Good design(er)

When we follow media reports on hundreds of thousands of refugees, we often forget that behind round figures stand dramatic stories of individuals who find themselves in the most difficult time in their lives. Some of those people after the perilous journey to Europe do not receive asylum and should go back home. They can not do that, because, for example, this place does not longer exist. Designer Manon van Hoeckel found a way to help newcomers who stall in such a difficult situation.

In Limbo Embassy is a traveling embassy designed by Manon van Hoeckel (born in 1990 in Diessen, The Netherlands) as a graduation project in Design Academy Eindhoven. This project was designed for refugees asylum seekers and undocumented migrants who live in The Netherlands ‘in limbo’.

Many refugees living in The Netherlands are not allowed to stay, yet they cannot go home. They are literally ‘in limbo’. They feel represented neither by their official embassies nor by media.

In contrast to a real embassy, the mobile one represents a group of people, not a piece of land or a country. Those people cannot stay in the Netherlands, but are also unable to return home, because of, among many reasons, invalid travel documents or an unsafe situation in the country of their origin.

In Limbo Embassy interior
In Limbo Embassy gives asylum seekers an opportunity to tell their stories face-to-face to people living in The Netherlands.

In an atmosphere where refugees are too often dehumanised into numbers by media, direct contact between society and asylum seekers is lacking. Local people don’t go into buildings where migrants temporarily live. Despite the fact that everyone is welcome at squats where refugees stay in at the moment, this step is too big for many European. The solution is a mobile embassy traveling throughout the Netherlands and offering a neutral meeting space for refugees and people from local communities.

In a wooden trailer that Manon van Hoeckel purchased and rebuilt herself, refugees in the role of ambassadors invite residents, passers-by and government officials. The embassy provides space for dialogue, debate and cultural exchange. At the heart of society, away from national politics, and beyond headlines that we find in media, it sheds a different, more humane light on problems of migrants living in limbo.

People ask ambassadors: ‘How can I help? Can I give clothes or food?’, but most refugees want to take part in society and contribute it without relying on others. Instead of: ‘How can you help refugees?’, ambassadors ask visitors: ‘How could refugees help you?’.

In Limbo Embassy project was recently supported through a crowdfunding campaign provided on Dutch platform Voordekunst. Besides financial support, after the successful campaign over 150 people became ambassadors to spread their stories, and the team is still expanding. The sum of 11.000 euros collected in the crowdfunding campaign is being spent to refurbish the embassy, start a promotional campaign, pay for the transport and cover the expenses of the ambassadors.

In Limbo Embassy Printed Matters credits Alexander Popelier
Portraits of the ambassadors were shot by Belgium-based photographer Alexander Popelier. Blankets wrapped around ambassadors shoulders give the subjects a royal status, where that image usually suggests poverty. Pictures were taken in one of the squats where the members of WE ARE HERE (a group of rejected asylum seekers in Amsterdam) stay in.

Technically, refugees living in limbo are not allowed to work. Manon van Hoeckel explored legal loopholes to give asylum seekers opportunities to contribute to society. The right of freedom of press enables them to earn money, as they are allowed to sell printed matters in public space. A vague boundary between art and what can be defined as labor provides an opening for the asylum seekers to work under the freedom of expression.

Portraits of the ambassadors are sold in public space by refugees under the freedom of press.

Printed Matters, which is a part of In Limbo Embassy, shows a series of silkscreened official portraits that allows the applicant to contribute to society. All the money that come from the sale stays in hands of refugees.

In Limbo Embassy art money credits Trend Nomad
In addition to portraits, in the sale that supports refugees and is conducted under freedom of the press, is also a fictional currency. This project was shown in October in Klokgebouw, which is the center of the annual Dutch Design Week. Photography by Trend Nomad.

If you want to know more details about In Limbo Embassy, you can watch the interview with Manon van Hoeckel embedded below. I recorded the video in the middle of October 2015 in Design Academy Eindhoven at the Graduation Show, which is one of the most important and interesting parts of the annual Dutch Design Week.

Until know, In Limbo Embassy has visited several places in The Netherlands. Besides going to festivals and events, In Limbo Embassy also visits neighbourhoods. Manon van Hoeckel  ( hopes that after a year another organisation will take over the project, perhaps opening embassies up in other countries, and she will be able to focus on her other projects. Aside from In Limbo Embassy, she does projects on commission for organisations and companies, all with the same objectives: creating awareness, cultivate debate and drive out prejudice.

Do you like the article? Then buy me a coffee! You can donate a small sum of money using your PayPal account or credit card. All donations will finance my journeys to fairs, festivals and conferences devoted to design and new technology – this is where I find news for my blog. Just click the button below to perform a secure transaction. Thank you for your support, it will help me to take a step forward and write new posts.

More articles