It seems that in the present day, especially in light of recent political events, we struggle to watch or read the news without discussion turning to the topic of migration. The majority of press coverage regarding immigration, and the connotations and stereotypes of immigration within the United Kingdom often provides only a negative representation of those seeking refuge. Such mis-representation and misunderstanding of the issues faced by people in need causes only further divide between those seeking help, and the inhabitants of the places they resort to seeking help within. Migration, an international residency based at The Art House, Wakefield, gave 9 selected artists from across the globe a month long platform to respond to the theme of migration and create work using their interpretations of what it means to be a migrant. Whilst some of the invited artists have first hand experience of seeking asylum in the UK and the processes required to do so, many of the UK based artists participating in the residency had only seen the effects of migration through the media and the stories of others.
Facilitated by artist Ivan Patrick Smith, in conjunction with Wakefield City of Sanctuary and supported by the Arts Council England, the residency gave artists an opportunity to learn about the systems in place within Wakefield for refugees and asylum seekers who pass through or reside in the city during their journey towards finding a stable, safe home in the UK. Throughout the month of May relationships were formed not only between a group of ten diverse artists, but also between the artists and the individuals they met along the way. Ranging from volunteers, to refugees and those in the process of seeking asylum, the people who shared their personal accounts of the experiences and the effects of migration influenced the art work created for the final Migration exhibition. This left a lasting impression on all involved with the residency.
Initial responses to the theme of migration saw the artists questioning whether their pre-existing practices could be adapted to integrate such a politically fuelled topic, or whether embracing a new avenue of exploration and research would be needed and manifest itself in a complete new work. The unique residency format created a critical and intensive co-working environment where the artists and the influences behind Smiths’ decision to centre the theme around migration worked cohesively to challenge any pre-conceived notions of what effects immigration is having on the city of Wakefield.
Culminating in a group show in The Art House’s main gallery space, the research and influences absorbed by each participant throughout the month manifested in a diverse offering of works, separated by each artists signature aesthetic yet intrinsically linked by the underlying theme of migration. Ambitious sculptural and installation works inspired by emotional migration accounts and the symbolism of political restriction, provided a thought provoking response to the hardship of seeking refuge as a migrant. Performance and interactive pieces inspired by play, music or finding beauty in moments of distress unite the audience in encouraging togetherness and participation to complete the works. This unity was the over riding message of the concepts behind all of the works in Migration.
The Migration selected artists: Bijan Amini-Alavijeh (UK), Joseph Cotgrave (UK), Kate Genever (UK), Juan Cristóbal Gracia (Mexico), Siddhartha Kararwal (India), Bijan Moosavi (Iran), Andy Singleton (UK), Ivan Smith (UK) and Katie Numi Usher (Belize).
Migration, The Art House, Wakefield 31 May 2017 to 7 July 2017
Lisa-Marie Dickinson is an Artist and Writer based in Wakefield, West Yorkshire.