When resources are limited and the need is great – what is the real value of art?
8000 Paperclips is a moving testament to the power of creativity to overcome and transform trauma—in this case, the trauma of being a refugee. Filmmaker, Nitsan Tal tells the inspiring story of Israeli artist, Raffael Lomas, who creates spaces of connection through art to repair the ruptures created by forced emigration and displacement. One leaves this film with the conviction that art is not merely about aesthetics; art possesses the potential for social change.
Danielle Knafo- Professor of psychology at LIU, Author of “Dancing with the Unconscious- the psychology of creativity.”
When Raffael Lomas, Israeli artist and TED Fellow, travels to Uganda to make art with South Sudanese children raised in Israel and deported back to Africa, he forges unexpected connections and wrestles with the question – what is the real value of art?
In a complex and layered story, 8000 Paper Clips explores the value of art, Raffael’s own history with depression and struggle, and what humans need – no matter their national status. It follows a group of extraordinary young people as they overcome adversity and build hope for their future – with the support of a team of people whose hearts they have touched.
When resources are limited and the need is great – what is the real value of art? No matter how much Raffael tortures himself with that question, ultimately it is the children who are best able to answer it.
In November of 2015, I got a text from a friend. Someone is looking for a camera person to document a project in Uganda. Would I be interested?
Two days later I spoke to Raffael, an Israeli artist, on the phone. He told me about his project with a group of deported South Sudanese refugees and sent me a link to a TV program about them. Five minutes into watching the program, I got up to look for a box of tissues.
By the time I learned that there was very little budget for the project and that I wouldn’t be paid, I was already hooked on the story and set on going.
Not to say that I didn’t have doubts.
Raffael, on the phone, seemed a fascinating person but also a bit crazy. In a way, he reminded me of my bipolar father when he was starting to “go up,” as we called it. He had so many grand plans for that week, and so many unknowns regarding practical details such as transportation and accommodations. Would I be traveling all the way to Africa on my own, for a half-baked project that was destined to fail? I did my best to confirm the validity of the trip and at the same time, made sure I could change my flight and leave early if things fell apart.
It was a tough week - between the long work hours in the intense heat and humidity, unreliable electricity (I would wake up in the morning and realize the camera batteries hadn’t charged overnight), and Raffael’s personality (we got into a shouting match on the second day over the safety of riding bikes in a torrential rain) - but I fell in love with the refugee children. Their strength, their generosity and their honesty.
To my embarrassment, at the end of one of the interviews, I burst out crying and found myself being comforted by a 16 years old girl. I tried to act professional, but as a mother, listening to her story and trying to imagine my own children going through anything remotely similar was just too much.
And my relationship to Raffael and his unusual ideas, changed. Through long conversations, I discovered a fascinating artist with a remarkable personal history and profound thought process.
I returned home and kept in touch with Raffael. He updated me on his efforts to bring the work to the art world, while sharing his struggles and doubts about the whole program. As an artist myself, the question of allocating resources to creative projects when there is need for food and medicine, resonated strongly.
I also kept in touch with the refugee children and the directors of the Come True organization and learned about their daily struggles and impossible dilemmas, helping a select few in a community with so much need.
When the sculpture was selected to be shown at the New Americans Museum in San Diego, I edited a short film to accompany it. That was also when I realized that this story deserved a much deeper probing and set out to work on “8000 Paperclips.”
I sought to address a number of questions in the film:
What is the role of art in healing from trauma?
Is it justified to spend money on enrichment projects when resources are limited?
What are the best ways to empower refugees, to help them regain self-confidence and respect?
What is there in the human connection that is so elusive and yet extremely powerful?
I do not claim to know the answers to these questions, but I’d like the viewers to explore them with me, and to connect.
We are all fragile paperclips, each in his own little pile. But if we could all connect, across borders and other manmade divides, with other human beings, how much stronger could we all become?