Emer Martin (Ireland-USA) & Moitreyee Chowdhury (India-USA)
Emer and Moitreyee’s collaboration on art for refugees.
I Wear My Wife’s Shoes
This is Moitreyee’s painting to illustrate the story title, and here is the poem/story I wrote. There is also a recording of the story that you can put up so people can listen to me read it. Some people prefer that to reading.
They are refusing,
Under bombs that are falling.
They are approaching,
Moving, walking, crawling
We are building
They need things
As I sleep
They break down my dreams
With their wanting.
I fence inside my skull,
Roll the barbed wire
Till it’s glimpsed out my eyes,
Twisted and thorny like a wild rose stalk
That can never flower.
As I sleep Russia is bombing them, the U.S is bombing them, Turkey is bombing them, France is bombing them, Britain is bombing them, the Syrian government is bombing them, the Syrian rebels are bombing them, ISIS is bombing them.
They navigate through rough seas, crowded trains, barbed wire, and the hate?
As I sleep they don’t sleep.
They won’t stay still.
They ride those trains, they hide, they walk through deserts, they find paths on mountains, they float on the sea, rocked wild by ravenous waves, they flow like blood from an open wound.
I am waking static, stirring, scratching stretching, coffee making, eye rubbing. They are closer now. They never stopped walking.
I built that wall; I rolled the barbed wire fence across my field. And I locked myself in.
I am no longer open.
Did I not know that that’s what happens when you build walls?
You wall yourself in.
Reaching through the window, luminous morning stretches across my face and shoulders. I check the news on my phone, as they draw closer and closer. I catch glimpses of them. Their relentless odyssey exposed as they march across the tiny screens of the world.
Masculine feet spilling over the delicate ballet of shoe, collapsing the back, a man shuffles into the future, with sparkles of dread, “I wear my wife’s shoes,” he shrugs. “Her feet were bleeding.”
Who will stop this man?
Who has seen such love?
Who has been loved like this?
Coward, I shrill, opportunist,
Not refugee but migrant,
Can they not fix what they running from?
What are they going to take from us?
I have a tidy home, a small neat garden, only enough room for a few spring bulbs evenly spaced color coordinated; I myself have to go out into the world in order to bring food back. What if there’s not enough? Everyday I need more. I have never been without food for even a day. Do they need what I need? Do they expect what I expect?
To not die?
What will they take from us?
What are they looking for?
To not die?
Each night I sleep
They are moving, walking, approaching, crawling through fences, arriving,
As I sleep, they attach to, then dismantle my dreams.
A boiling tar of fear scalds through my guts.
I wear my wife’s shoes. He said.
What can I do?
Her feet were bleeding,
My feet are too big,
They do not fit.
The camera cuts to his feet. His feet are too big; they crush the back of the tiny shoes. Then he quotes Shakespeare to the journalist, “To Be or not to be,” he says from a smiling abyss of resignation, waving his hand “We will be.”
Summer tessellates into winter. Our children back at school. Beaches stretch empty. Restaurants closed. Sun glasses and flip flop stands locked away. No more inflatable crocodiles, dolphins, and dragons hanging outside the shops. The air filled plastic menagerie has been deflated and stored.
Cold snaps in
Rain falls down
I turn on my heat. I sleep under my covers. My fuel has to be got from outside. I can’t fuel myself. Still they come, only now they say they are cold, they do not have enough blankets or rain coats. They do not have enough. How could they have walked away with so little? How could she have undertaken the journey in such flimsy shoes? Spilling like blood from everywhere, from the east, from the south, as I sleep they are still coming, filling all the empty spaces.
Each night I lie down and clench my eyes shut. I can feel the vibration of the earth they tread, walking as I sleep, over ditches, over fields, using smartphone flashlights, making tiny light circles in the swamp brick of night, can they not leave the dark alone? Is there no rest? Deliberate step-by-step walking away from metal filled cluster breath of multiple governments with bad intent, from the rubble of hospitals, from the poison gas, from everything that surrounds them, all they remember; they are like atom jumping mad electrons. Do not think that we won’t all be changed by this shifting and switching.
We will be.
Still they keep coming
Crushing the mild grasses in the wrong shoes
Your feet are the wrong color;
Your feet are the wrong religion,
Your eyebrows too heavy,
Your nose is too long,
Your wife’s head is covered,
She wears your shoes.
