Refugee Week 2015: 15-21 June
Published on: 15 June 2015 Author: 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.
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.
Refugee Week 2015: 15-21 June
Jane Ray's paper patchwork
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The first step in wanting to engage with someone else's story is to be willing to open your door to them.
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The second, and harder step is to find the right key to unlock the stories.
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An excerpt from a communal poem created through the simple stimulus of passing a key around a circle.
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The Patchwork storytelling quilt serving as a stimulus for students to create their own story patchwork with Jane Ray (Resident Artist)
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The golden key to an imagined front room.
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The door to a cupboard containing a 'small history' - a diary.
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The universal need to express ourselves creatively and freely crosses all borders
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On this patchwork piece - the human right for children to have clean water.
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A dream of a garden 'only of beauty' a piece of land on which to grow something
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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
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
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.
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.
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