While much public hand-wringing has occurred over the influx of refugees entering Europe over the last couple of years, Refugee Week is a nationwide programme that actively celebrates their contribution to the UK and seeks to educate and raise awareness around ‘the refugee experience’ through art. This year, HOME is taking part with an inaugural festival of exhibitions, performances, theatre, live music and film showcasing the work of contemporary refugee artists based in Manchester and beyond, programmed in conjunction with Community Arts North West. It’s a pretty packed line-up, so here are some of our key highlights.
Cinema-wise, be sure to catch Ai Weiwei’s epic film journey, Human Flow (2017), shot over one year in over 20 different countries and giving powerful visual expression to the plight of migrants around the world. The screening will be preceded by a semi-enacted ‘political protest action’ led by Virtual Migrants and These Walls Must Fall outside HOME, highlighting the injustice of immigration detention and paying tribute to the 120 women on hunger strike at Yarlswood Detention Centre during March this year.
Also essential viewing is Through Our Eyes (2018) from BAFTA-award winning director Samir Mehanovic (a Muslim refugee himself who escaped the murderous Bosnian Wars of the 1990s), which offers a fresh personal insight into the human catastrophe of the Syrian conflict. And Adam Sobel’s The Workers Cup (2017), which provides a glimpse into the infamous labour camps of Qatar and will be followed by a special panel discussion and Q&A with film producer Rosie Garthwaite.
From screen to stage, Gone by Music Action International and Box Tale Soup enacts a remarkable tale of resilience inspired by the true stories of refugee torture survivor collective Stone Flowers; and One More Push by Iranian exile Fereshteh Mozaffari will use storytelling and dance to lead audience members on a bitter-sweet journey of displacement, integration, change and resilience.
The one-week programme also features workshops, DJ-sets, live music and numerous pop-up participatory events. Listen to the unheard stories of migration from the UK and across the globe transmitted via a series of telephones dotted throughout HOME as part of an art intervention by Take Back. Try your hand(s legs, arms and whole body) at Bollywood, African and Caribbean dance, or at playing traditional and contemporary African music. And step inside the Travelling Heritage Bureau – a two-day exhibition featuring a diverse body of work by international women artists based in the North West, as well as offering a rare space of resistance, creativity and inclusion.
Acting as a festival-within-a-festival and returning for its second year, Syrian Arts Festival Manchester brings together art and music by a collection of UK and Europe-based Syrian artists; Queer Café Takeover will spotlight the experiences of LGBTQ+ asylum seekers and refugees in Manchester; and 20-year-old Madz prepares to beatbox as she once did on the streets and stages of her old home in Damascus (Syria).
This may all sound like a lot to squeeze into just seven days, but there’s still plenty more we haven’t mentioned. Altogether, Refugee Week Festival at HOME should offer a powerfully moving, as well as eye-opening encounter with the scale of the daily challenges facing refugees, asylum seekers and migrants both at home and around the world. We strongly recommend everyone to go.