Refugee Week – a celebration of creativity and resilience

Refugee Week, which marks the contributions, creativity and resilience of refugees and asylum seekers, is more important than ever in the face of the pandemic. Individuals local to Modern Art Oxford continue to receive vital support from organisations including Refugee Resource and Sanctuary Hosting, who provide psychological, social and shelter support to refugees, asylum seekers and vulnerable migrants.

For Refugee Week, marked across the UK from 15-21 June 2020, Modern Art Oxford is proud to celebrate its ongoing partnership with Refugee Resource and Sanctuary Hosting through the project Making Space Safe. Running since 2017, this series of regular art workshops for asylum seekers and refugees is led by Associate Artist, Mary Chamberlain. Modern Art Oxford, Sanctuary Hosting and Refugee Resource celebrate the achievements of the Making Space Safe artists in the face of adversity by sharing their art works, and words throughout Refugee Week.

Artwork by Mariam Latifi

For Mary Chamberlain, keeping Making Space Safe workshops continuing during the coronavirus lockdown was imperative and the work felt more important than ever. “Making Space Safe at Modern Art Oxford has always been to me about the physical space we meet in, using art materials for self-expression, creative connection and learning artistically.” Taking her weekly sessions online through the medium of Zoom meant adapting her practice and at the very start of lockdown she posted art materials to her group members and new referrals. “Creating step-by-step drawing guides and using the screen share facility,” she reveals, “has enabled art teaching and a sense of connection to take place and continue over this time.”

Artwork by Touhida Akter

For the Making Space Safe artists, these workshops have provided a time to reconnect and recharge. “Guests have time and again expressed their enjoyment of the project to me,” says Sarah Wahby, Service Manager at Sanctuary Hosting. “Now, every person we help with hosting is told about the project and many get involved and love it.”

One Making Space Safe artist who would prefer to remain anonymous told us:

“For me it was very helpful, thank you so much. During the coronavirus at least I had something to do. I think I was quite productive and I really enjoyed it. Some of them gave me peace and tranquillity, and some were even a little challenging.”

Artwork by Making Space Safe artist
Artwork by Making Space Safe artist

Another artist described to us some of the art works they had created during the sessions;

“The first thing I drew was a flower, they filled me with happiness, looking at all the beautiful things God created. I coloured them yellow. I like yellow because it is a colour that brings you peace. The one I liked the most was the boy facing his back to a tree branch hugging his animal. Animals are human’s best friends, they are loyal, they know you and they understand you in your sad and angry moments, and gives you love without waiting for anything in return.”

Artwork by Making Space Safe artist

Animals and nature is a recurring theme for the group, with another artist in the group saying;

“I draw different pictures but I like most the flower. I drew a portrait, a black and white apple, a lion and something abstract, I drew nature inside a lamb. I choose to do this because is the best thing you can do when you feel alone. The drawing makes you feel free and happy.”

Artwork by Zainab Hussein

Several had never practiced art before now.

“Before this I had never drawn. I helped my children with colouring, but never drew. I would have liked to do more, in other life circumstances. I really liked the program as it helps you think and focus your mind on other things.”

Artwork by Making Space Safe artist

For everyone, the opportunity to share these works during Refugee Week is a real moment to celebrate the achievements of the artists. Fabio di Donato from Refugee Resource explains why it’s important to share projects like Making Space Safe. “Our clients have always expressed how at ease they have felt during all sessions and how Mary has always been there to help them in a kind and supportive way. Making Space Safe has provided an invaluable opportunity for some of our clients to get creative, express their feelings without having to worry about the language barriers, discover new interests and find hidden talents.”

See works selected by the Making Space Safe group during Refugee Week from 15-21 June, across Modern Art Oxford’s Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Discover more about Making Safe Space at Modern Art Oxford.

Follow the inspiring work of Refugee Resource and Sanctuary Hosting.

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