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Art imitates life when it comes to Brexit's impact on romance

Image: "Gracias por su visita" or "Thank you for your visit" is a mural by
"Gracias por su visita" or "Thank you for your visit" is a mural by Spanish street artist Ampparito. Copyright Doug Gillen
Copyright Doug Gillen
By Vivi Vitalone with NBC News World News
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More than 3 million E.U. nationals live in the U.K — and are facing uncertainty about their futures.


LONDON — Artists have succeeded in doing what British Prime Minister Theresa May has found impossible over the past two-and-a-half years: spell out the impact Brexit will have on millions of Europeans living in the United Kingdom.

Britain's departure from the bloc March 29 will mean an end to an era of free movement for European nationals, who currently are able to live and work in the U.K. with almost no questions asked, and vice versa.

Uncertainty over what the future holds has not only strained many romantic relationships and marriages — but also inspired art.

Laura Pannack's "Separation" portrait series features couples consisting of a Briton and an E.U. national.

She set out to visualize the question of the impact Brexit would have on her subjects, using semi-transparent but impenetrable latex to separate the couples and photographing them interacting through it.

One of the portraits from Laura Pannack\'s "Separation" project.
One of the portraits from Laura Pannack\'s "Separation" project.Laura Pannack

"I wanted to open up the conversation to something more human, something everyone could relate to," Pannack said. "Everybody can relate to love."

She said it was frightening that couples are making decisions about the future "based on the unknown."

Clémentine Beauvais' novel "Brexit Romance" tells the story of a group of people who create an app of the same name to match French and British citizens seeking sham marriages to allow the latter to retain E.U. citizenship.

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She said the book's inspiration came soon after the 2016 Brexit referendum as several of her British friends who were involved in relationships with Europeans considered getting married to acquire the other's citizenship. More than 3 million E.U. nationals live in the U.K., according to government figures.

Beauvais, who is originally from Paris and now teaches education at England's University of York, said she did not want "Brexit Romance" to be a one-sided story.

Clémentine Beauvais
Clémentine Beauvais

"It's so easy to portray 'leavers' as bad people and 'remainers' as good people," she said. "There are actually lots of reasons to vote 'leave.' It's a reaction to the fact that Brits have been taught to see Britain as exceptional. In France, you are taught to identify as a European from a very young age, or you see European flags everywhere, but you never see that in Britain."

Meanwhile, a two-story mural in the Walthamstow district of London voices Europe's response to Brexit — and bids a poignant farewell to the U.K.

"Gracias por su visita" — or "Thank you for your visit" — is a work by the Spanish street artist known as Ampparito.

It features those words on a simple napkin, an object found in every bar in Spain.

"Gracias por su visita" or "Thank you for your visit" is a mural by Spanish street artist Ampparito.
"Gracias por su visita" or "Thank you for your visit" is a mural by Spanish street artist Ampparito.Doug Gillen

"If you are from the U.K., you might not understand it," Ampparito said. "That's the point of every opinion, it changes based on where you live. You can look at the same thing from a different point of view and even if it's the same, you will see it completely differently."

While his piece offers a symbolic goodbye, Ampparito still believes Brexit will not be the end of the Europe as we know it.

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"I don't think things are going to change a lot," he said. "We have more things in common than the ones who separate us."


Pannack agrees.

"With every catastrophe comes creativity, and, through challenges, come creative ways of overcoming that," she said.

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