Material Stories of Migration Update

Dr Veronica Barnsley, University Teacher in the School of English at Sheffield, tells us about her project progress.

It’s time to take a breather to reflect upon the Material Stories workshops that took place on 8th and 18th June. I’m in the process of printing, typing and editing the work produced for our exhibition on Thursday and I really am amazed that we have so much to show from two sessions.

The Process

The first workshop began with some anxiety as we had all the technical equipment we could need, keen students and four amazingly talented artists but few participants. Fortunately my time spent at Conversation Club paid off and people did arrive, though not as many as we hoped as some got lost or had English classes (we moved the second workshop to the afternoon, which worked out much better and was well attended). After a poetry and sound introduction with the Sai Murray everyone was relaxed enough to get going. The format was fluid with participants deciding which medium they would most like to work with or to combine them – for example, we were guided by Ayse Balko to mix movement with music and painting in telling an Iranian story brought to us by Javeed. The writers went to quiet space to work on their poetry and returned to share this with us while our virtuoso musician, Mina Salama, composed a soundtrack. Two of our students filmed these activities under the sharp eye of Joao Paulo Simoes and are currently in the process of editing a film comprised of footage from both workshops.

The second workshop was attended by asylum seekers from Sudan, Eritrea, Syria and Iran and produced some Egyptian/Iranian hip hop fusion, a number of poems in response to significant or meaningful objects, an art installation on the psychological ups and downs of the asylum process, and an array of images by budding photographers.

Outcomes

For a project that was exploratory and very much focussed on the creative process in a social and community setting, we have a surprising number of outcomes.

  • The Material Stories exhibition will be up for a week in Jessop West foyer from Thursday 25th. It will then travel to Conversation Club on 10th The images and poems will be archived on our webpage with the aim that they can be added to if and when more workshops take place.
  • We have been asked by asylum seekers and ASSIST whether the workshops could become a regular event, perhaps monthly, and I’ll be looking into funding for this. In order to ensure that people easily find where these are happening and feel comfortable attending we may tie them more closely to Conversation Club. The space at Theatre Delicatessen has been suggested as ideal.
  • The students have gained experience in creative writing, film making and working with diverse participants whose first language is not English. I am currently asking students to reflect on their experiences of the project and will consider whether these kinds of activities could be embedded in a module.

A Student’s Experience:

‘Engaging with the Material Stories of Migration Project really gave me an insight in to the lives of migrants living in Sheffield. As a student, I myself have moved in to the city and, at times, felt like somewhat of an outsider. This project has made me realise how much more daunting such a move would be for someone coming from an entirely different culture, who understands a different language and is used to different customs. The stories of these migrants is something that is interesting and fascinating as they adapt to a new way of life. During the workshop these narratives transpired as movement, music, written word, art. Whilst each of these is an artistic form within itself, it surprised me just how easily they fed in to one another. For example the music by Mina evoked certain emotions that influenced Ayse’s movement and painting. The fluidity within the arts reflected the fluidity within a certain persons’ narrative as we are always changing and being shaped by the environment around us. Material Stories of Migration enabled me to consider the lives of people in Sheffield who are often marginalised and ignored, when in fact their narratives are likely to be some of the most interesting and fascinating.’ Hannah Peck

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