relatives, I have a profound sense that leaving home isn’t something anyone ever wants. One only leaves because something drives them away, like the dangers of war, the lack of decent living conditions or a desire to improve life for one’s family.

I conceived MIGRATE last year with co-founder Sandra Nuoramo. Sandra and I are members of a committee called Next Generation; a group of young professionals in London who, alongside our regular jobs, volunteer in support of Unicef. Often this is through fundraising, and other times by simply raising awareness of issues that endanger children around the world.

We asked a group of photographers to help us raise awareness of the ongoing crisis by making new work centered around migration. We hoped the photographs would inspire friends to think about the issues at hand. It was totally up to each artist to interpret the subject; the only requirement was to for all the photographs to be Polaroids.

Polaroid has been an important part of my own art practice for over a decade. I love its small scale and raw quality, and knew that its sense of intimacy would lend itself to sensitive subject matter. Furthermore, with only 8 exposures in a pack, photographers shooting Polaroid tend to slow down and work thoughtfully. I hoped this would make the photographers’ interactions with their subjects more personal and meaningful.

I want to thank ArtReach for making the upcoming exhibition at Leicester’s LCB Depot possible. For those who can’t make it, a book featuring over 80 photos from and text entries by the photographers is available via this link. Shipping is free and all proceeds benefit Unicef’s Children of Syria Emergency Appeal."

An expanded version of this article can be read via POND magazine.

Join the MIGRATE launch on 18 June, check our Facebook event.

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