Flight, St James's Piccadilly: 20 December - 8 February 2016

Flight: Personal Statement

Flight is my first in a series of works that seek to address the current humanitarian crisis of forced displacement across the world, as thousands of migrants fleeing war and persecution continue to arrive on the shores of Europe today.

I travelled to Lesbos as a war artist in 2015, having spent the past decade exploring the human face of conflict and it’s consequences in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nowhere however, have I been so overwhelmed by the tragedy of war than by the human drama unfolding on the beaches of Lesbos. What I saw was timeless, biblical, it was humanity laid bare. Flight is my response.

In hanging the installation above the nave of St James’s, I have picked up on the tradition of hanging boats from church ceilings, linking the Latin word NAVIS (‘ship’) to ‘nave’, which symbolises the Church as the collective boat in which we find refuge.

Installed over the Christmas period, the three lifejackets evoke the flight of the Holy Family to Egypt and ask the viewer to engage with the subject on both a metaphysical and physical level. The setting of the boat invites the viewer to embark upon their own spiritual journey, while a suspended interplay of light, form and shadows above the nave reflects the uncertain, rootless and volatile experience of life as a refugee.

My interest lies in the men, women and children behind the headlines, the individual stories behind the politics. I attempt to illuminate and to reveal the human face of conflict, and to find light in the darkest corners of existence

Flight is as much about light as it is about the darkness from which it emerges. It is about exile and desperation, but it is also about courage, faith and hope. It asks us to consider the hope that a life can be rebuilt in another land, and to seek the light within ourselves that will validate that hope, the light that will not allow us to turn our backs in prejudice and fear on the plight of thousands.

I know that art cannot change the world, but I hope that those who stood in the nave of St James’s felt something of the cry of anguish that I felt standing on the coast of Lesbos. Flight is that cry. It is a plea that such suffering cannot go on. It is a call to resistance against the horrors of war and the greed of the traffickers. It is an act of empathy and solidarity as we reach out to our fellow humans. And it is a tribute to those hopeful, terrified souls who now lie in watery graves at the bottom of the Mediterranean.

At a time when the darkness seems to grow closer, with a deepening of complexities, apprehensions and divisions between East & West, my work is about the urgent need for empathy, understanding & respect for our fellow human beings in plight. 

Supporting Events

Drinks reception with celebrity guest speakers Simon Callow and Samantha Bond

School children from a primary school in Athens sent in their responses to Flight.

Song for Ali Al Sahau

 Robert Vas Dias


my dream says to me

you cannot live with bombs and bullets

a chariot waits for you to cross the sea


my dream says to me

you can’t stay home you have to leave

in a chariot across the sea


my dream says to me

take you wife and seven kids

and leave in a chariot across the sea


my dream says to me

your chariot will float you all

to a new home across the sea


my dreamhelmsman says to me

you won’t need lifejackets

in your chariot to cross the sea


but my dream did not say to me

your chariot will tip

your family and you into the sea


my dream did not say to me

you have lost your world your family

you have no home across the sea


my dream now says to me

tell all the others left behind

oh do not go by sea


I cry out in my dream

is there no band of angels

to come for my family in the sea


to come for to carry them home 

© Robert Vas Dias 2015