On fear and human rights in Armin Greder’s The Island

Armin Greder, The Island

Published 2008 by Allen & Unwin (first published 2002), 32p.

Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893. National Gallery, Oslo, Norwey

Human rights was a constant concern along history. Often controversial this issue motivated people to be more preoccupied with their fundamental freedoms. Although there are severe violations of these rights on every continent, the need of standards and human respect is still an essential interest.

Armin Greder’s The Island is a brilliant illustration of human transformation under pressure and fear. It is a deep definition of the hatred caused by an outsider. Armin Greder was born in Switzerland and he migrated to Australia in the ‘70s but the European influence reflects in all his work. In an expressionist style, distorted and extremely somber, Greder tells the story of a man washed by currents and fate on the shore of an island.

He wasn’t like them. The people stared at him. They were puzzled. Why had he come here? What did he want? What should they do?

Naked, scared and vulnerable the man loses his freedom and power of choice. The islanders take him in; he is locked in a goat pen where he could sleep on some straw.

There is a gradually agony, a disturbing depiction of people’s feelings and attitude. Although the islanders tried to continue their life, the man’s obscure presence causes a silent torture. One day, hungry and lonely, he escapes the pen. People are frightened and have controversial reactions. They all, including the priest, have prejudices and refuse to accept the man as one of theirs.

The innkeeper agreed to let the man have the scraps he would otherwise toss to the pigs, and they took him back to the goat pen. They strengthened the gate and took turns to guard him, so that in future he would not disturb them.

But the people are haunted, even in their dreams. Children are warned no to go near the pen and the teacher lectures about savages. There is no consent for accepting the outsider. Distorted by their hatred and rejection, the people become individual expressionist portraits in Geder’s book. Their faces capture the violence and hostility they feel. Even the juvenile’s portraits are dispossessed of all sensibility or joy.

‘I am sure that he would murder us all if he could’, said the policeman.

‘Foreigner Spreads Fear in Town’, said the newspaper in big black letters.

There is no hope for the man. He is pushed out to see and his raft is set on fire. Migrants, refugees or outsiders are not welcome to the island. People even build a wall around the island to isolate themselves and in their insensibility they shoot down passing birds so no one would find their place.

The images, in charcoal, are uncomfortable as they express violence and fear, as they speak about racism and xenophobia but the questions they raise are extremely powerful and call the whole mankind for a deep discussion.

Complement your reading on migration and multiculturalism with Shaun Tan’s The Arrival.


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