Last week, Suella Braverman appeared on the British television programme Good Morning Britain to explain her 'reasoning' (and I use this turn of phrase lightly) for unveiling the recent illegal migration bill in the House of Commons - one which could see migrants arriving on small boats 'swiftly detained'. Braverman notes that 100 million illegal migrants want to illegally enter the country - with 'billions more' on the way, a figure proven to be categorically false. On the same day, Cork street's Goodman Gallery threw open its doors to its latest exhibition, One Soul, One Memory, by artist Grada Kilomba, an eye-opener for all.
Messages written as neons sit on Goodman Gallery's walls, glaring at visitors to the artist's UK solo presentation debut. Neatly composed on the floor is what looks like a slapdash pile of mud, but upon close inspection, includes remnants of 'slave trade' ingredients; soil, coffee, sugar and cocoa - all of which are still sourced through problematic means today.
A sombre yet musical hum can be heard in the distance, beckoning you to follow the sound. The humming gets louder, projected through a downstairs speaker as human voices sing in unison, soundtracked by crashing waves. There aren't many experiences that these sounds could be linked to, other than the migrant crisis that's turning Tory MPs into glutenous werewolves, refusing to share their land with anyone looking to flee war. As the sounds ripple through the gallery, it's impossible not to turn your imagination to the image and reality many migrants face on their journey to a better life.
You'd be right to recognise Kilomba's name if so, with Goodman's show following in the footsteps of the artist's acclaimed large-scale installation and performance O Barco | The Boat - a 32-metre sculpture memorialising the Middle Passage - exhibited at Somerset House last year. One Soul, One Memory acts as a continuation of sorts, another work that takes aim at this country's unlawful morals built on the hope of keeping migrants out.
Continuing to use the boat as a metaphor, Kilomba, in both works, explores cyclical violence all the while commenting on the relationship between narrative, power and repetition; another hint at this country's incompetence as it's these very attributes that are undeniably linked with the UK's relationship with migrants. 'When history is not told properly, its barbarity repeats itself,' the artist said in a statement, referring to what one could only assume as the countless migrants who began the trip to the UK but never made it to their destination.
Scattered across the gallery's lower ground floor as the rhythmic 'hums' fill the space are pieces of wood - all mangled in fabric - engraved with different verses from the poem (one of which belongs to the exhibition's title) phrases such as 'one story, one piece', 'one death, one sorrow', one body, one person' are repeated in several languages evocative of slave trade routes, all taking part in joining the dots between old empires and postcoloniality: Yoruba, Kimbundu, Creole from Cape Verde, Portuguese, Arabic and the language at the heart of it all; English.
Good exhibitions present a mixture of thoughtful art (preferably of a provocative nature), good writing and even better curation. Great exhibitions, like this one, respond to the zeitgeist of now. For as long as the Tories are in power, Britain will always present muddy guidelines over the migrant crisis, but little did Goodman know, last week, it would all come to boiling point. When art is at its best, it presents a series of tools for - those who need them - to arm themselves and fight back. Despite One Soul, One Memory not doing precisely that, the exhibition responds to what's happening far beyond our doorstep. Tate Modern's Surrealism Beyond Borders - looking at surrealism as a political tool to fight against injustice - opened to the public last year on 24 February, the same day Russia invaded Ukraine; following in their footsteps, Goodman's latest show responds to the barbaric nature of our Government in real time, adding pertinence to the work on display while revealing the gallery's own views on the leverage art can hold, if done well.
The horrors One Soul, One Memory is commenting on is affecting people right now. You and me, every day. If you're reading this, there's a likely chance that you never had to flee war or make a decision that may kill you in the name of safety - Kilomba's work forces you to face the crises head on. What's happening isn't that far away, historically or geographically. It's time to take action, says Kilomba, and unlike those in power, she's not all talk.