Yesterday I decided to make the most of a typically dreich morning in Glasgow by heading over to Kelvingrove Museum to explore ‘Claiming Back The Narrative’. Part of the Refugee Festival Scotland, this photo voice exhibition perfectly captures this year’s theme of Making Art, Making Home and demonstrates the contribution made by refugees to cultural life in Scotland.
The exhibition, supported by Oxfam, is the culmination of a project initiated in 2016 by Refuweegee and students from the University of Edinburgh, aiming to create a platform for the voices of refugees recently settled in Glasgow. The participants captured their experiences and thoughts through a mixture of photography, journalling and art.
For me, one of the most immediately powerful aspects of the work was the use of disposable cameras – given the dominance of digital photography nowadays, these shots gave the exhibition a really personal and raw feel and a strong sense of individual perspective. They document a diverse range of experiences and sights, from fun selfies with friends, trips on the subway and gardens in bloom to pigeons in George square and derelict flats. These are made all the more moving by quotes shared from some of the participant’s journal entries. My favourite quote was from Mohammed, who expresses himself in a very poetic way:
“Even the birds have nests to go back to after their long migration, shall I be like a bird and go back to my home one day?”
The way in which the photos were displayed itself was striking, with large road signs featuring places where participants are from such as Syria and Tehran. I personally loved the the interactive map where visitors can add a dot to represent where they’ve come from too. It was also great to see the inclusion of some touching Letters Fae The Locals, which are a key feature of the welcome packs provided by Refuweegee for newly arrived refugees to the city.
Although there is an overall sense of hope and optimism, ‘Claiming Back The Narrative’ still confronts difficult emotions such as missing one’s own culture and the reality of loneliness and isolation. I love the fact that the exhibition is primarily visual yet has such a powerful sense of voice and self expression. The participants have definitely succeeded in claiming back the narrative through creativity, curiosity and compassion.
‘Claiming Back The Narrative’ is now closed. However, The Refugee Festival Scotland programme of events runs until Sunday 30th June so there is still time to get involved!