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Open Access How does arts practice engage with narratives of migration from refugees? Lessons from ‘utopia’

In this article we draw on data from a co-produced transdisciplinary arts and language practice and research project. In this project, researchers, artists and creative practitioners worked with refugees and people seeking asylum. Together we developed and led arts-based workshops, which aimed to explore what it means to be ‘welcome’, how we ‘welcome’ and how we want to be ‘welcomed’. As researchers we approached the project from different disciplinary spaces: Sam from applied theatre and Jessica from sociolinguistics and linguistic ethnography. Through analysis of our co-produced artistic outputs, through ethnographic writing and through our reflections on the processes of collaborating, we consider how arts practices engage with narratives of migration in refugee communities. We take three elements of the project: visual arts products in the form of silk paintings, community voices in the form of vignettes and media documentation in the form of a project film. We suggest how these examples embody the processes and the community developed around the project and the different ways of working across sectors with displaced communities to engage with and enable spaces for voices to be made audible.

We use ‘refugee’ throughout this article to refer to people who have been granted asylum, people who are in the process of granting asylum, and people whose asylum claims have been rejected. We choose not to use the phrase ‘asylum seekers’ due to its often negative connotations in the British press.

Keywords: co-production; community arts; film; forced migration; linguistics; methodology; refugee studies; visual arts

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Leeds

Publication date: October 1, 2016

More about this publication?
  • The Journal of Arts and Communities seeks to provide a critical examination of the practices known as community or participatory arts, encompassing a field of work defined for this purpose as incorporating active creative ollaboration between artists and people in a range of communities.The journal will take a cross-artform and interdisciplinary approach,including work happening in performance, visual arts and media,writing, multimedia and collaboration involving digital technology and associated forms. In part this will create an archive that will document work which can otherwise be ephemeral
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