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Understanding the ‘bigger picture’: Lessons learned from participatory visual arts-based research with individuals seeking asylum in the United Kingdom

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This article presents reflections from a participatory visual arts-based research study with individuals seeking asylum in the north-east of England. This study invited participants to represent their lived experiences through biographical and visual methods. In doing so, they engaged in a process of ethno-mimesis, accomplished through the production of images that function as sites for meaning making, self-representation and social critique. This article demonstrates how an arts-based approach can stimulate change and transformation in individuals’ lives by supporting meaningful participation in the knowledge production process and providing a safe space where participants are empowered by sharing stories that challenge, subvert and reimagine what it feels like to be an asylum seeker. Furthermore it suggests that in contrast to interview settings, through the process of ethno-mimesis participants were offered the time and space to consciously engage with their experiences and invest in their creativity and storytelling capacities in order to render their worldviews visible. Although the findings from this study reinforce an existing rich body of ethnographic work on lived experiences of asylum seekers, this study recognizes that the identified themes highlight the enduring impact of immigration policies on individuals asylum-seeking trajectories and focuses instead on how such experiences are creatively negotiated by participants.
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Keywords: arts-based approach; ethno-mimesis; forced displacement; narratives; participatory action research; photovoice; self-representation; visual methods

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2019

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  • The course of cultures at both local and global levels is crucially affected by migratory movements. In turn, culture itself is turned migrant. This journal will advance the study of the plethora of cultural texts on migration produced by an increasing number of cultural practitioners across the globe who tackle questions of culture in the context of migration. They do this in a variety of ways and through a variety of media. To name but a few relevant aspects of this juncture of migration and culture, questions of dislocation, travel, borders, diasporic identities, transnational contacts and cultures, cultural memory, the transmission of identity across generations, questions of hybridity and cultural difference, the material and oral histories of migration and the role of new technologies in bridging cultures and fostering cultural cross-pollination will all be relevant. Methodologies of research will include both the study of 'texts' and fieldwork.
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