Refugee Week 2015: 15-21 June

Refugee Week 2015: 15-21 June
Posted 15 June 2015 by Sita Brahmachari

Refugee Week is a UK-wide programme of arts, cultural and educational events and activities that celebrates the contribution of refugees to the UK and promotes better understanding of why people seek sanctuary.

 

This week Sita talks about the Patchwork Quilt project at Islingon Centre for Refugees and Migrants in London. Here, Sita and illustrator Jane Ray work collaboratively with refugees and migrants on an art project. But the project is in danger of its vital space and resources being cut. There is a fundraising event (featuring well known musicians, comedians, and Dj's) for the centre in London on 16 July. For more information and tickets visit: https://www.tickettailor.com/all-tickets/8728/7956/

 


 

The 'Patchwork Quilt' project at Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants, London

A unique and collective art work by refugees and migrants at Islington Refugee Centre

From a project by Jane Ray and Sita Brahmachari

'My belief is that embracing our diaspora identity as human citizens is the thread that can feed our imaginations and help us to see how the patchwork pieces of our lives can be sewn together to make narratives of beauty.'

- Sita Brahmachari

'Having run art workshops at the Centre for a while, it has been refreshing and inspiring to work with Sita on this project, and to introduce words to the pictures. It was something I had long cherished as a way of working with this group of students - the idea of using the language that emerges naturally when making art.

It might start as literal - colour, shape, technique, names of materials - but quickly becomes more metaphorical and creative.

As an example, a session that I did with the students in January this year, where I brought in dead winter branches to draw and paint, quickly became deeply symbolic, about the woods, the way through the forest, being lost, finding a path…clearly very significant subject matter for a group of refugees.

At its heart, the Patchwork project has been an extension of the interplay of text and pictures familiar to me as a children's book illustrator, but played out in an educational, community setting.

Using Sita's wonderful 'quilt' as our starting point we have created paper "pockets", decorated with painting, drawing and collage, that tell something of our stories, past present and future. The pocket contains other imagery - doors, keys, paper birds and sometimes significant objects like feathers, leaves or photographs to create a unique and special collective artwork.'

Jane Ray, June 2015

I want to share with you some pieces of this patchwork story that Jane Ray and I have worked on together this term. When sewn together it's a story about common humanity. When we speak in these 'universal' terms it's easy to mean 'everything' and 'nothing' at the same time. But when you work with people whose basic human rights have been taken from them it becomes impossible not to reflect on how fragile all our lives are. To enter into another person's story is perhaps the most moving and enlightening journey of life and reading pictures as well as words makes it possible to do that over and over.

 

 

One of the questions that students often ask me when I talk in schools is: 'How do the things that are taking place in the world affect you? And how do these stories find their way into your books?

 

Sitting around the storytelling quilt made

Sitting around the storytelling quilt made by Grace Emily Manning - It becomes a storytelling hearth around which students question where stories come from.

 

We see on the news daily images of desperate people taking perilous journeys resembling ancient tales of shipwreck and seafaring that seem to have little do with the modern world. I often wonder how children make sense of these stories and I try in my own writing to bring empathy and compassion to characters who are caught up in the conflicts and economic inequalities of this world.

 

I have never met a child who, when faced with injustice, does not feel a burning sense of outrage and wish to understand how to change the world. I think this is why I love writing for children and young people. These are the thoughts that play around my mind and draw me to 'hands on' creative work with groups of adults as well as young people. It's why I don't really understand why there is such a huge demarcation between children's and adult literature. I was once a child, I am a parent and a teacher and a writer. Children's narratives are central to all our lives.

 

Our world is a deeply and inextricably connected one. I understood the term 'diaspora' before I could decipher its lexical meaning. I felt it as a very young child - a sense of having been born in one place but having wide, deep, historical and family bonds and heritage in another. I also understood that there are joyous invisible threads that linked our families backwards and forwards across time, culture, language and belief …and those threads had endless potential to grow and change and be sewn into new stories of belonging and becoming.

 

My belief is that embracing our diaspora identity as human citizens is the thread that can feed our imaginations and help us to see how the patchwork pieces of our lives can be sewn together to make something of beauty. This project is a human project that crosses borders and fixed boundaries of landscape and imagination.

