Artist Tom de Freston has long had an obsession with Géricault’s painting The Raft of the Medusa, and the troubling story behind its creation. The monumental canvas, which hangs in the Louvre, depicts a 19th century tragedy in which 150 people were drowned at sea on a raft lost in a stormy sea, when the ship Medusa was wrecked on shallow ground.
When de Freston began making an artwork with Ali, a Syrian writer blinded by a bombing, The Raft’s depiction of pain and suffering resonated powerfully with him, as did Géricault’s awful life story. It spoke not only to Ali’s story but to Tom’s family history of trauma and anguish, offering him a passage out of the dark waters in which he found himself.
In spellbinding, visceral prose, de Freston opens a window onto the magnetic frisson that runs between a past masterpiece and contemporary artistic endeavours. He asks powerful questions about how we might translate violence, fear and trauma into art, how we try to make sense of seemingly unthinkable acts, and the value in facing and depicting the darkest horrors.