An uninformed eye surveying the global atmospheres could easily conclude that we are facing an era of forced migration and refugees. Indeed, this is the undeniable truth, based on the large number of individuals fleeing their countries due to war and hunger, and statistics provided by the United Nations only reinforce this certainty.

The estimated rate of immigration since 2021 is alarmingly high, as reports indicate 281 million international migrants, which is 3.6 percent of the global inhabitants, growing faster than the world’s population and quadrupling since 1993. The conclusion remains that in 2022, the ability to stay in one's own country is no longer a given.

The UNHCR reports show us there are a total of 26.4 million refugees, 51% of whom came from Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is unmistakable that the current is changing, as the destabilization of some countries due to war and economic sanctions inadvertently creates a wave of refugees and with it, other major concerns are increasingly apparent.

Exhibition view O Estrangeiro by Arjan Martins. Image courtesy of Brasilea.

The migration sphere in 2022 will be a challenging one, and as the wave of concerns regarding the current migration routes and illegal crossing is at the forefront, so too are the instabilities in Afghanistan, the growing tension in Libya, the flaring up of the conflict in Syria and the labor shortages that undermine economic growth. Will the United Nations be able to cope with the prominence of these factors?

Undeniably, the wider European region will be shaped by migration-related developments in specific areas such as the Near and the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and African regions. This does not entirely exclude other territories, yet noticeable issues will emerge from these areas their violent conflicts and economic imbalances interconnect. After evaluating these statistics and inputs, it seems the UN will have its hands full as these situations become strongly embedded in geopolitics.

Untitled by Arjan Martins. Image courtesy of PIPA.

Through a developed pictorial technique and elaborated cartographic paintings, Brazilian artist Arjan Martins addresses yet another crucial factor that plays into the issues previously discussed — the African diaspora and the Afro-Atlantic migration that occurred in the Brazilian colonial period and that is still in effect after generations. The distinguishing mark of Martins' paintings is the way he transforms historical reports, voices, and stories into pictorial art through an explosive use of painting on pieces of wood, paper, walls, and floors.

Many of the paintings focus on the portrait of a young Afro-migrant girl with her hand forming a fist in front of her face, where her representation evolves with the artist himself. In the beginning, she is wearing a green dress, young, prepubescent, innocent, before maturing to an older self who is dark and sad, seeming to represent Martins' emotional levels.

Arjan Martins working in his atelier in Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro by Pepe Schettino. Image courtesy of PIPA.

The inner conflict and tensions of the artist are on full display through his work. We see rich-strong colours and compositions with recurrent motifs; frequent appearances of sextants, ship hulls and globes embodying the subject of migration; vigorous questioning of humanity on earth by the introduction of used objects as mediums; a three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, floating to shore in Turkey, trying to flee the war in Syria with his family as a representation of the migration tragedy.

The collection of paintings tries to penetrate the non-organic essence of things. “I try to transform voices and sounds from history books, written and spoken records, as well as quotations into imaginary portraits.”

His work is characterized by the elusive questions of ethnic identity, depicted by historical photos of migrants in everyday situations — almost like a chronicle of immigrant and African descendants from their arrival at the continent to the actual day to day. The controversy of Martins's practice doesn't succinctly remain in his depictions and symbology. It is also reflected in the way his exhibitions are installed, using walls and floors to create the pieces, providing the visitors with insights into how the creations are developed.

Exhibition view of “O Estrangeiro” by Brasilea Foundation, Basel, Switzerland. Image courtesy of PIPA.

Throughout the course of the painter's artistic career, the morality behind it has not changed. After years of successful exhibitions and artworks, the artist still fights to narrate the lives of migrants through generations, embodying the  United Nations Sustainable Development Goal for Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions and Reduced Inequalities.

The prominence of Martins’s practice remains in the representations of seemingly mundane images of daily life that have more significance than one may understand. It depicts a reality that only immigrants face after fleeing their country and finding themselves surrounded by the unknown, given comfort only by the mundane chores one goes through daily.

See more of Arjan Martins practice here.

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