Leaving is different for everyone. There are times when we can plan carefully and bring the things we need for the journey, and times when we just have to run, leaving everything behind.
Muhammad Ali is an artist from Syria. It took him three months to reach Sweden in the spring of 2016, leaving five years of war in Syria behind.
The reality of war stays as a capsule of trauma inside the body. Sometimes there are many traumas, and when a new trauma occurs the older island of traumatic memory can be reactivated and explode, like a white silent bomb that blinds the present. But by using narrative we can link memories together. The world becomes comprehensible, even that which is so terrible no words can seemingly be attached to the experience.
One of the few belonging on Muhammad Ali’s journey was a notebook, about the size of a passport. It became a narrative with grim drawings of what it is like to leave home and a country of war behind, and to then be received in a new country without war, being registered as only a number.
Drawing comes from movement of the hand, and in Muhammad Ali’s notebook the movement of the hand traced an emotion connected to a traumatic image of becoming a registration number. No name, just a number, written by a fellow human to register the arrival of yet another victim of war. (An arrival that should be a celebration! For he or she should shout out loud: “I survived. I am still alive. I am here. I have arrived.”)
Muhammad Ali’s work traces memories of the past and overcomes islands of memory. It celebrates humanity, the fact that you and I are complex beings with sight, smell, sound and a world of memories, and so much more than just a number.