20.6 is an exhibition currently taking place in the John Lennon Art & Design building, showcasing work by photographer Henry Woodley. Curated by History of Art BA student Holly Christopher, the show is named after the shortest distance in miles across the English Channel. Here that distance is framed as the barrier between the limbo which the Calais-settled refugees have found themselves in, and their potential new lives in the United Kingdom.
20.6 miles seems like such a short length, and yet it must appear near impassable for the thousands of people trapped in the make-shift Calais camp. In parallel, this is a small exhibit (with only 13 photographs on display) and yet has a huge emotional impact.
Woodley is especially talented when it comes to his portrait work, capturing the raw emotions of various refugees who chose to withhold their names, like the man in the above photograph. Even without their names, these pictures humanise them in a way anti-immigration spokesmen would rather not have the public perceive. The entire exhibition acts as a reminder that these are real people, real families and real communities struggling to live in a strange place, thousands of miles from their home.
My favourite images on display showcase this struggle excellently. These six were captured on a Lomo Lubitel 166B using film; which added an ethereal aesthetic, creating a juxtaposition against the realities of their subjects. The two below show some of the makeshift structures created in the camp. On the left, a church and on the right, a store reminiscent of a corner shop. While images like these highlight the issues of living somewhere with so few amenities, they also show the miraculous strength and pioneering attitudes of the refugee population. The curating of the images also lends itself to the idea of DIY construction as the images hang unframed from bulldog clips, pinned to the wall.
Having been forced to leave their home countries and suffer through an arduous journey, only to find themselves barred from entering their destination, these people have proven resilient and resourceful. Through all of this their rich cultures and belief systems have not been undermined, all qualities which should result in them being welcomed into countries, not abandoned in semi-constructed camp sites.
This is why exhibitions like 20.6 are so important for keeping this discussion going, refusing to let anyone forget about these people who still need help. A silent auction for the artworks is being held with all of the proceeds going to Build in Calais. The call to actively help the refugees is clearly central to this exhibit, as a donation jar also sits in the middle of the room on a podium, visible to all. It is comforting to know that those involved with the exhibition are actively helping the subjects of the photos, not artistically profiting from their plight.
Instead, what has been curated is a simple yet powerful exhibition of really beautiful photographs which also hold political value. With only one more day left, do be sure to visit the display and experience it for yourself.