I clench tighter, roll into a ball.
I am still asleep. Not in control. My muscles jerk. My breathing deepens. You are closing in.
Each night brings you closer, more and more of you. Soon I will be surrounded.
You are here. I can feel you outside my door in the deep dead dark night when the sun drenches the other side of the world. I swing my feet to the floor, hoist myself up, tip toe barefoot through the narrow hall, I peep through the peephole.
You stand in the middle of the night, outside my front door. I can hear you breathing. Your wife bites her lip. She averts her gaze. You do not. I look down at your feet.
Her feet were bleeding, what could I do?
Can I love like you love?
Do I have that love inside?
What can I do?
I stop being afraid
I open the door.
I let myself in.
I wear her shoes.
We Came Over
We Came Over
Moitreyee and I are both migrants who have lived in many different places. We came together in Palo Alto to collaborate on this project about refugees. Both of us are artists who have lived in many different countries and we couldn’t ignore the news that the world was on the move. This is the greatest movement of people since WWII; we wanted to address both the tragedy and the possibilities of this shifting world. At first we were overwhelmed by the enormity of the crisis; we met to discuss how we would approach the subject together.
As is the way with all projects Moitreyee found the key in one individual story among the multitude. In her research, Moitreyee came across a story on the Guardian website. She was particularly moved by a short interview with a man who was wearing his wife’s shoes. When I arrived to paint she showed this to me and we were both very affected by this glimpse of their story. We took this man and his wife as our starting point, an individual story of love and struggle in a flood of moving faces and narratives. Europe is taking on a new layer of people. This is a huge population shift in history. How we react to it will define who we are. We wanted to show shifting landscapes and stories that tessellate into something entirely new. We wanted to capture the excitement of the moment as well as the tragedy. My story and paintings depict the fear and dread of change from a static point of view of a settled European who is feeling the terror of metamorphosis, her paintings capture the layer upon layer of transition and the very moment of chaos that brings both fear and beauty into our lives. Something entirely new in the world is being born.
My work is about the changing landscape. This landscape consists of people of land, of crisscross cultures; the clothes people wear, the way they live. There is no room for judgment; Just a fluid, ever shifting landscape.
My painting starts with the European landscape that was relatively structured, evenly laid out, organized. And now people are moving. More and more new elements come in to create a different pattern, changing the landscape. Everything is unsettled. But if we look closely, we will find ourselves in that new landscape. The colors are different, but the element is the same. The same striving for love, family, survival, education, and for life to be settled. This is the time to embrace this new pattern, and create a new harmonious landscape, that is beautiful and colorful. A landscape that has been added to and never diminished.
Emer Martin is a Dubliner who has lived in Paris, London, the Middle East, and various places in the U.S. Her first novel Breakfast in Babylon won Book of the Year 1996 in her native Ireland at the prestigious Listowel Writers’ Week. Houghton Mifflin released Breakfast in Babylon in the U.S. in 1997. More Bread Or I’ll Appear, her second novel was published internationally in 1999. Emer studied painting in New York and has had two sell-out solo shows of her paintings at the Origin Gallery in Harcourt St, Dublin. Her third novel Baby Zero, was published in the UK and Ireland March 07, and released in the U.S. 2014. She completed her third short film Unaccompanied. She produced Irvine Welsh’s directorial debut NUTS in 2007. Emer founded the publishing cooperative Rawmeash in 2014. Emer was awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship in 2000. She now lives California.
For information on the publishing cooperative go to www.rawmeash.com
Moitreyee Chowdhury ( Born 1975 in Delhi) is an Artist who was born and raised in Delhi, India, and now lives in the USA. After getting a BFA from the College of Arts in Delhi, Moitreyee learned German and did an Internship with the Theater Das Tat in Frankfurt, Germany. Circumstances brought her to California, where mentors and artists Paddy Moran and Katie Frank led her to the few years of intensely exploring more materials and thoughts that shaped her creative thinking process. For her art, Moitreyee derives inspiration from her surroundings and the people who are in it. She is motivated by the kindness and compassion of human beings that she sees around the world and hopes to spread the same with her work.
You can see more of her work at her website www.moitreyee.com