Work on the Triumphs and Laments woodcuts culminated in the Refugees diptych, the most ambitious print in terms of scale, containing nine kinds of timber in its woodblocks – more than any previous work in the series. The image is represented in the Tiber River frieze as a Procession of Migrants in a scene adapted from the left relief of the Plutei of Trajan that depicts the burning of tax records – cumbersome wooden tablets being heaved on the shoulders of a queue of people – during a time of fiscal pardon by the emperor. A contemporary influence was also apparent in the form of a series of 2012 newspaper photographs of migrants from Rwanda, with the emphasis in the image on the large loads being carried. Kentridge’s synthesis of contemporary and classical references frustrates a direct reading of the image, with the figures standing in for migrants from any number of countries, carrying any kind of weighty load, longing for release from all manner of plights.
Text – Jacqueline Flint, 2020