Conversations From Calais aims to re-humanise those affected by the refugee crisis by using public space to share conversations volunteers have had with migrants met in Calais. It is a way of bearing witness for the thousands of displaced people stuck in Calais and trying to reach the UK, whose voices are so often silenced or ignored. This ever-growing collection of conversations focuses on capturing the diversity of experiences and avoids creating new stereotypes of refugees as villains, heroic figures or hopeless victims. By pasting these posters on walls all around the world, we are taking over public space, commemorating these voices and inspiring social change.
How did the project start?
I had been volunteering in Calais on and off for a year and a half, and every time I came back, I felt the need to share what I saw, heard and experienced there. I wanted to focus on the conversational aspect of telling stories and document what I had witnessed for migrants living in Calais. I adopted a method of deconstruction: breaking down the stories I’d heard from migrants into conversations that would fit onto A3 posters.
I wanted to break away from how migrants are conventionally portrayed in mainstream media by remembering, documenting and commemorating banal but intimate and relatable conversations. I immediately wanted to find a way to share it with a wider audience, and so became a disseminator of stories, creating gallery spaces and newspaper pages of the walls around me and using Instagram as a visual archive of every conversation.
I would love to take these conversations to billboards around the UK, also giving talks and workshops in schools or other educational settings that can inspire new narratives around migration – putting the stories in spaces where they are not talked about.
Update: In 2023, Mathilda Della Torre publishes Conversation from Calais, the book that features posters and quotes alongside a handful of short, carefully curated essays, sharing the intimate, sad, funny, familiar and unfamiliar stories of the unseen.
Mathilda Della Torre is a graphic designer, illustrator and activist, currently based in London. She uses her practice to bring people together through creative exchanges and to place marginalised voices at the centre of our stories.