In every decade of the tumultuous twentieth century, the plight of the refugee touched every continent. War, persecution, and disasters both natural and man-made drove great numbers of people from their homelands. Every decade seemed to add a new nomenclature to the status of refugee: emigré, expatriate, displaced person, boat person. Ralph Freeman has been drawn to explore the narrative of this seemingly endless transmigration of peoples. His initial inspiration was his parents’ personal archives; their documents of transit, and their treasured paper fragments of a lost existence. As his immersion in this material developed, his work became more structural. The envelope, the packaging of an identity became the focus of his interest. This abstraction from the original documents has produced a series of powerfully evocative reliefs, recalling lost lives, and a whole civilisation.
Placing this work in the context of the Freud Museum produces an extraordinary wealth of associations. Freud’s work was forever preoccupied within identity and narrative, and his own series of nationalities reflect the fragmentation and coalescences of European nation states. Born in Moravia under the Austro-Hungarian Empire, at the end of his life driven into exile by Nazi persecution, he then strenuously tried to become British.
The rich context of the Freud Museum and the strength of Ralph Freeman’s work produce a powerful resonance. Here we can dwell on the destructive forces that drove so many to pack their past, present and future into an envelope and flee for their lives.