Shezad Dawood: The Lives of Us

Objects lost at sea by migrants are presented by Shezad Dawood in the Labanof Cycle, a series of powerfully affecting textile works that form part of his ongoing Leviathan project. The artist will be in conversation about the project at Elephant West on Wednesday 23 January.


Shezad Dawood’s textiles depict objects lost at sea by migrants unsuccessfully attempting the Lampedusa crossing, between northern Africa and Sicily. They are presented almost “forensically”, framed within the magazine, to make a link back to their source: the Labanof (Laboratory of Anthropology and Forensic Odontology) at the University of Milan. The Labanof is a typically underfunded and understaffed department of a big university. Pathologists by training and profession, they play a key role in this age of humanitarian disasters.

They go out with UN Rescue teams when ships sink or capsize attempting the Mediterranean crossing, and recover the objects, items artifacts (and, in a more grisly tangent, human remains as well) in order to create an archive whereby relatives can track missing family members. Unlike wars and natural disasters, there is no established protocol to deal with immigration deaths. When we do not know what happened to someone we love, we cannot overcome the psychological trauma of the loss.

Among other things, Labanof by its interventions is weaving a legal and humanitarian framework to implement the necessary steps to bring such a protocol into being. That is why this work is important.

Shezad Dawood will be in conversation about the project at Elephant West on Wednesday 23 January. 


All images mixed media on Fortuny textile, dimensions variable. © Shezad Dawood. Courtesy Timothy Taylor, London/New York

This feature originally appeared in issue 33