Featured at the Cash is King II show at Saatchi Gallery’s Print & Originals in London, artist Aida Wilde created a powerful series of works on banknotes. The generated proceeds go to support Help Refugees, a UK-based NGO providing advocacy and humanitarian aid to refugees around the world.
The banknotes, chosen by curators Olly Walker and Susan Hanson, are from Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea and Syria. These represent the countries that have, in recent years, witnessed the highest numbers of displacements within their nation. Defacing these banknotes required a painstaking process of pulping to obtain ‘money paste’, and different techniques were used for various notes; “the idea was to print onto money using money”, states Wilde. She subsequently worked to incorporate immediate association to human rights issues by using not only the banknote but its connotations. “I was provided with a starting point with the CHOOSE LOVE design [...] which I used on some of the bank notes (these were screen printed first and heat transferred with gold foil) to highlight the campaign. So, I worked with this in mind, incorporating by what means people fled their countries i.e. on boats or on foot...”.
This "Choose Love” slogan was donated by Katharine Hamnett and launched as a campaign by Help Refugees in 2015. The juxtaposition of such a statement on the Iraqi Dinars branded with Saddam Hussein’s image was not unbeknownst to Wilde, who found it difficult to add a message of love, hope, and humanity.
“The Iraqi notes were interesting to work with as these had a very personal meaning to me. Fleeing Iran, my family and I sought asylum in the UK in the mid 80s. Primarily due to the Iran/Iraq war that was happening at the time - I didn’t think working with these notes would affect me so much, but I experienced some deep hidden trauma, which materialised during this project.”
Yet such a stark contrast is not limited to the Iraqi Dinars, and is part of the striking body of work as a whole. The discordance of money is known to all of us, simultaneously representing freedom and independence, and business and capital. With money having become ‘special’, its everyday use contributes to this claim of wealth and value. Art allows us to dismantle such objects into new and different registers, and Wilde’s challenge of this claim brings another cultural value. Humanity is not to be commodified, nor many aspects of our existence.
“Most of [the notes] were very beautiful in their design but I couldn’t help but feel so much sadness because of what they represented — a gateway to escape and buy freedom. The notes were all out of circulation and now deemed worthless, which brought another dimension to the whole concept of what was to be created."
Wilde seeks to highlight the “fragility and the now redundancy” of the notes, a commodity that was once abusive, now becoming abused.
Raising value and awareness
With this statement, she abandons any claim to art’s economical value yet generates a monetary power towards a significant struggle. In simpler terms, she shows us that money is utterly useless but more useful than ever. Help Refugees fund 35 projects in Greece, including bringing in doctors, running life-saving rescue boats, creating safe spaces for women and bringing the more vulnerable people out of camps and into proper homes. As mentioned above, the "Choose Love” campaign, created by British designer Katharine Hamnett and donated to the use of Help Refugees UK, includes stores in London and New York City, the former in which Banksy donated an art work available to be won. Help Refugees’ model is simple: they find the most effective local organisations and provide them with funding, material aid or volunteers. As of today, they are actively working in Bosnia, Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Serbia, the UK, Lebanon and Turkey.
“The first thing that strikes me [or] you is the humanitarian aspect of it all. The selflessness, kindness, compassion, the time and most of all the love, especially in dark times like this, where most are plagued with self-absorbance. The mere fact that so many volunteers are leaving their own lives and troubles behind to help others that are left alone and so helpless… There is obviously [another] vital aspect of the work they do like advocating for changes in policies, fund raising, legal assistance, food, shelter, education and providing support for women and families within the infrastructure of the organisation. They have helped almost 1 million people to date… let’s just pause and think about that."
Although most of Wilde’s works for the Cash is King II were sold, the remaining "Check Original" money sheet prints are available for purchase through curators Susan Hansen and Olly Walker, with 50% of the proceeds going to Help Refugees.
More information on this project as well as Wilde's work as a whole can be found on her website.