Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Guest post: Art Refuge UK about recent work in Calais

Post by: Miriam Nabarro, Artist in Residence in the Department of Development Studies, SOAS. mn16@soas.ac.uk, www.miriamnabarro.co.uk

A Man of Good Hope throws light and humanity onto a tale of migration at the Young Vic, as art therapists with Art Refuge UK/ MSF continue their support work in the closing camps of Calais… reflections on art and development 


This week I’ve been struck again by the unique power of art and theatre to articulate the complexity of experience, multiplicity of voice and resilience and resourcefulness surrounding narratives of people on the move. In a week where I have felt simultaneously overwhelmed and depressed: overwhelmed by numbers and statistics: ITV news reported that last Monday, 3 October, that over 6000 migrants from 40 boats were rescued, one of the highest in a single day, with the Italian coast guard rescuing 725 people from one single boat, and the IOM estimating 132,000 people have made the journey to Italy across the Mediterranean this year with over 3000 deaths: and depressed by the hardening and polarising of language around movement and migration, from the Tory conference shift from ‘ soft’ to ‘ hard’  Brexit, by the jostling for position in the approaching French presidential election and the imminent threat of closure of the camps in Calais with very little plan b, by the ripples of the non-referendum in Hungary across Europe.

So what a treat it was to go to A Man Of Good Hope at the Young Vic, telling the true story of Asad Abdullahi and his journey from Mogadishu to Cape Town, based on the 2014 book by Jonny Steinberg and reinterpreted, under the guidance of David Lan, by the incredible Isango Ensemble from South Africa. This twenty-four piece ensemble are master storytellers, musicians and performers. With only a succession of door frames, a handful of props, seven huge marimbas, a cluster of djembes and a huge dose of skill and inspiration, Asad’s story, told in remembered fragments, is brought to life in a riot of song and dance. Fleeing Mogadishu, after witnessing his mothers murder by militia, the eight year old Asad sets out on a journey through the horn of Africa: a familiar tale of forced migration through violence made remarkable by the strength, resilience, hope, ambition and adaptability of Asad against the odds. What makes this production remarkable is Isango’s ability to tell the story of movement through musical and dance styles moving through the cultural and political specificity of  Ethiopia, Tanzania, Zambia to South Africa, leaving the audience in tears and a standing ovation. Book your tickets before the reviewers get to it on Thursday night and make the tickets gold dust!

from the Calais project

In August I was invited to join art therapists working in Calais under the auspices of Art Refuge UK, invited by MSF and MduM. The Art Refuge team have been working in Calais for 2 days each week for 13 months in various settings to offer some therapeutic support to those people living there. As the camp faces closure, the team reflect on the sombre mood that has emerged. Here is the most recent blog.



On Thursday, though the sun was out it was biting cold. There was a desolate feeling in the camp this week as we worked in the chilled and draughty containers of the CAMIE.

Whether one found oneself in the cold of the shadow or the tempered warmth of the sun seemed to mirror the sense of fatefulness in the camp. It feels up to the luck of the draw whether people have family connections in the UK that can support claims to asylum and safe passage, or face what lies ahead once the camp is dismantled and residents are asked to board buses to currently unknown destinations.

One young man with a quiet demeanour did an abstract painting that was reminiscent of Rothko, the muted tones echoing the sombre atmosphere of the day. The divided forms seemed to reflect the spaces we were working in and the sense of floating in limbo.

A young man, who was brought to the group by the psychologist, carefully traced the figure of an ice skater, tracing and retracing the image in an attempt to find solidity and form. His final image of the day depicted a vibrant pomegranate tree, where fruitfulness, health and abundance can still be found amidst the heavy atmosphere of the camp.

There is a sense that people are finding it harder to motivate themselves and struggling to find the necessary energy to cope with this situation. The overwhelming effort needed to try and make plans for the future is hard to find.

On Friday we worked in the M├ędecins du Monde space and were joined by several of their team from Dunkirk. They were keen to experience the way Art Refuge UK supports the psychosocial space in our work, and share some thinking about how we use different materials.

The medium of choice today was pencil, its precision, dryness and control brining some containment, much needed in a time of such precariousness and uncertainty. Several young men who we have worked with for some time, returned to share further details and memories of situations in their home countries and journeys. Many of these painful and traumatic experiences that take much courage to retell and depict. As time runs out in the camp there is a sense of urgency to express and communicate to us these deeply personal stories.

A group of Sudanese men created with speed plasticine animals, leaving them in our care before saying goodbye and going outside to play the drums. Another young man was able to bring some playfulness to his creations by making a paper buffalo, laughter entering into a space where anxiety and fear for the future was apparent.

As one man drew a lorry on the road to Dover and his quest to get to the UK, simultaneously an image was created by another man depicting a road that appeared to go nowhere. Both pictures showing the impossibility felt at the current situation and the sense of blocked paths. Painful discussions were held throughout the day around what is now possible.

One man described how hard it is to change plans, to look for other future paths when you have been trying so long to reach what you believe will be the end of your journey. “Where is home? What is home? If you keep trying and can’t find your way out, how do you find a new path?”

from the Calais project


Some Events, shows, discussions touching on Arts and Development issues:


A Man of Good Hope  to 12 November http://www.youngvic.org/whats-on/a-man-of-good-hope


Promised Land   19 October 2016, 18.30, ICA, London. This panel brings together artists, curators and academics to discuss two views of Europe: the promise of Europe as a place of human rights, security and prosperity; and the Europe of borders, refugee camps, populism, and heightened nationalism. Chaired by Bernadette Buckley, speakers include Hrair SarkissianJonas Staal and Frances Stonor Saunders.


Nafasi Week, In Place of War open seminars: Free TED-style talks. See 20 inspiring people give talks on their cultural spaces, cultural production, creative activism, digital tools and the future. Rich Mix, Bethnal Green Road https://www.richmix.org.uk/events/spoken-word/nafasi-week-uk-change-makers


When Father Comes Home From the Wars  15 sept- 22 Oct Royal Court, http://www.royalcourttheatre.com/whats-on/fathercomeshome/?tab=2


Drones, baby, Drones  Arcola Theatre 2-26 November, http://www.arcolatheatre.com/event/drones-baby-drones/?spektrix_bounce=true


Angel, Arcola Theatre, 21 Nov-17 Dec http://www.arcolatheatre.com/event/angel/


Thick Time, new work by William Kentridge  Whitechapel Gallery to Jan 15 2017 http://www.whitechapelgallery.org/exhibitions/william-kentridge/



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