John Moores Painting Prize 2020: Stranger In The Jungle


For the latest in a series commissioned exclusively for us by the John Moores Painting Prize, poet Amina Atiq sees the Calais Jungle, and her visit there as a translator, and a stranger, through Massimiliano Gottardi’s acrylic on canvas…

Massimiliono Gottardi’s painting, Jung / Jungle (spatial crease), reminded me of the feelings that I first had reading xenophobic newspaper headlines of ‘migrants crossing the French waters’, and ‘taking over Europe’. I had questions about what was real and what was fiction. So, in 2015, I visited ‘The Jungle’ in Calais, France as a volunteer. I translated in the camp as a native Arabic speaker, and documented my visit through photography. Through my lens, I saw life, and communities creating a new meaning of ‘home’, though it may have been a temporary one. However, there are parts of me that did not feel right. This poem questions what happens when we interrupt space, and it what feels like to trespass into people’s homes. It captures the moments that are difficult to confront.


Stranger in the Jungle

Amina Atiq


I’m a stranger at Camp de la Lande, trespassing

through Dover to Calais, chewing on my ruby passport

into The Jungle. Once a nature reserve, now a refuge

for flying birds, trapped between barded-wired fences

and French police vans, prowling

with rubber bullet weapons, clamped between their fingers.


I offer the guard a half-smile, he stands tall over me,

Are you an immigrant?


I’m a stranger in my native Arab tongue

wearing white trainers in the mud and a DSL camera

strapped around my neck.  I am one-sided

under someone else’s laundry line. I am the stranger of The Jungle

in the hands of smugglers and a global apartheid.


The eyes harden, peeking between the plastic sheets

who are these visitors today? Tuk tuk vans and food packs,

journalists and young boys caught in tomorrow’s headlines.

Volunteers with marked logos playing the protagonist,

we exchange a friendly nod, finding our lifeful purpose

in a family’s back garden that does not belong to us.


On top of the hill, I have Dream engraved in the soil

searching for a home without the Jungle. The world closed

its mouth like an anchor, turning its cheek the other way. The children, giggle

running across the grubby turfs, mud-spatters off the

soles of their feet. The camp lights a fire and young men

dance until daylight with their home flags

fluttering in the wind, like a parade of human figures

reunion sworn to meet on the next journey.


Amina Atiq is a Yemeni-scouse published poet, award-winning community activist and performance artist. A BBC Words First 2019 Finalist and Young Associate for Curious Minds. Poet in Residence for Queensland Poetry Festival 2020-21.

Massimiliano Gottardi was born in Trento, Italy, 1989. He attended Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia Venice 2013-16 and 2008-13, and will study at Royal Academy Schools London from 2021.

This new text has been commissioned by the John Moores Painting Prize and is part of a creative-critical series published exclusively by The Double Negative during April and May. Writers were given free rein and approximately 500 words to respond to any painting or paintings from the 2020 exhibition, and in any style, tone or format that they wished to use.

The John Moores Painting Prize provides a platform for artists to inspire, disrupt and challenge the British painting art scene. Established in 1957, it is the UK’s longest running painting competition. For over 60 years the John Moores has brought to Liverpool the best contemporary painting from across the UK and has over that time, developed a legacy of supporting artists at all stages in their careers – undiscovered, emerging and established. All entries are judged anonymously. The John Moores 2020 jurors were: Hurvin Anderson, Alison Goldfrapp, Jennifer Higgie, Gu Wenda and Michelle Williams Gamaker.  

See the exhibition yourself via their virtual tour!

Image: Massimiliano Gottardi, Jung / Jungle (spatial crease), 2020

Posted on 17/05/2021 by thedoublenegative