In 1972 the wife of a Hungarian refugee painted this picture. In 2017 it's more relevant than ever. / by Calum Roscow

When artist Gilly Szego painted a piece for the 1972 Refugee Action programme, to highlight the plight of people fleeing persecution and conflict, she couldn't know that 45 years later it would still look as if it was painted last week.

In that year Ted Heath would announce that Britain would take in 27,000 people expelled from Uganda because of their ethnicity. Through the lens of 2017 it feels almost unthinkable that a British government would be organising one of the largest resettlements of people to Britain in Western European peacetime.

Szego herself had first hand experience of taking in people from war torn places; her husband being a refugee who fled Soviet rule in Hungary during the 1956 revolution.

Moved by the plight of the asian Ugandans, she decided to dedicate some of her work that year to raising awareness among the British public.

The concept was simple; a mother and child scene in a refugee camp, but set in such a way that people would mistake it for the Madonna and Child. That way ordinary British people might be able to realise just how desperate the situation in various parts of the world. After all, if Jesus Christ had been born in 1972, it would have most likely been in a refugee camp.

What began as an idea for a Christmas card, soon developed into a full, life-size piece; a canvas surrounded by barbed wire.

 Mother and Child (1972) Gilly Szego

Mother and Child (1972)
Gilly Szego

It was shown in St-Martins-in-the-field as part of a campaign to get Britain to take in refugees. And by the end of 1972 Britain had taken in 27,000 people in need.

Of course, there have been many global crises since then, but looking at how Britain has handled the huge numbers of Syrians washing up on the world's richest continent, there is a stark contrast. Since 2015 Britain has taken in barely any Syrian refugees, with some claiming the numbers are lower than 200 people. So perhaps it's fitting that this piece will be shown again in an exhibition this December.

Mother and Child will be shown as part of Gilly Szego: A Retrospective at Protein Studios from 7 to 12 December 2017.