The Open University in Wales recently hosted an exhibition and workshop to help develop a deeper understanding of the lives of refugees in Europe. The ‘Dialogues Across Borders’ exhibition, lecture and workshop were held across two days in Swansea and attended by over 80 people.
Three individuals from different parts of the world met as volunteers at Pikpa Refugee camp in the summer of 2016 and decided to work together to tell the story of the refugee experience in a new way. Marie Gillespie is an Open University Sociology professor who has undertaken research on refugees, smartphones and social networks; Elena Boukouvala is a performance activist, drama and movement therapist and psychologist from Greece and has worked with refugees all over the world; and Knut Bry is a well-known Norwegian photographer who has worked on projects including Water for All as well as on Pikpa camp photos. Marie, Elena and Knut decided to collaborate on an exhibition and workshop session to share their experiences and to work with refugees to help them to share their stories.
The first event showcased the exhibition, which consisted of photos, videos, and poetry from the Pikpa refugee camp in Lesvos (Greece). It was followed by the presentation from Marie Gillespie about young Syrian refugees, smartphones and social media, based on her research in Greece, France and the UK. Prof Gillespie challenged stereotypes and posed important questions about the best use, and possible threats, of mobile technologies. She also explained how a simple smartphone can be an indispensable tool to create art –from photos, videos and audio to poetry and blogs. These contents, widely shared through social media channels and created on the way a new home, form the footprint of refugees’ journeys.
The second workshop focussed on creating poetry and photos and participants learnt how to edit graphic content for a social media and were introduced to the courses available on the OU’s Open Learn platform. The workshops finished with a lunch prepared by the local refugee community and a screening of Knut Bry’s short film which was shot in the refugee camp.
The exhibition will appear at the Tate in London in March 2017 and it will also visit Berlin and Paris. Everywhere it goes, it grows bigger with new photos and poems added by participants.
The workshops were co-organised by Swansea Bay Asylum Seekers Support Group, the Unity in Diversity community centre, and the Woman’s Group.
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