To describe the undescribable

"This is my stress, this is my life, this is who I am," said Mohammed as he described his painting. He had not hesitated for a second to take the paper and fill it with lines and spots of different colours. Besides the result, watching him paint was hypnotic. The strokes seemed to be ready in his mind before his hand had even laid them on the white background. His body was suddenly only the instrument that expressed the intelligibility of the thoughts ruminating in his mind.


Such an extremely hostile environment is a barrier to a young person's emotional development. Surviving another day is the only goal. Getting food, not thinking too much, and every night taking the gamble to sneak onto a ferry on what they call " doing risky", risking, indeed, beatings and fatal accidents.


The European dream becomes a nightmare once they set foot on Spanish soil. Time stands still, there is no growth, no development, nothing beyond learning to cope with the despair of being locked up, despised and mistreated. There is no childhood or adolescence because they cannot afford it. They are alone, full of cuts from the barbed wire, marks from being hit by police batons, from punches, sprains. However, they are brave despite their fear, they have no other choice, they organise themselves to sleep in shacks they build hidden around the city, they share strategies and contacts of people who can help them. But everything they want, is out of their control. They are victims of racist policies that only puts obstacles in their way.


What do they do with this suffering? Communicating is not so easy. They might talk to each other, or they might hide their emotions as a form of self-protection. The language barrier creates a distance between us and them, but even if it didn't, words would fall short.


However, the body always speaks and lets out what cannot be verbalised. Art is a way of communicating without concepts, without terms, without the objectivity of oral language. Art is not made with the aim of being understood, but to channel the inner maelstrom of emotions.


We began to bring painting materials to our meetings with the guys on the beach, and suddenly many of them began to speak through colours. They painted, like Mohammed, their own minds, they painted what they missed, like their homes or their football team, they painted what they most wanted, the ferry, a plane, they painted what they wanted, without rules.



Some of them moved away to escape the noise while they painted, or so that no one could see what they wanted to paint. There was silence among those who worked absorbed in their papers. There was the calm of doing something just for the pleasure of doing it.


The times on the beach are strategic for maintaining direct contact with them, making quick cures, answering doubts about their administrative processes or lending them a mobile phone with which they can call their families. But these times are also spaces for leisure, for disconnection, where they can play ball, board games, jumping rope or, now, painting. In short, the kind of activities that kids their age should be able to do carefree.


Mohammed painted, in a matter of minutes, what he has not been able to convey in words for as long as we have known him. And thanks to his representation, we can get an idea of what he wanted to tell us.



There is still a lot to fight for people on the move to have a dignified life, but while we dedicate ourselves to constantly reporting these human rights violations, we also enjoy seeing how these moments are small patches in the mental health of the young people we work with on a daily basis.

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