Geçişler/Crossings is the final leg of The Refugee Project, a visual documentary project focusing on forced migration in different geographies, which the photographer, Bikem Ekberzade, found and has been running since 1997. Designed as an intervention, it is an eulogy of sorts for the lives lost in the open waters in the Mediterranean and the Aegean, as an increasing number of people sought this unsafe passage in the 2015, and continue to do so.
The work consists of a single photograph which Ekberzade took, and a mammoth text which wraps around it. She took the photograph on a small rocky island in the Aegean sea, swimming distance from the Turkish coast: a deflated dinghy, washed ashore and tangled up on the pebbled beach. The small island is on a main smuggling route for the refugees and migrants being shuttled off to Europe by human traffickers.
Ekberzade specifically picked this one shot for her 2015-2016 leg of her project, rather than any other photograph she took in camps along the Syrian border in Turkey or abroad, as she has done in other humanitarian crises. The text that sits on the photograph is the photographer’s personal musings over the refugee/migrant issue, her experiences from different conflicts, the media approach, the causes of forced migration such as drought, hunger, warfare, and the fact that no matter how much it is documented, humanitarian crisis never cease to exist. Together, they work as an intervention, a disruption to our current state of catatonia in the face of endless humanitarian crises being covered by the media.
The text being placed over the photograph and on every inch of open space on the surface is overwhelming, much as the situation. By covering the photograph, making it harder to see, Ekberzade seeks to decimate the image, make it worthless.
While the text is based on the reflections and personal experiences of the photographer, the style in which it is written is as if she is conversing with an invisible second person – at times a woman she has met at a refugee camp, an aid worker, a friend or a colleague. The way certain rhetorical questions are asked over and over again in repetition symbolizes the repetitive nature in which these crises happen and not much changes in between, including the initial public outcry, and the subsequent policies.
The text is transient and at the same time provocative in nature. The questions linger, unanswered. Although originally written in Turkish, it can easily be re-written in English, French, German, Spanish, Arabic, or any other language. Through creating a personal rave, jumping from subject to subject, geography to geography, it acts as a reminder of our short attention span trained even shorter by headline-like social media bursts, lack of detailed interest in any one thing or situation, and our continuous exposure to a mash of events and occurrences.
As the majority of the images of refugee crossings, people stranded at borders, within camps, in cities under siege have proven powerless in instigating any change in policies, we hope that this image of the aftermath of a major humanitarian catastrophe which resulted in the loss of several lives at sea, and at the end of which bodies, at random, washed ashore or lost afar, and almost all casualties ended up as statistics, nameless, may force us to think about what we are doing and where we are headed.
We strongly believe that this single photograph of a boat washed ashore by the current stream, being silently watched by water birds on this inhabitable/deserted rocky piece of land, sadly sums up the humanitarian crisis we have been bearing witness to this past year.
Crossings in the Mediterranean is nothing new. Yet they have been brought to international attention as they increased in intensity with several conflicts entangling all at once. Although the methods of illegal border crossings have hardly changed overtime, the number of people seeking this desperate option have increased exponentially.