Thanks to my good friend, photographer Eleni Taze, I saw Nikos Kalaitzides’s Facebook post calling for volunteer illustrators, back in January 2016, for a charity project concerning the refugee children from Syria, that were stuck at the Northern borders of Greece on their way to Northern Europe. He seems like a good person, she said to me. And she was right. We found common ground with Nikos very quickly, both being educators and artists and, well, not too well off Greeks, with a hereditary imperative on hospitality. We met on Skype and discussed the project on several occasions and on several dimensions, crucially in regard to delegating the illustration work where my background in Illustration and Art Direction came handy. I offered to take on the largest part, partly because it made sense for the project and partly because it would be kind of therapeutic for me.
I was between a rock and a hard place, career-wise and health-wise, in England, at the time, and the whole world around me seemed like it was struggling to rediscover its humanitarian values. The war raged in the Middle East and Europe was facing an unprecedented refugee influx. The UK was preparing for the In-Out referendum on remaining or exiting the European Single Market. Moral compasses and rational data were in conflict. Things were tight and we, artists, are sensitive souls.
‘Τhe Journey of Halima’ was culminating in the Land of the Rain. I was at home in that land and I was eager to provide accommodation to the little fictional heroine of the story. There is therefore a strong sense of reality, empathy and relief in the work I produced.
Technically, I brought in a 3D sense of European light and perspective to the world of Halima, to complete the circle that begins with George Doutsiopoulos’s stylish establishment of style at the beginning of the tale, and undergoes four wonderful transformations from chapter to chapter, land to land, illustrator to illustrator, until the rain goes to the Land of the Sun, which is drawn by George and coloured by myself.
You’ll notice, of course, when you pay attention to the illustrations, that the rain is invisible in the Land of the Rain. It is visible only in the Land of the Sun where it is meant to be an exotic element. Conversely, the sunlight seems brighter in the Land of the Rain.
In retrospect, there is one thing I would do differently. I would allude to Theresa May in portraying John’s mom, like I alluded to Boris Johnson in portraying John’s dad. Because in fairy-tales these characters could actually do some good to the world with their powers. But political satire doesn’t really matter to the people who really matter in this project, so I don’t beat myself about it. The UK’s resemblance to the Land of the Rain is not meant to be accurate at all, anyway.
At the moment of writing this note, the Journey of Halima needs funding to get printed, bound and handed out to the refugee children in the various camps in Greece and beyond. If you can download and see the digital version, the odds are that you can also afford to donate €8 for a print-out as per the calculations of Nikos and his team (follow the links at http://thejourneyofhalima.com). I volunteered something like 500 times that in worth of work, and I’d do it again, because it’s been a privilege, however small, and I enjoyed it and I’m grateful for it. I hope we’re on a similar page.
But what matters the most in this project, is the humanity of it all. Being part of it, is taking part in a war against war. Stand up for tolerance, diversity, inclusivity, free movement and all those big concepts of peace and solidarity and love and hospitality, against fanaticism and greed and racism and trickery and segregation… No more ‘us’ and ‘them’. It’s a dream worth following. Let the Journey of Halima bring us together.
Join Nick’s online workshop against nonsense. <HERE>