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The Artists of Refugee Camps

Dec 03, 2019 | 804 videos
Video by Lutia Swan-Hutton

From January 2015 to October 2016, a refugee camp that came to be known as the Calais Jungle housed more than 8,000 migrants. Located near the French port of Calais, the encampment’s conditions were notoriously poor—Human Rights Watch described the environment there as “like living in hell.”


Lutia Swan-Hutton, a filmmaker, had been following the dire situation in Calais in the news. When she read an article about an impromptu library for refugees, Swan-Hutton was moved. “I thought it was such an insightful response to a horrendous situation,” Swan-Hutton told me. She contacted the volunteer responsible for setting up the library, who invited Swan-Hutton and her documentary crew to visit the camp.


“It was through the connections of those we met in the library that we began to meet the artists of the camp,” Swan-Hutton said. “They painted, drew, wrote, and played music. They showed us their worlds through their art.”


Swan-Hutton’s short documentary, Beauty of a Stateless Mind, is a window into the lives of dozens of filmmakers, illustrators, calligraphers, dancers, writers, and other artists who lived in Calais.


“Instead of talking, I empty myself of problems onto paper, through my drawing,” one refugee says in the film.


Says another: “I feel like a bird with a broken wing.”


Swan-Hutton was surprised by the openness, generosity, and warmth that she encountered among these artistic refugees, despite their harrowing living conditions. “I was blown away by the strength of positivity around me in contrast to the squalid reality of camp life,” she said. “They have an unconditional faith in humanity. I will be forever grateful to have been let into their lives in these times of emotional exhaustion and extreme vulnerability.”

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Author: Emily Buder

About This Series

A showcase of cinematic short documentary films, curated by The Atlantic.