As It Happens

Why the organizers behind a U.K. tribute to refugees won't fix the latest act of vandalism

The director of the Liverpool art festival that's displaying the project explains why they're not going to repair the damage.

Turkish artist Banu Cennetoglu used a list of names published by the Guardian on World Refugee Day

This art installation featuring the names of refugees who died on the journey to Europe has been repeatedly vandalized. It's pictured here on Aug. 15 on Great George Street in Liverpool. (Submitted by Sally Tallant)
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An installation in Liverpool featuring the names of 34,361 people who died trying to cross into Europe has been damaged multiple times since it was put up about a month ago. 

Created by Turkish artist Banu Cennetoglu, the Liverpool Biennial art festival installation lists refugees killed since 1993, as well as information about how and where they died. 

"These are people like you and I who have been forced to flee the countries in which they live and seek refuge elsewhere, and they've died attempting to do that," Sally Tallant, director of the Liverpool Biennial, told As It Happens guest host Matt Galloway. 

"The list kind of memorializes their lives ... so to me it feels a double violation to attack it in this way, and we were just really shocked that this happened."

The list was compiled by the group United for Intercultural Action and published in full by the Guardian newspaper in June to mark World Refugee Day. 

It was first installed on a massive wall on Great George Street in Liverpool on July 12, but Liverpool Biennial announced in a tweet on Aug. 1 that someone had torn the majority of it down.

The festival organizers reinstalled it, only to find that large chunks of it had been shredded and scratched off again on Aug. 12.

This time, they're going to leave it as is.

Kept up as a 'reminder of this systematic violence'

"It has been repeatedly damaged, removed and targeted since it was installed," said a written statement signed by Ankara artist Cennetoglu.

"We have decided to leave it in this current 'state' as a manifestation and reminder of this systematic violence exercised against people."

Folks in Liverpool, U.K., read the names of dead refugees off The List before it was damaged in an act of vandalism. (Liverpool Biennial)

Tallant said she can't be sure if the damage was motivated by anti-refugee sentiment or if it was just run-of-the-mill vandalism. 

"Maybe it's something as stupid as just kids. Who knows? You know, it could be just somebody taking an opportunity to tear down something in the public realm. I don't know," she said.

"But actually, it does feel very targeted to us now and that's all we can assume."

'It's important that people see this'

Nevertheless, she said the work of art has sparked thoughtful and empathetic responses as well.

While photographing the damage, Tallant said she was approached by a family of Kurdish refugees who wanted to know what the project was about and what had happened to it.

They had a small child with them, she said, a boy of about 10 or 11.

"The kid was trying to stick the list back to the wall and he was saying it's important that people see this," Tallant said.

"I think for him it makes visible something that's a reality for many families."

Sally Tallant, director of the Liverpool Biennial, passes by the project on her way to work every day. (Submitted by Sally Tallant)

She said she hopes the visible damage will spark a wider conversation about the ongoing global refugee crisis.

"I think this could easily become about the destruction of something in the public realm when, actually, the bigger issues are what we want to focus on," she said.

"We're hoping by leaving it in that way, it will open up the debate even more."

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Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview with Sally Tallant produced by Katie Geleff. 

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