Why do images matter?
Here at MRN, we are committed to ending harmful discourse, but also harmful imagery. The images that we use and the emotions that these images conjure have the power to reinforce harmful narratives, but also to challenge them. That is why we put a lot of effort into ensuring our visuals reflect our values.
We have moved away from visuals that are exploitative of people’s pain and suffering, as we believe trauma porn to be unethical and dehumanising. Instead, we look towards visuals that emphasise structures of violence, as opposed to zooming in on individual suffering. The deaths of those who have died navigating borders and unjust systems are all too often turned into spectacle by the media, and people’s suffering is reduced to something that can merely be consumed via a phone screen. This is insulting and disrespectful to the memory of those who have died, and creates a culture of desensitisation and indifference to the most violent events, which is dangerous.
We also reject the uncritical propagation of images that paint migrants and racialised communities as a ‘plague’, ‘invasion’ or some kind of overwhelming negative force. Such images include:
You may have wondered why butterflies are a recurring motif in our Words Matter campaign. Simply put, the search for home and sanctuary is a foundation of life for all living beings. The butterfly is therefore reflective of the migratory patterns across the animal kingdom. As humans, we move not simply to survive but also to thrive. So, the butterfly also represents the unwavering hope for a better life, and the pursuit of happiness. Finally, the journey of the butterfly, from caterpillar to cocoon and beyond, represents the beauty of resilience, and the inevitability of transformation. Transformation is a key element of solidarity: pushing ourselves out of our comfort and privilege in order to be a better ally to others. We are not perfect, and will continue to make mistakes, but we are committed to facing our mistakes with humility and grace, and understanding that every mistake is an opportunity for radical transformation. May we all commit to changing and transforming ourselves for the betterment of our world.
Oceans + skies
Historically, our seas are symbols of violence and racial capitalism, specifically the evil of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the horrors of ships carrying enslaved people to their deaths. Today, people on the move are often dehumanised by being compared to floods, streams and water. This is extremely disrespectful given the countless lives that have been lost in the Channel, the Mediterranean and the Atlantic.
For many people, the sky and the sea symbolise unlimited freedom and travel. However, they also symbolise the violence of our movement and migration: the deadly borders of Fortress Europe and our world which condemn many to deportation flights or death by drowning. The Windrush Generation came to the UK via the SS Empire Windrush: the movement across water is thus symbolic of diasporic journeys and new opportunities, but is also a site of colonial legacies. Those legacies play out today as many from the Global South, who are displaced by capitalism and Western imperialism, continue to make these journeys into Europe. We therefore use imagery of skies and seas to encourage people to think deeper and more expansively about migration.
All creatures orient to home… Green turtles hatch and go down to the sea, where they travel many thousands of miles, sometimes for ten years or twenty. When ready to lay their eggs, they retrace their journey back to the very patch of beach where they were born. Some birds annually fly for thousands of miles, losing as much as half their body weight, in order to mate in their birthplace… Nearly every creature shares some version of this deep attachment to a place in which life has been known to flourish, the kind of place we call home….
It is in the nature of human attachment that every journey and expulsion sets into motion the search for home… there is a universally shared ache to return to the place we left behind or to found a new home in which our hopes for the future can nest and grow… Because our brains are larger than those of birds and sea turtles, we know that it is not always possible, or even desirable, to return to the same patch of earth. Home need not always correspond to a single dwelling or place… Home is where we know and where we are known, where we love and are beloved. Home is… sanctuary: part freedom, part flourishing… part refuge, part prospect.Shoshana Zuboff, ‘The Age of Surveillance Capitalism’