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World Refugee Week: Online exhibition explores identity and purpose


Arts Trail exhibition moves online following coronavirus outbreak

An online exhibition has been launched showcasing objects considered important to teenage refugees and asylum seekers.

The display, entitled This Is Me, was due to form part of an arts trail during World Refugee Week (June 15-21) and would have been unveiled on World Refugee Day (June 20), at Theatre In The Mill City Centre venue, but due to the coronavirus outbreak, it has now become on online experience.

The work comprises videos created by pupils from four different schools - Bradford Academy, Holy Family Keighley, St Bede’s and St Joseph’s Catholic College and Oasis Academy, Lister Park - each showcasing an eclectic range of objects, from ceremonial tribal masks and football shirts to handbags and make-up.

Dr Karen D Thornton, Programme Leader of the BA Film and Television Production degree in the Faculty of Engineering & Informatics, said all of the showcased objects had meaning for those involved.

“The point of the exhibition was to examine identity and also to challenge stereotypes of refugees and asylum seekers. Quite often, this group is portrayed in a negative way in the media. What we wanted to do was to show that these are ordinary 14 and 15-year-olds with varying passions and interests, just like any teenager.

“The objects each have a story behind them. For example, one was ‘sushi’, which represented a meaningful experience between one pupil and his mother, as both regularly go out for sushi. Another was make-up, which for that particular pupil, was not accessible in their home country.

“It was also about getting them to engage with the University. Each of the schools visited our campus, so it was about getting them to see university life as something they could aspire to.”

She added: “We’re very proud of the exhibition and we didn’t want the work of this incredibly enthusiastic group to go unrecognised because of the coronavirus outbreak.”

The idea for the exhibition came about in early December 2019 after Karen met friend and colleague Sarah Cartin, the Schools Worker for City of Sanctuary Bradford. Local schools were contacted and it was decided that year 10s would be the ideal group to work with.  Along with the objects, students were asked to produce a narrative description which encapsulated what this artefact meant to them. It was compiled with the help of Chris Hazell, Lecturer in Sound and Visual Production in the Faculty of Engineering & Informatics, who ran the photography and editing workshops and created the final website. 

The exhibition links directly to the University of Bradford’s ethos of diversity and inclusion and its status as a University of Sanctuary within the city of Bradford, which is also a City of Sanctuary, meaning it tries wherever possible to promote and find ways of overcoming social and economic barriers faced by minority and at risk groups.

Refugee Week is the UK’s largest festival celebrating the contribution of refugees and promoting understanding of why people seek sanctuary. The theme this year is 'Imagine' and explores the possibilities in all of us.

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