Prove (a statement or theory) to be wrong or false; disprove.
Prove that (someone) is wrong.
Deny or contradict (a statement or accusation)
A woody perennial plant, typically having a single stem or trunk growing to a considerable height and bearing lateral branches at some distance from the ground.
– Oxford Dictionaries
One of the world’s most influential and famed international artists, Ai Weiwei, has collaborated across borders with Dr Lauren Gavaghan, a Psychiatrist working in London. From his studio in Beijing, he has come up with a design for a tshirt, with the shared aim being to raise funds for refugees.
Dr Gavaghan, once a student at Central St Martins College of Art, since turned doctor, is often searching for ways to bring together her passion of the arts with health and humanitarian ventures. Long inspired by Ai Weiwei’s work, she became increasingly interested in his life journey and seeming ability to adapt to changing circumstances and survive, despite the sometimes extreme pressures placed upon him in recent years. She became curious about his visits to the Dadaab refugee camps of Northern Kenya, the country of her birth. Their location was once a frequent stop-off for her en route through Kenya to volunteer in capacity-building roles in Somaliland, a place where many displaced peoples exist.
Both Ai Weiwei and Dr Gavaghan seem to enjoy exploring the political cross-over of their respective fields, with Dr Gavaghan only recently having been a leader at the forefront of the doctors dispute with Government in England. She spearheaded the #WearYourNHS campaign working in collaboration with Dame Vivienne Westwood, and other high-profile people who extended their support.
Ai Weiwei himself is no stranger to being subject to oppressive regimes, and his experiences of being repeatedly and forcibly detained over recent years has highlighted much about injustice and human rights. In 2015 Ai Weiwei was awarded Amnesty International’s highest honour – the Ambassador of Conscience Award, which recognises those who have shown exceptional leadership in the fight for human rights, through their life and work.
Having been to visit Weiwei’s ‘Tree’ standing strong in the Tate Modern in London, itself having traversed many boundaries, borders and countries along its journey, Dr Gavaghan was keen that this should be the basis for the design for RefuTree.
Of ‘Tree,’ this mammoth sculpture, made from many individual pieces of different species of tree collected from his homeland of China, Ai Weiwei says ‘my work is always readymade. It could be cultural, political, or social, and also it could be art – to make people re-look at what we have done, its original position, to create new possibilities. I always want people to be confused, to be shocked or realize something later’ (quoted in Delson 2011, p.63).
Dr Gavaghan says of RefuTree, ‘I am passionate about the natural world and I fell in love with Weiwei’s Tree the moment I set eyes on it. I sat for hours admiring how this awesome solid tree could also somehow stand so gently. The sense of peace I experienced in its presence reminded me of my favourite African tree, the iconic Baobab. Often known as the Tree of Life, the Baobab is able to adapt successfully to changing environments, it can store many thousands of litres of water within its large trunk, to call on in times of drought, and the tree may live for thousands of years. There is an African fable that describes God, in anger, pulling the Baobab up by its roots and re-planting it, upside down, with its leaves in the ground and roots in the air, hence why the Baobab looks as it does.
This caused me to reflect on what it means to both nature and a human being to be uprooted, to be broken down into pieces and then put back together again. Tree signified growth, potential and possibility and as Ai Weiwei describes, it made me think about change – what once was, what is and what can be/ grow.
It became clear that this fitted with my hope that RefuTree might work at reframing the concept that the world has of refugees. Ai Weiwei and I discussed the design and in his recreation of Tree, these grey dried out tree pieces blossomed into a striking patchwork of bright and contrasting colours.
With the old demarcations of the individual pieces of wood still visible on the colour tree, it made me think of the Japanese art form ‘Kintsugi,’ where broken pottery is repaired with powdered gold, with the philosophy that the breaks are kept visible and become an important part of the object’s beauty and history.
There is something fascinating for me as a psychiatrist and artist about the patchworks of colour that people’s lives become, where even the dark patches add to the overall beauty, often contrasting with the bright. As a doctor I am witness to some of these darkest patches, and work is often about setting out to discover where light and colour exists and trying to expand these areas.
‘Refutree’ appealed to me as a name for the campaign as it is about creating something new and different out of the already known, the familiar, which often becomes imbued with expectation/ connotation.
The idea was to continue to turn things on their head, challenge the status quo, and as Ai Weiwei says ‘to make people re-look at what we have done.’
The transformation of these once dead lifeless pieces of wood, reminiscent for me of the grey washed up bodies on beaches we are increasingly witness to on news channels, into this explosion of colour spoke to me of potential, hope, growth and most importantly life.
It is about a re-making, a re-creating, a re-writing of the narrative and a bringing together of the pieces to make the whole again, which is often part of ones work in the therapeutic encounter.
RefuTree shall be an ever-evolving series of creative projects, bringing together colourful ideas and people, branching out laterally in time, but with a strong central focus – that of raising funds for displaced peoples and environmental causes.
RefuTree shall celebrate the capacity of peoples, once uprooted and turned upside down, to adapt, to survive, but most of all, to thrive and find their own unique patchwork of colour once again and grow skywards with strength and with dignity.’
Dr Lauren Gavaghan
Psychiatrist in London