Refugees given chance to tell their stories in Portsmouth

By Tony Spencer, the curator of Aspex art gallery, Gunwharf. Here he talks about a project with the Red Cross.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 4th November 2016, 6:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 16th November 2016, 4:21 pm
A participant in the shipping container art project. 

Picture: Paul Gonella/Strong Island
A participant in the shipping container art project. Picture: Paul Gonella/Strong Island

Working in the arts provides an opportunity to work with organisations such as the Red Cross, and talk with their clients – people who have experienced first hand displacement from their homes.

I was asked if Aspex would like to get involved with a new project titled Well-Come, which would give refugees and asylum seekers a chance to tell their stories and use art as a therapy to combat any anxieties that they may have experienced.

I know from working at Aspex how important this can be, as we work with different groups, such as people with dementia, who enjoy making art as a social activity.

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The Well-Come project presented a 20ft shipping container positioned in Eldon Building Courtyard, University of Portsmouth Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries.

The container, chosen as a symbol of export and transference, was transformed into an object of street art by Portsmouth based artist’s M-One and Eric Downer working alongside a group of participants from the Red Cross and Refugees without Borders.

Using spray paint and pens, the artists and participants created a graphic mosaic of free hand and stencilled text over a backdrop image of land and sea.

The activity created a space for meaningful conversation and for people to express and communicate their journey.

The use of stencilled footprints emphasised one woman’s story of how she had walking all the way from Ethiopia, east Africa, searching for a safe place.

Listening to people’s stories made me feel extremely compassionate.

I couldn’t help but hope that if I were fleeing a hostile environment, there would be a safe place for me to go.

The use of a container provided a pop-up art space for a variety of associated projects, talks, exhibitions and theatre.

All the activities were part of Journeys Festival Portsmouth a 12-day event celebrating the artistic talent and stories of refugees, delivered by ArtReach and Portsmouth creative partners.