Millions of refugees are fleeing conflict zones around the world, searching for safety in Europe. They have been met by the incompetence and cynicism of leaders and allies of all sides have responded to the plight of civilians with insignificant gestures, divisive rhetoric, inadequate aid (and some with even more weapons) to end the catastrophic war they’ve created, a war only they have the power to stop. The camps in neighboring countries are overflowing, the facilities there are worn thin. Yet, the end of the conflict is nowhere in sight.

We witnessed the first tide of people seeking refuge in the west rise in the transit zone of Budapest’s Keleti station with shock and awe. Yet, we also saw a great number of Hungarian citizens rise spontaneously to help in any way they could. As the hungarian gov’t began fear-mongering campaigns and reacted to these victims with a policy of criminalization, we saw fellow citizens reach out to these strangers-in-transit with food, water, clothing, bedding, shelter, medicine and guidance, where our leaders had failed them.

Yet, who are these people searching for new homes in strange lands and what can we do for them? Who are the people who came to work and welcome the refugees in the transit zone in Keleti station? In the early days of the influx we struggled to understand the situation, until we were compelled to find out for ourselves.

Our project aims to bring the faces, voices and stories of all these humans in our transit zones to light. Our subject is both the people who pass through on their way to finding new lives, and those who have come to help their future neighbors.

As local Budapest artists, we were compelled to action by the humanitarian
catastrophe we witnessed unfolding at Keleti station. Our idea was to set up a large empty roll of paper in the transit zone. The refugees waiting, the volunteers working and any local that passed by could write and draw their impressions, dreams, experiences or leave their personal “message to the world”. In this way, we could create a space for all the people involved to interact with each other in a way that would nurture more inter-cultural understanding for the short time they spent here on their journey.

We also photographed them, along with their message, in the hope of bringing to the world a glimpse into the lives of families, friends, travelers and volunteers we met. This project is also a document of those meetings in these transit zones.

Helpless in the face of political inaction, we got directly involved. We immediately recognized that these people were not simply “refugees” or “volunteers”. To give them back their humanity, we took single portrait photographs of them in front of a white screen on which they wrote their message. Using this common format of popular western ad styling, we present our subjects in a familiar cultural context to break down prejudice and allow their humanity to come through.

Keleti Passage gave those participating a chance to express themselves, share their experiences and feelings, and to enjoy a moment of normalcy on their incredibly difficult journeys. They personalized themselves for us in their stories, so viewers can better understand this historical predicament we share, the refugee migration of 2015.

We see this refugee crisis as a logistical crisis for Europe. Yet, it is also a historical opportunity for anyone to reflect on, practice and reaffirm their humanity. This project is our way to give the world access to the human side of this situation. It is also a way for us Europeans to thank those who gave us the opportunity to learn about our own humanity and practice it more deeply.

As this on-going project is also a document of the people in these transit zones, it will change and develop as the situation does. At this point, we have 16 fully-captioned images prepared for publication of the more than 60 that we’ve collected so far. The rest of the photos will be added to the .pdf daily and become available at the same link here: »»»»»»»»»»»»»»

For a look at our process, please watch our short film here: »»»»»»»»»»

Images of our work process here: »»»

Members of the self-assembling artist cooperative:
Gábor Kasza, Mark Richards, Zita Merényi, Zsófia Vári

Text: Mark Richards ©
Photo: Gábor Kasza ©