In this group, everyone was foreign, and so, in a sense, no one was.       — Mohsin Hamid, Exit West

Aren’t we all from somewhere else? At some point in our family lineage, someone has crossed a border. Escape, expulsion, exile, exodus and emigration are integral to human history.  Today, there are over 65 million refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people around the world, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. One in every 113 people on our planet has now been driven from their home by persecution, conflict and violence or human rights violations.1 Our economic and foreign policies, interventions, and invasions bear some responsibility.

 Driven or displaced, cut loose or set adrift, or simply seeking safety—all are precarious states of passage. The decision to leave home may be voluntary or involuntary, arising from desperation or anticipation. RESORT, as a title, reflects that duality. To flee is a last resort. The destination is often another shore, literally or figuratively. The shore can also be a place for a benign kind of escape—an actual vacation resort. Some vacationers in Spain and Greece have actually watched refugees wash ashore, from vessels both intact and capsized. RESORT explores the intersection of these two worlds—of security and insecurity. 

 Those of us not needing to flee live in comparative luxury. Yet many Americans choose to feel invaded, believing our jobs are threatened or our culture diluted or even contaminated.

In 2013, the USA led in absolute numbers of resettled refugees. Not so today. With far fewer resources, Turkey and Pakistan now lead in hosting the most refugees, over half of whom come from Sudan, Afghanistan and Syria. In 2016, Turkey hosted 2.8 million, yet American media focused more on Germany.2 Angela Merkel’s government took in one million refugees and, over 2015 and 2016, according to the World Bank, Germany averaged twice the number of refugees that the USA accepted, despite the fact that our population is four times greater.3 Our current President has scaled back refugee admissions even further. In 2018, the USA will admit no more than 45,000 refugees total. Immigration policies have hardened, with accompanying outrage and soul-searching as children have been separated from their undocumented parents at our southern border. We need to decide who we are and what role we will play in the future of vulnerable, persecuted and displaced people? Will we choose humanity over nationalism and embrace generosity over selfishness?

Being a refugee is not a choice. Those of us who are settled may never know the anxiety, risk or terror of those uprooted, the profound loss of what is left behind, and the daunting uncertainties ahead. Through these works, we hope to induce an empathic unsettlement that might lead us to reconsider our responsibility and culpability for, as well as our reception of, immigrants and refugees. But empathy is no substitute for accountability.

From RESORT exhibit statement by Andrew Ellis Johnson and Susanne Slavick

1 Camila Domonoske, Refugees, Displaced People Surpass 60 Million For First Time, UNHCR Says, NPR, June 20, 2016

2 UNHCR Staff, Poorer countries host most of the forcibly displaced, report shows

3 World Bank Group, Refugee population by country or territory of asylum