Bringing together researchers, practitioners and policy makers working with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland
The third and final day of the UNESCO Spring School 2019 offered a performative, engaging, playful opportunity to listen and share stories of labouring and resting. The day started energetically with an opening by Gameli Tordzro and a performance by Around the Well and ended on a quiet, almost meditative state of reflection on what we learned and how we move forward. This article provides a brief summary and will be complemented by subsequent posts that explore some of the projects discovered during the UNESCO Spring School.
Performance and art for speaking up
‘Between’ is a storytelling performance, a collective work in progress based on stories written and performed by members of Around the Well, which dramatise the challenges and ethical dilemmas of interpreting for people in sensitive situations. Around the Well is a storytelling-driven performance company initiated by Beverley Costa, a psychotherapist and founder of Mothertongue and Pasalo Project and Teresa Murjas, Associate Professor in Theatre and Performance at the University of Reading. They were joined by a group of professional interpreters: Kamaljit Dosanjh, San Maya Gurung, Joanna Mungai and Guida Shields who contributed to putting together two anthologies of interpreters’ stories. Some of these stories were performed at the UNESCO Spring School, adding emotion and realism to each story. One of the strongest elements of this performance were the multi-layered, complex experiences of interpreters who work in a space of in-betweenness among the authorities or official bodies, often impersonal, distant and unsympathetic and the clients, often vulnerable, misunderstood and lost in translation. The stories told in this way emphasised the precarious labour and the emotional drain on interpreters who often have to go above and beyond to try and understand and translate the unspoken.
“The Spaces In Between: Moving Through the Emotional and Intellectual Labour Of Integration” was the title of the next workshop of the morning, led by Catrin Evans, drawing on her practice-based PhD that focuses on the relationship between participatory arts and the processes of integration. Her research explores the spaces in between the more formal categories associated with integration, like health, education and housing, namely the often invisible and hidden aspects of emotional labour of managing relationships and responsibilities in everyday life, or the ‘micrology of integration’. Starting with these questions and thoughts in mind, Catrin exemplified how this micrology of integration can be understood and experienced through a playful activity. Similar to her work in communities, Catrin facilitated a workshop where the members of the audience were invited to pick a few colourful and imaginative cards (you might recognise them from the Dixit boardgame), reflect and then discuss in groups the meanings of these cards in relation to the question: ‘what does integration look and feel like?’ I was surprised of how this activity easily provoked open discussion about ourselves and about what integration means. Sometimes, it is easier to articulate these thoughts through images rather than words and this exercise proved it. One of the images that I picked (on the right) of the two people floating in a dance on a colourful but place and timeless background, encapsulated what I hope integration to be – being able to move from one place to another, to rely on one another, regardless of where you find yourself at the moment.
A different kind of performance – visualised through moving image and words – was presented by Valentina Bonizzi, an artist working with a range of media, including film, photography, sound and performative actions in public spaces. Her presentation started with a short film called Homage to Kafka, an experimental work that juxtaposes narration based on the work of security guards, cleaners and a stenographer working in the Prime Minister’s Office building in Tirana, Albania with images from the building itself. The film is the result of Valentina’s observations and reflections while working in Tirana on time, on law and politics, archives and citizenship and perfectly captures the foreboding and dizzying atmosphere of a public institution resisting opening its doors.
Performing the self, performing exile
The final moments of the day (and the Spring School 2019) felt like (quoting Alison Phipps) “feasting on chocolate mousse”. Enriching, fulfilling, comforting and energising. Effie Samara held an intimate and funny conversation about identity and exile, which she argued are always performed, gendered and political. She drew on her experience as a taxi driver in Paisley to tell stories and demonstrate how having this job and sharing an enclosed space with strangers on a daily basis can be emotionally draining but also encourage a sense of responsibility and solidarity.
Finally, putting into words Alison Phipps’ closing keynote is close to impossible and this is only an attempt to capture the mood and inspiring ideas that I picked up. The talk started with Alison’s invitation for all of us to close our eyes and take some time to listen and look inward while she read from Karine Polwart’s “Labouring and Resting”, part of the album A Pocket of Wind Resistance. The stories encapsulated within these lyrics and the stories that Alison mentioned from her own family history and traditions and from her work between university and community inspired a much-needed time for reflection, for celebration of these opportunities to come together and draw on each other’s knowledge and wisdom, for resting and mending. The talk ended on literally and figuratively weaving threads as a group sharing this moment of togetherness and thinking about our work and its meaning.
The UNESCO Spring School 2019 was about building empathy and solidarity, a conference that felt like a holiday, welcoming and enriching. The amount of research, work and art from all over the world that was showcased during these three days proves that there is still much to be done, but also much to hopeful and optimistic for.