How To Look At Death

Dennis, Steve. "How His Story Should Have Ended." 3 September 2015. Tweet.
Dennis, Steve. “How His Story Should Have Ended.” 3 September 2015. Tweet.

© Copyright 2017 Alexis Kuskevics, Ryerson University.

A little boy lies on the comfortable sheets of his bed, tucked away from the misfortunes of the world.

He appears tired, his tiny shoulders curved with fatigue as he slumps into the mattress. Perhaps he learned something new at school that day and struggled to understand the challenging concept, or played a long game of soccer with his friends. He is a growing boy, and during the night – if curiosity overwhelms him or he’s craving fascination – he is able to stare up at the ceiling to view the moon and stars above him. They offer him light and protection from the bad things that happen around him, the things he is not aware of yet.

Although this portrait is meant to depict a young boy sleeping in his room, I’m sure you are wondering about the specifics of the scene. Maybe you’re wondering why his shoes are still on – doesn’t his mother tell him to remove them once he enters his house? Isn’t he a little chilly without a large comforter covering him? Regardless of the details, you believe this boy appears content, or for the most part – alive; but this the boy is neither of those things. What you are looking at is not the sleeping body of a young child, but instead the lifeless one of a boy who drowned trying to escape the war-torn shores of Syria.

His name was Aylan Kurdi; a 3-year-old whose death went viral after a picture was released capturing his exposed corpse in Turkey. Tragically, and a little ironically, this boy represents the type of people President Trump is currently banning from entering the United States – the type of people he labels as ‘terrorists.’ He wears a red shirt, blue shorts that cuff the chunky skin of his calves. They are the colours of youth, simple visuals that were once worn to cover the naked skin of his body and now covering the wasting skin of his corpse.

Steve Dennis, the artist behind the drawing, painted the above portrait in 2015. It is a picture of how the boy should be, and where the boy should be laying – a picture that illustrates our divided belief of a world where all children are given the sanctuary of their bed. It illustrates the simplicity of being a child in the safe protection of Western countries, though you replace it with a boy from Syria, a boy with brown-shaded skin and black hair, and that boy is no longer protected.

This picture not only challenges how and why you look at images, but the power in the way you are viewing them. If I were to not inform you of the reason behind the picture, most of you wouldn’t have noticed it was depiction of the ongoing war in Syria. Most of you would have accepted it as for what it appeared as, not for what it was covering up. We are privileged in our lifestyle, and a picture of a boy in his bed is common, so we believe it is real. Though if you look closer and notice the uncomfortable position of his body and the inaccuracy of his limbs, then you will be able to look past the illustration and into a more realistic dynamic.

Works Cited

Elkins, James. How to Use Your Eyes. Routledge, 2000

Neje, Julija. “Artists Around The World Respond To Tragic Death Of 3-Year-Old Syrian Refugee.” Bored Panda. 2015. Print.

Images in this online exhibit are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.