Representation Through Visual Art
From Sanctuary to Opportunity’ is a pragmatic research project which aims to catalyse integration and opportunity through the voices of refugees, asylum seekers, and other migrants (or ‘citizens-in-waiting as we refer to them). The research has culminated in our 2023 State of the City Report with lived experience at its core.
“At the beginning I felt a bit silly doing this, like what is this collage thing? And then as I was doing it, I realized how important it is to be able to express yourself this way. My friend has been unable to speak for so long, she has had all this pain inside her. That’s why when she did her collage she began to cry, because it was such a release. It is very therapeutic. We need this for our children too.” -Nadiia
Diversity of representation has been a core principle of this research, with our 49 participants representing 17 countries of origin. Diversity is also important in our research methodology, to make sure we provide multiple avenues for expression. Alongside interviews, focus groups, and participant observation, we organised a creative arts workshop to bring a visual element to the report and allow an opportunity for non-textual and non-verbal expressions. This is particularly important for participants whose English is a second language and those who have faced adverse experiences which makes conventional interview methods challenging.
The medium and materiality of the artwork was of particular significance. We decided to use collage which is both easily accessible and highly creative. Collage embodies the assemblage of stories, memories, and aspirations that citizens-in-waiting experience. This also functioned as an exercise in meaning-making as collage is sometimes used in psychoanalysis to recover memory and associations. Indeed, several of our participants commented on the therapeutic effects the workshop inspired.
It was important that the workshop was led by established artist practitioners from a migrant background. We were able to work with Maria Mohammed and Sevilay Kaya of the Bristol Refugee Artists Collective who led the workshop and created their own artwork which also features in the report.
The workshop resulted in 19 pieces of art with the theme of ‘hope’, open to interpretation. We were blown away by the results.
Each piece is a glimpse into the complex assemblage of memories from the past and dreams of the future which make up the integration journey. We see a woman looking longingly into the distance, wondering if she has arrived “too late”; we see clocks and watches scattered across a page, indicating time as a precious asset; we see a man and a woman embracing after years of separation, “I miss my husband very much”; we see a pair of curtains opening, “so that the world can see our beauty”; we see a rainbow, “because after a storm you see a rainbow”.
The central piece which featured at our launch event is a large collage made up of all our participants’ collages. We have called this the Tapestry of Resilience, as it resembles a patchwork of unique expressions figuratively sewn into a unified whole. It represents hope, aspiration, and above all, unity through diversity.