In Brief

Project Documenting the Deaths of Over 34,000 Refugees Mysteriously Removed at Liverpool Biennial

The arts festival is investigating who took artist Banu Cennetoğlu’s installation without authorization. With tense Brexit debates on immigration happening in the UK, The List’s disappearance is stirring up controversy.

Installation view of The List at the Liverpool Biennial before it was removed (photo by Thierry Bal, image courtesy Liverpool Biennial)

Banu Cennetoğlu was living in Amsterdam when she first encountered “The List.” It was 2002, and the 32-year-old photography student was researching the architecture of border posts for her degree. Compiled and updated each year by UNITED for Intercultural Action, an anti-discrimination network of 550 organizations in 48 countries, “The List” accounts for the deaths of more than 34,000 refugees who have lost their lives within, or on the borders of Europe since 1993. As an artist examining the materiality of migration, “The List” became an obsession for Cennetoğlu who immediately began planning for its dissemination across the Dutch capital. When she initially found “The List,” it was 15 pages long with only 6,000 names. For the 2018 Liverpool Biennial, Cennetoğlu stretched the now-enormous list alongside the city’s Great George Street. Seen in the United Kingdom, “The List” functioned as a commentary on the divisive, misleading, and misinformed immigration polices surrounding Brexit.

That is, until the list was stolen.

On Wednesday, August 1, the Liverpool Biennial announced that their installation of “The List” was anonymously removed by unauthorized persons unaffiliated with the arts festival. The city council also affirmed that nobody employed by the municipality was thought to have pilfered the long list of the dead. On Twitter, the biennial is asking for anyone with knowledge related to the work’s disappearance to come forward.

The British arts publication, Double Negative, responded to the biennial’s Twitter post reporting that an eyewitness saw people in suits dismantling the installation, although this has yet to be confirmed or explicated. The biennial confirmed through a statement that it received permission to display the work on Great George Street, and that the developers who own the site are attempting to find out what happened by reviewing their CCTV footage of the area.

Recently, “The List” has made its way through British media. Cennetoğlu partnered with The Guardian to release it alongside the newspaper’s June 20 issue. Through the years, Cennetoğlu has facilitated up-to-date and translated versions of “The List” using public spaces such as billboards, transport networks, and media publications.

Installation view of “The List” at the Liverpool Biennial before it was removed (photo by Thierry Bal, image courtesy Liverpool Biennial)

Born in Turkey, Cennetoğlu is undoubtedly accustomed to hotly contested debates on immigration and its sociopolitical effects. The country currently hosts approximately 3.5 million refugees, according to a 2017 report released by UNHCR. Turkey is also often regarded as a gateway country for migrants fleeing to Europe from territories destabilized by wars, terrorism, drought, and poverty. Amongst European Union members, the Netherlands has seen a sharp rise in applications for asylum with nearly 45,000 people applying for it in 2015. (Given the country’s liberal culture, it’s also home to many queer refugees fleeing from North Africa and West Asia. Artist Carlos Motta recently had an exhibition at Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum that explored the topic.)

The disappearance of art from a biennial is surprising, but it also alights with Cennetoğlu’s suspicions as to why “The List” isn’t as well known as it should be. Speaking to The Guardian for a recent article, Cennetoğlu stated that “The List” needed to be more visible:

Governments don’t keep these record for the public; they don’t want the public to see these records because it exposes their policies. so you have NGOs trying to put data together, and that data is incomplete and fragile, but there again someone has to do it. And I want to contribute to that with what I have and what I do — but not by aestheticizing it. You cannot represent this kind of darkness through art.

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