Designers, or more in general visual artists, can do great work for better understanding complex issues like the recent refugee crisis, as Dutch artist Jan Rothuizen will demonstrate at WDCD Live São Paulo next week. In a new project in Colombia, he will even go a step further and provide opportunities for people to interact with his work and connect to each other.

Dutch artist Jan Rothuizen is known for his soft atlases, drawn maps of cities, buildings or other places to which he adds his written observations. The maps thus are telling the stories of the people who live in the mapped area.

Curious to learn more about the actual life in a typical refugee camp, Rothuizen decided to travel to Iraq to apply his method to Domiz camp, located 60 km from the border with Syria and housing 58.000 Syrian refugees. He travelled together with multimedia journalist Martijn van Tol and photographer Dirk-Jan Visser to document daily life in the camp.

The result is the awarded interactive multimedia documentary Refugee Republic. The project helps to raise a much more accurate image of life and the vivid activity within a refugee camp.

Soft atlas of Colombia

The project brought Rothuizen earlier this year to the Feria del Libro in Colombia, where the Netherlands was ‘Pais de Honor’. Here Rothuizen got in touch with a local publishing house that asked him to make a soft atlas of Colombia. ‘I was immediately interested in the project’, Rothuizen says. ‘Colombia has a huge refugee issue too, which is much older than the crisis in Europe. Internal conflicts, violence and expropriation of land have caused over six million people to flee their homes and settle mainly in the country’s cities.’

For the book Rothuizen will be traveling the country during the coming year. A new feature of this project is that the accompanying website will offer even more opportunities for interactivity. Rothuizen: ‘It will be made very easy to share the drawings through social media and it will be possible for people to leave their own remarks. The online platform will be much more open, thus encouraging contact between Colombians.’

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