 

For me, creative writing and arts based projects with people from many different experiences serve as a deep and humbling reminder of why we tell stories in the first place; the creative instinct to make meaning of life through stories is a profound one and it's a life-changing narrative that we humans from childhood to old age have need of… but of course this right has not been open to many women, men and children who find themselves making often perilous journeys to seek a safe home in a new country.

 

drawing of door in house

(Right: Drawing the door to a home surrounded by peace and beautiful things… and family)

 

We are now almost at the end of this term's collaborative project with Jane Ray (Resident Artist at the centre) in which we have been exploring with refugee and migrant people from many different countries, themes that are common in Jane and my work: what it means to be free, the imagery of flight, equality and inequality of opportunity and the shared belief in the need for humans to express ourselves creatively.

 

These ideas are sewn together in our patchwork project, where along with vital food, clothing, language classes and medical help supplied by the Centre, people can also begin to construct narratives of hope through writing, storytelling, drawing and painting. These stories do not belong to 'other' people they belong to people who live in our community.

 

What we can sow by embracing our diaspora identity…

Stages in the project

I took my storytelling quilt into the centre and we explored the pockets of: memory, history, imagination, layers of material past and present… and dreams for the future. The multi-sensory quilt containing elements from my own stories some written and some yet to be written, seemed to speak for itself and immediately participants began constructing their own patchwork pieces.

 

 

Each week new pieces are added to the paper patchwork which contains an envelope for keepsakes of: writing and imagery about hopes, dreams and fears, exploring the metaphor of doors that close and doors that open, suitcases, lost keys and new keys.

 

Last week we explored a giant egg of hope… writing on and decorating birds and kites, and placing secret dreams and wishes in their wings. A communal poem emerged entitled: 'Our Life's Dreams Beat from Our Hearts Drum.' This work is a reminder of the human needs and rights we share for:

 

A safe home, a garden, a family, the right to love, to speak of what we believe in, to clean water, to live in peace, a dream of the future - there are certain universals that repeat in stories, and these are sewn into the fabric of our shared landscape.

 

Here is an excerpt from the poem:

 

If a child's hand and mind

Mould a bird in a nest

Out of cold clay

A bird keeping her eggs warm

Don't throw it away

In time

Something magic will crack open

Fly out from the shell

Something to make you laugh.

To make you cry with happiness

To make you dance

To make you sing

Our life's dreams beat from our heart's drum

 

Collection of collages from the project

 

The work of the group over the last term is to be documented and we are discussing with Amnesty International how best to share it. The story of the project will have a foreword from actress and Human Rights activist Juliet Stevenson and contain imagery and writing from participants,

Jane Ray and a story written by me inspired by the group.

 

A bird made of paper, on a string

But finding a space to share this work becomes all the more poignant as the vital space and resource for the people we have worked with is under threat of being cut.

 

I find myself wondering how it is possible that such a humane project is not supported by public funds.

 

(Left: Jane Ray's model of a bird - with wishes, hopes and dreams written into the wings)

 

I know the wish I'm placing on the concertina wings of my bird… and I wouldn't be a writer if I didn't believe in my heart that stories whether told in words or pictures can help you to fly.

  Logo Islington Refugee Centre

Fundraiser

There is a fundraising event (featuring well known musicians, comedians, and Dj's) for the centre in London on 16th July:

 

https://www.tickettailor.com/all-tickets/8728/7956/

 

Other reading on human rights:

 

 

Refugee Week 2015: 15-21 June

Refugee Week is a UK-wide programme of arts, cultural and educational events and activities that celebrates the contribution of refugees to the UK and promotes better understanding of why people seek sanctuary.

 

This year, the theme of Refugee Week is 'celebrate', and people will be invited to discover and share stories of positive contributions from refugees to the UK throughout history to the present day.

 

Counterpoint Arts (who coordinate Refugee Week), with funding from UNHCR, have created Traces Project, a digital timeline highlighting arts and cultural contributions by people who have sought safety in the UK, from 1933 to the present day.

 

Follow @AmnestyUK or @RefugeeWeek on Twitter, or AmnestyUK or Refugee Week on Facebook, to retweet and share, using the hashtag #RefugeesContribute.

 

Visit the Refugee Week website to find out more.

 


 

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