I was approached by Salam Shalom to show the work people made in Calais.
The festival was a city wide with artists and speakers coming from all over the country and even some from abroad.
The Exhibition in the Bristol Central Library focuses on the history of migration in the city of Bristol for both the Jewish and the Muslim communities.
The curator asked for the work people made in The Calais Jungle to be a part of the exhibition.
I was pleased ot have kept my word with the folks in Calais I said I would show their work to people once I got home.
Thanks to those who left some really meaningful comments.
transcribed from above “Excellent exhibition, powerful images, I especially ‘enjoyed’reading the letters from jewish refugees and looking through the box supplied by Xeena – to hold in my hand the images drawn by refugees is very powerful.”
My background is from Ancient Persia and my parents migrated to Britain in the 1970s. As a result I feel deeply privileged to have been brought up here.
My parents were from British Crown colony of Aden in Yemen, until the British forces lost the stronghold of this port town in 1967. My Grandfather was a voluntary police officer under the Brits, he was caught in an attack and was fataly wounded. As a result our family fled this conflict stricken area for a more peaceful existence. Dominantly our family moved to countries within the Commonwealth, as they were British Citizens brough up and educated under the British Empire. The struggles in Yemen persist to this day.
Because of my background I was inspired to offer help in whatever capacity I could. My Housemate and I went to volunteer. As a community Artist, I took some basic arts materials with me in the hope to bring back some stories and Artwork from the people in the Camp.
I stayed within a Sudanese camp area with a group called Calais Migrant Solidarity, who have been supporting the people of the camp for several years.
Here is a little snippet of the work people made and my experience of being there.
Samir and his small team of volunteers at one of the distribution points. Serving the “Line” for people to collect clothes, tents and shoes.
Eskie stands in so many “Lines” all day that he forever sees peoples backs. Quite poignantly put I thought. People who need to will que for one hot meal per day and they have to que for essential items like shoes, jumpers and jackets. Some people were still wearing their sandles worn during their long journey from the other side of the earth.
I have to say I did find it somewhat worrying that people were depicting the trains and were quite positive about how they would traverse the Eurotunnel, this is a deeply dangerous and treacherous route. But one that many were risking their lives with. As I spoke to more people I came to realise that for many, the dangers they had left behind them were more arduous in comparison to this seeemingly short journey ahead.
Fardin was deeply upset when he told me about his picture. His English was modest however his image speaks for him. A depiction of the French Police administering CS gas into the Camp area, this incident happened the day before I arrived. Fardin said that he fled a dictatorship in Iran and did not expect to be treated like this in the West.
This image depicts a “bad situation in Calais” with people queing in “Line” to get food.
Similar to above this rendition shows people in a lorry. It is well known that many people have lost their lives trying to cross the border in this manner. People are truly in a desperate situation to make attempts like this!
Daniar from Iraq
Many people were keen to have their portraits done. Although this is not my speciality I did my best to oblige.
I also asked people to try to render my portrait in return. Many declined but some took on the challenge. My friend Ali from Afghanistan did very well. He was also keen to show me photos of his daughter, I could tell in his eyes that he missed her deeply. A very noble and kind man.
Having been to the Banksy’s Bemusement park Dismaland in Weston Super Mare, I must say that I found it somewhat surreal to see many people who had been donated the hoodies from the show. The heavy grey skies, the rain, the engulfing muds and the eerie winds brought a certain sense of the ‘dismal’ to the place.
Hussein from Iran took some paper away with him. Luckily he managed to find me the day I was leaving. He gave me this image. I was really chuffed that he wanted to take some time to finish off is image. I need to get the writing translated. Sadly I can’t read nor speak any Arabic. I did notice that many of the people in the camp were confident speakers of English. Only a seldom few people whom I encountered in my short visit, couldn’t communicate in English.
I was so privileged to have been invited to lunch by my neighbours. We had sardine Asida which is an arab-style, extra-large, dumpling which is eaten with the hands in a communal style.
It can be eaten sweet or savory and can be made with a variety of flours. You tear off pieces of the dumpling and soak up the wonderful sauce. It was very filling and very wholesome in the cold camp.
To be honest I had to hold back my emotions. The generosity of the human spirit is such that, people with nothing will share everything they have, even if it is very little. I did not go hungry at any point in the camp, I was offered multiple teas, coffees and meals. I was really touched by all these wonderful gestures.
On the second day I went to go visit the Good Chance Theatre which is situated in a biodesic domed tent. It is an ongoing project to deliver theatre, but seems to mean much more to people than just that. A community hub, a theatre, a venue, a music hall, a safe and peaceful space to express yourself and to share in different cultures.
A drawing session in the theatre, where myself and a wooden board would suffice as a table and a friend from Iran sat beside me would make an an excellent angle-poise lamp.
Hossam a young Egyptian boy seemed to be full of energy and mischief running amok on the stage of the theatre whilst people were performing. Seeing an ample opportunity for an impromptu drawing workshop, I took him aside and we played a game, he would draw a squiggle and I would turn it into a picture he was transfixed. We came up with some fun results. Here are my favourites.
I see a dragon and he sees people jumping into (or out of) it’s mouth. Good fun.
I see a picnic table and he sees a van.
More drawings whilst people stand in the ‘Line’. Whenever some on tries to cut in out of turn all the people start to chant “Line! Line! Line! Line!” until that person takes their place at the end of the Que.
I noticed some very distinct styles of patterns and flower motif from the Kurdish community.
On the first evening I bumped into a boy from Afghanistan, we were chatting and he was trying to convince me that he was older than he seemed. Anyway, we were talking about cricket and the next thing you know he runs off to get a foam cricket bat and ball. A few other people joined in around us incuding the man above, he’s a mean fast bowler! He gave me some tips on my bowling technique. The night was very warm and the sand on the ground was dry. Not what I expected on the first evening. Ali the (above) is a buisiness owner, he runs a cafe in the Jungle. He is a Physics teacher from Pakistan. I told him about my project and he was very keen to draw a picture of his business.
A very well run shop. Assam here works in the shop and keeps a Bengali tiger to ensure his safety.
In 2014 I was commissioned by the Severnside Community Rail Partnership C.I.C to design a project to create artwork with local community groups from the areas around Bath, Oldfield Park and Keynsham. Their works would feature in a History Map at the local railway stations.
With the assistance of a Mosaic Artist Tanja Helmhold, Storyteller Michael Loader and myself, we delivered a series of workshops to bring out people’s creative talents. The groups who took part were Action Against Hearing Loss, Teenage Rampage, Time Out youth project, Bath Area Play Project, Time 2 Share and First Steps Day Nursery. Everyone who took part had a piece of work which featured in the History Map.
Toddlers and Parents from First Steps Day Nursery working with Xeena
Young People fromTime Out working with Xeena
Tanja Helmhold working with Action Against Hearing Loss
Michael Loader working with Teenage Rampage.
As a final hurrah to unveil the Artwork we took the groups out for a trip on the trains for everyone to have a chance to see their work installed in the Railway stations. There was a lovely lunch to bring all those who had assisted in the project together. Including the local historians and groups who had kindly given their historical content and memories to make the History Map.
Ben made the most amazing story abour a cardboard box!! It was a real adventure with twists and a turns. He was so chuffed to perform the story in the library and several people gathered round to watch the show.
” Ben took his box into school and presented his story to his class, his teacher was thrilled as Ben has some special educational needs and it was brilliant for his vocabulary and confidence in class. Hope you are well. I’ll keep a look out for more activities as Ben thoroughly enjoyed himself, and so did I! “