MIGRATION, an immersive data visualization on the Syrian refugee crisis, is now open in Second Life. The project is a collaboration between artists E. Marie Robertson (Asimia Heron in SL) and John Fillwalk (Mencius Watts in SL), with David Rodriguez and the IDIA Lab at Ball State University. An opening reception is scheduled in the virtual world on Sunday, June 25, from noon--2 pm pacific/SL time, 3--5 pm eastern.
Reception location: http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Athshe/153/148/3502
MIGRATION installation: http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Athshe/153/118/4087
If you are not a member of Second Life and would still like to attend, please contact me about a "loaner avatar" or to help you get set up for a free avatar account.
Why do this work? Well, it's simple. Syria used to be a nation of 20 million people. Now, more than 5 million have fled the country—2.2 million of those are children. More than 6.3 million have been displaced from their homes but are still within Syrian borders. Approximately 470,000 civilians have been killed. That means more than half of the nation's entire population has already been affected. As the U.S. intensifies attacks in the region and other actors take bolder strikes at varied targets, more and more civilians and civilian properties are at risk.
On March 16, 2017, the 45th President of the United States signed an executive order halting the issuance of visas to citizens of six nations, including Syria. Despite action by the courts to block this ban, the effect is still sobering. Those who have followed “official protocol” and gone through the already-exhausting process of being vetted and registered as official refugees find themselves left in limbo, with no guidance of whether they will be able to enter a “friendly nation” or not. The five nations that abut Syria have already closed their borders, leaving these people literally homeless and without options.
We tend to think of refugees and migrants in blocks, as sheer numbers throwing themselves at our tenuous conceptual nation-sanctioned fences. But these are people. Individuals and families. The elderly, the young and children. Leaving them with nowhere to go, neither addresses their situation nor helps our own in the fight against militant extremism - when it was this very extremism that has displaced more than half a nation. As we ignore or sidestep this issue, the problem might appear to go away, but it is always there, resurging, expanding and growing increasingly more desperate.
Our installation, MIGRATION, takes these numbers just as we tend to compartmentalize them, turning them into neatly stackable blocks. Only these blocks do not stack. They fall and flow and cascade frantically from the terrifying destruction of their homeland, dropping rootless to our feet, hoping against hope to be lifted up and seen as human beings again before they degrade and disappear.