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Mare Tenebrarum1

Anna Konik
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Mare Tenebrarum1

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  • 1 Translation from Polish: Jarek Fejdych.

1Inevitably, the sea is becoming a mass grave piled high with unfulfilled human hopes and dreams to lead a better and happier life, a life filled with a sense of justice. The sea continues to throw out the bodies of refugees on the shores of Italy, Greece and Turkey—women, men and children, their toys, shoes, clothes.

2Here we see the body of a nameless woman.

3Her skin, once caressed by rays of sunshine and brushed by a gentle breeze, is now dead and caked with cold, wet sand.

4Dead hands with folded fingers on the chest, resting on a mobile phone, which perhaps contains the record of her final conversation, wrapped tight in a condom.

5A black leather jacket tucked underneath, that still keeps the warmth of her body.

6A pearl necklace around her neck, symbolizing innocence, sublimity, purity, sacrifice, tears.

7Is such a fragmentary photograph capable of capturing the horror of human existence that is so powerfully demonstrated by the tragedies of present-day refugees? 

8In its collection, the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan contains The Lamentation of Christ by Mantegna. This world-famous painting shows the body of Christ in an unbelievably simplified form. His bruised, tormented and yet serene face strongly attracts attention and arouses profound sorrow. We are overcome by similar emotions at the sight of the woman’s body—embalmed in sand, saturated with sea water, tormented like the body of Christ. Initially, the close-up view in either of the images makes it difficult to see any details. We need a moment to discern the agonized body. Both images are suffused with the feeling of ruination and hopelessness. They both offer a silent, but clear testimony of the fragility of our lives and a sense of impending doom.

9When a man or woman dies, their stories are completed.

10When millions of refugees give their lives in their struggle for freedom and a decent life, their deaths become an account of our negligence and an accusatory finger pointed at the systemic world that is made up of national states and national churches, all erecting their walls of rejection. Ensconced in their own world, they breed The Other—one containing within itself all the past and present fears that have been accumulated like venom throughout history. Such overwhelming fears, which threaten to overthrow the established order, make communities hermetic and freedom limited.

11The Other possesses all the so-called marginal characteristics: foreign language, as well as different skin color, culture, and religion. On the borderline between the Other and the Same stand present-day walls. These walls are present wherever we are, regardless of the officially proclaimed democratic views. They persist in our heads, create divisions. They make the predicament of the excluded ever dire. This is an extremely acute, painful and shameful problem of the modern world.

12The defences erected around the “European stronghold” are far more formidable than just state or religious borders. They serve primarily as boundaries separating people, turning man against his brother, inspiring fear that leads to exclusion and loss of a sense of belonging. As a result, life loses its value, and its fragile nature becomes all but inconsequential. The mass migration of people from Africa and the Middle East we are witnessing today has its roots in the colonial past of Europe, as well as being the result of various economic, humanitarian, military and political factors at stake today. People leave their families and homes behind to save themselves and those who have remained in their countries.

13The amount of risk taken depends on how much they can afford to pay the human smuggling mafia who preys on the ill-fated refugees. And this is just the beginning of the cycle of atrocities they are about to embark on. Very few such stories have a happy ending, countless refugees are still seeking a new life founded on empathy and acceptance, regardless of the inherent dissimilarity.

14Perhaps we should look at the unnecessary death of that nameless refugee—the epitome of human tragedy and gross injustice—as a reflection of our own vice.

15But are we not too blind to see anything?

16I can taste that sand in my mouth.

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1 Translation from Polish: Jarek Fejdych.

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Référence électronique

Anna Konik, « Mare Tenebrarum », Socio-anthropologie [En ligne], 40 | 2019, mis en ligne le 08 janvier 2020, consulté le 25 janvier 2020. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/socio-anthropologie.6363

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Anna Konik

Anna Konik a étudié à la faculté de sculpture de l’Académie des beaux-arts de Varsovie ; elle y obtient en 2012 un doctorat au sein du département des médias et de la scénographie. Elle a également été actrice au théâtre de l’Académie à Varsovie, et étudié dans les ateliers de Krzysztof M. Bednarski (1996-1997) et de Grzegorz Kowalski (1997-2000). Son travail artistique comprend des installations vidéo, des objets, de la vidéo, de la photographie et des dessins. En 2010 et 2011, elle a collaboré avec la faculté de design de mode du département de design de l’Académie des beaux-arts de Varsovie. En 2014/2015, elle a été membre de l’Institut d’études avancées de Nantes. Ses œuvres sont souvent centrées sur les frontières – construites et renforcées par la nationalité, la race et la langue –, interrogeant l’appartenance, l’empathie, et appelant à être l’autre – le réfugié, le migrant, l’illégal, le non-désiré.

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Socio-Anthropologie est mis à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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