A month-long celebration of refugee arts and culture has started as part of National Refugee Week.
Festival 31 has launched this week and offers a series of unique and thought-provoking art commissions and events exploring the refugee experience.
Organised by Liverpool-based charity SOLA Arts, the festival has been taking place in the city since 2014, but has moved online this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
As part of Festival 31, nine commissioned artists will see their work exhibited on the Culture Liverpool website, which is partnering with SOLA Arts and the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse to co-ordinate this year’s festival and showcase the creativity and cultures of both our refugee communities, and artists from refugee backgrounds.
Artists were able to bid for micro-grants funded by Culture Liverpool, Our Liverpool, Liverpool City Council’s refugee and asylum seeker service, and the estate of artist Fanchon Fröhlich who studied and lived in Liverpool.
The commissioned artists have responded to the theme of “Creative Connections” and what the number 31 can be, maybe 31 days, 31 hours, 31 people, 31 countries, 31 questions…
Festival 31’s commissioned artists are:
Adrian Mejia – VIDA In The Time Of Corona
A mini documentary detailing the artist’s personal experience as a gay asylum seeker living with virus symptoms.
Becky Downing – 31 Letters In My Alphabet
A piece representing some of the voices, languages and accents that make up the rich range of dialects in Liverpool.
Bisakha Sarker – Splash
A Zoom film presenting a number of 31-syllable poems.
Dorota Modlinger – Mandala of Hope and Dreams – New Moon Ritual
A visual interpretation of the dreams, signs and symbols shared in a live online performance.
Kali Chandrasegaram – Move’in A Charm
A piece bringing together 31 hand artists exploring 31 magical charms complemented by an original soundtrack.
Karen Wynne – dis/mis
A video piece, using a mobile phone camera whilst making a short journey through the artist’s community on bike and on foot.
Nesrin Yousef – The Will Of The Universe – Unexpected And Out Of Our Control
A poem and song reflecting where the artist and her cousin are currently up to in life, the artist in Liverpool and her cousin starting anew in Germany as a musician and singer.
Nina Edge – The Fall
A short film evoking the feeling of being deeply rooted in this land, whilst at the same time completely up-rooted and wilted by the UK’s prevailing cultural norms.
Rania Alkhllo – Hope
A video of 31 different people expressing their hope for the future in their own way and language.
Cllr Wendy Simon, Cabinet Member for Culture, Tourism and Events, said: “The resilience of our refugee communities is reflected in the resilience of Festival 31 in adapting to these unusual times and moving its celebration of refugee communities online.
“SOLA Arts has seen these challenges as an opportunity to reach more people and build an understanding through sharing stories that might not usually be heard.
“Liverpool City Council is proud to support this year’s micro-commissions that once again show the depth of creativity that can be found in Liverpool and how this city can always find inspiration in even the most bewildering circumstances.”
Julie Kashirahamwe, Refugee Programme Manager, Our Liverpool, said: “Our Liverpool has been working with Culture Liverpool and local arts organisations to engage refugees in cultural activities in the city. We are delighted to support Festival 31, which enables refugee artists to celebrate their own culture, talents and contributions.”
Adele Spiers, Managing Director, SOLA Arts, said: “It’s been such a great opportunity this year to develop Festival 31 in new, digital way. Working closer with Culture Liverpool and Everyman & Playhouse Theatres has meant reaching a much wider audience and enabling even more meaningful creative conversations around the refugee experience. This is what the festival is about – exploring, developing understanding and empathy, challenging yet meaningful conversations, connections and all through creativity.
“The need for a creative way of processing our current environment, including COVID 19 and the parallels between this and the refugee experience, makes this year’s festival even more important to hold. With the current public discussions around social and personal consciousness of the black experience of which refugees are a part, confirms how important Festival 31 is.”
Artist Becky Downing said: “’Festival 31 is all about creating a dialogue with refugees, and celebrating their cultures. For me, I was keen to explore this dialogue through poetry and language because I really believe that language is one of our most powerful tools in society, and poetry can be a great mechanism for finding a distinct voice that’s personal and powerful within that.
“I’m really grateful to have been able to facilitate this work with the groups I connected with, and I feel like I’ve also learnt a lot in return through the sharing and creating process.
“Festival 31 is massively important because of its strive for connection and creativity. There’s a void that’s been created by the pandemic because of lockdown, and a feeling of isolation that accompanies that, which Festival 31 attempts to fill. It is an important project of both outreach and creativity to explore how our refugee communities can engage and express themselves, especially so during a pandemic where our interactions and access to a creative community are limited.”
Artist Adrian Mejia said: “I decided to make this short film series after having a difficult time in this pandemic as an asylum seeker. We were forgotten by the system and the Home Office, but the British people are always there for us. I hope this short clip series can be a cry out on behalf of those that can’t claim for help.”