Dawn Kalu

Image 1: 5.15  Angels have gone

I often make small figures. It is Christmas. I am twisting paper with scissors and masking tape. Result = Mother and Child and an Angel. The baby could be a sign of hope but the Angel is down on its luck. The title is from a Bowie song. 
Image 2: Mediterranean
Made in 2016 as refugees fled from war, disaster and starvation but it is still just as relevant in 2022. It is unbearable to think of the adults and children who drowned crossing the Mediterranean. Through  my art I am witnessing in the only way I can. I am trying to hold them. I think that some of us with more heightened senses and poor filters and defences, feel compelled to bear witness to the  inhumanity of treating refugees as something less than human.  It took me a long time painting the faces and hands in different ways to represent not only the drowned people but also their grieving families who can only hold their heads in their hands.   “There are certain things only artists can deal with  and that is our job.”  Toni Morrison

Image 3: The Channel

Made in 2021, very close to home now, refugees are drowning right on our shores, while laws are being created that would punish anyone who helps save them. The term Hostile Environment fills me with shame. Our Home Secretary is increasingly punitive not even recognizing her own family’s part in being immigrants.

The standing figures with arms linked, in the foreground, are rejoicing that they have made it while we know that their troubles are only just beginning. They will have no right to work or claim benefits and it will be years before they get the ok to stay or the refusal. They will have left many family behind. Near the surface bodyless heads float.

This is because I came across an African artist called Ado Foah whose artwork was about paying homage to the ancestors. His way of remembering the millions taken as slaves was to make clay heads and some of them he left in water looking up at the sky.  He said the head was the most important part of the body because it housed the soul.

Image 4: One day a boy…
I am experimenting with backgrounds of figures and doodles. The young boy has cane row hair and is sometimes thought to be a girl by people who don’t take much notice of the diversity around them. He is playing and running into his future with a bird of prey, a magic ball and a toy ship on an ocean. I want to write a children’s book about him.
Image 5: Tower of Babel
I have been drawing figures linked together throughout 2021. They could be dancing or queueing. I find them on postcards and in magazines and newspapers. I made a line dance of figures to advertise the Bethlem  Art Gallery exhibition.  There is a part of me that likes some neat pencil drawing and cutting out. I remember I made a line dance of stuffed figures right at the beginning of my art making life, a long time ago so the image has stayed with me.

I came to be making  the linked figures as part of a Tower of Babel because I do an art class close to a building that is being pulled down. It is a round building wrapped in plastic and they are reducing it floor by floor. I know the story ended with God delivering a punishment that left people unable to understand each other, babbling. Much of the world at the moment seems unwilling to understand anyone different from themselves.


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