Aviva Dautch


Commissioned by the British Museum for
Refugee Week 2021 in response to the
exhibition, Reflections: Contemporary Art of
the Middle East and North Africa.

We see our reflections
in a woman’s sunglasses –
she mirrors us back to ourselves

while hiding her eyes,
becomes a looking glass, a queen,
a reaching god with many arms.

We see our reflections
as ever diminishing figures hanging from a tree,
strange fruit, as Billie would sing,

its branches, brushstrokes,
its trunk holding steady, unbowed
by the weight of death.

We see our reflections painted on rice paper
and carved into stone; we see our reflections
in abstract shapes, as script or geometry –

we calculate how to adapt to different worlds
with new curves, new patterns of clothing and speech,
gaining one, and always, inevitably, losing another.

We see our reflections straddling cities.
We see our reflections in the in-between:

the mountains and forests and lakes,
in the rivers we cross,
their flow demarcating territory

with the same casual ease as the wooden screens
we unfold in our houses to filter the light,
for some illusion of privacy.

We see our reflections in triumphal arches,
from London to Paris to Tabriz –
where the space between pillars

transforms into a stage,
its thrust washed in pink,
dancers emerging from the wings,

silhouetted in front of the mouths of cannons.
Look again. Is this Tiananmen Square?
No – the Arab Spring –

We see our reflections in newspapers,
collaged from print and ink:
the same eyes, snarling in one, plead in another

and we see our reflections in two contradictory half-faces –