The Refugee Body as Site of Inscription: Health, Design, and Policy

Galata Greek Primary School

Organizers: Helene Nguyen, Pooja Gala, Elis Mendoza Mejia

November 5th, 11.00-13.00

Dr. Nathan Bertelsen, Assistant Professor of Global Health and Medical Education at NYU and Koç University
Dr. Apostolos Veizis, Director of Medical Operational Support Unit in Athens for Médecins Sans Frontières
Mark Wigley, PhD, Professor and Dean Emeritus of GSAPP at Columbia University

Photos of war and travel-ravaged refugees – most recently of a young boy waiting for medical care after an aerial bombing – have been one of the most compelling and effective methods of concretizing the plight of millions of refugees scattered throughout the Middle East and Europe. In these photographs, the bodies of refugees become the last irreducible evidence of their own human-ness and the site upon which thousands of unseen tragedies are read and told. During these times it is medical professionals who painstakingly piece these bodies and stories back together and designers who structure the tools and policy that attempt to return them to a stasis of normalcy.

Design is present at every stage of the process from policy choices of research and shelter distribution to medical guidelines enacted and enforced. This discussion will explore the necessary choices and decisions of those operating under difficult makeshift situations and draw upon the diverse experiences of the panelists to open up questions about its broader conceptual structure.

What can we understand about health and the human body in situations where the exigencies of limited resources, time and infrastructure require the design of an acceptable standard of refugee body? What does it mean to be a “normal” body under a state of emergency? And what fundamental ideas of the “human” are at work?

This discussion is constructed to invite productive reflection and dialogue from those operating at different nodes of expertise and, through these variegated experiences, explore what it means to be human.