'Call me by my name': an exhibition from the migration museum project
Throughout June the Migration Museum Project, funded at City Funding Network in November 2015, hosted its most ambitious exhibition to date: 'Call me by my name: stories from the Calais camp and beyond' at a gallery space on busy Redchurch Street in Shoreditch. We spoke to Emily from Migration Museum Project, who told us about the exhibition:
"The multimedia arts exhibition coincided with Refugee Week and the EU referendum and interrogated themes and questions at the forefront of the public's mind at this time. It explored the complexity of the situation and the varied human stories behind the current migration 'crisis', with a particular focus on the Calais camp. The camp has become a potent symbol of this 'crisis'. Public opinion on the ever-changing shantytown and its inhabitants is mixed and polarised: to some a threatening swarm seeking entry to our already stretched island-nation, to others a shameful symbol of our failed foreign policy over decades. Amid such heated debate it is easy to lose sight of the thousands of individuals living in limbo in the camp, each with their own story and reason for wanting to reach Britain.
The exhibition ran for 3 weeks and was a great success. We received positive feedback from a vast range of visitors; from art critics (we were the Royal Academy's 'pick of the week') to those who had lived in the camp for months before successfully claiming asylum here - they felt we had faithfully communicated the complex nature of life in the camp. Satisfying such a range of people was not at all inevitable and is a testament to the months of hard work and relationship building by our committed curators Sue McAlpine and Aditi Anand.
The exhibition, funded generously by a few different sources, featured works by established and emerging artists, refugees, camp residents and volunteers. It served as a forum for a range of discussions and questions and we had various ways for visitors to respond to what they saw. We made the best of our time in the donated space by hosting many engaging fully booked evening events including a poetry of migration event hosted by Michael Rosen, a film screening of 'A Syrian Love Story', and panel events about 'What is British identity?' and the ethics of people smuggling in the migration 'crisis'.
The exhibition proved an excellent backdrop for the funding we had received from the City Funding Network to deliver half day workshops on the migration 'crisis' to 11-14 year old pupil groups co-delivered with a young refugee with direct experience of forced migration. Uptake from schools responding to this opportunity was excellent and we hosted 10 school workshops in the exhibition. Schools came from Hackney, Newham, Tower Hamlets, Essex, Kent and Brent. At the workshops, pupils took part in a number of activities: reflecting on Larsen's 'The Wanderers', a keyword and definition card sort activity, a discussion about the migration and refugee crisis statistics and developments, a chance to hear the story of the young refugee and for the pupils to ask questions and then an exploration of the final 2 main rooms (focusing on the stories of those in the camp and life in the camp) with a reflection worksheet that pupils really engaged with. We are waiting to analyse pupil evaluations but in the meantime have received some overwhelming feedback, I'll share a few quotes with you now:
Students from John Wallis Academy in Kent met Mohammad, a 17 year old Syrian who lived in the Calais camp for 7 months before being reunited with his brother in the UK by Citizen's UK Safe Passage programme. Their teacher said 'The kids could not stop talking about Mohammad and his experiences on the way back - it's opened their eyes more than I could have hoped!'
A teacher from Robert Clack school in Dagenham said their students were 'completely overwhelmed by the exhibition. Many of them talked about how their perceptions had shifted or how struck they were with the stories they had encountered, particularly Soli’s. I am sure that it has been the most valuable school trip that I have been on', and the students, agreed: 'I feel like have been exposed to the truth of what is going on. I feel so grateful for living in Britain and I should not waste the chance I have to help people. Soli is my inspiration to dream for the stars.'
Many thanks to the City Funding Network and all the kind folk who pledged money on hearing our pitch - it has been a pleasure planning and delivering these workshops. Do get in touch if you want more information about these or the work of MMP overall."