One of the most visually impactful parts of the day was an exhibit made entirely of felt. Helen had prepared pieces of felt by painting words onto them. The words had been identified as connecting to “belonging” and “happiness” through a focus group which took place in the run-up to the main event. The words were exhibited as a large installation and students helped people to interact with the words, talking about them, reading them together and moving them around to make new meanings. As a result, the exhibit gradually changed throughout the day. People were able to interact with the words in a way that was pressure-free. They could take control of the words and their arrangement in principled or arbitrary ways. The soft felt also provided a sensory experience for some of the many children who came along to the event. The felt installation was accompanied, nearby by a beautiful display of art made by children who use the Centre. It represented a map of the world in rich colours and textures.
Screen printing was easy for participants to do but had impressive outcomes. We had made some prints at previous events including the Made in Roath Festival (http://madeinroath.com/category/2016-madeinroath/). These prints contained the words “happiness” and “belonging” and the printing at previous events served as an informal advertisement for the event described here. On the day, participants could add words of their choice to the pre-existing prints. Helen had prepared some candidate words such as “family”, “Friends” and “home” and the selection of words complemented the felt activity, mentioned above, which was taking place in a different room. We encouraged people to take away the prints they had produced, and to exhibit these in and around the local area. We anticipate that a legacy of the event will be the resulting posters and the conversations they may provoke.
A wonderful stall run by Sam Parker, a Cardiff doctoral student, and Aroob, who visits the Centre regularly, exhibited a booklet which has been made by people seeking asylum who use the Centre. The book had been produced following courses in photography and story-telling activities and it depicted stories of those who contributed about how they came to Wales. The book uses a title which came from one of the contributors’ narratives: Forced to leave… to the unknown. The booklet offered important insights for people who did not know much about the reality of seeking asylum. We were delighted to have this piece at the event and to have one of its creators in attendance to discuss his experience in making the booklet.
A late addition to the event was created by Maryam Almohammad who wrote people’s names in Arabic for them. This was a great way of breaking down barriers that seemingly emerge from unfamiliar scripts and creating a feeling of belonging across languages. Like the installation on mobile phones, this activity addressed and quietly critiqued current public debate about visual Arabic in public spaces (e.g. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/aug/04/british-woman-held-after-being-seen-reading-book-about-syria-on-plane and http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2016/08/tote-bag-designers-idea-reality-arabs-160818162129045.html). Again the critique was through action and involvement rather than hostility and anger.
Towards the end of the day, we received an injection of energy from two brothers who have relatively recently been granted refugee status in Cardiff. They brought two darbuka drums and played and sung beautifully. Again, there was no line between audience and performers as everyone watching became drawn into clapping or moving along. As the group sat or stood in a circle, communication happened through listening to the beats and the smiles and laughter that followed. People shared stories about some of the music played and in the end some spontaneous dancing followed. Different forms of expertise came in and out of focus throughout this activity and the different skills foregrounded allowed a range of voices to be expressed in ways which were not limited to the verbal or written.
As participants left the event, they were asked to reflect on what they had learned about themselves during their visit, in an activity designed by me. This activity was organised around a single, simple question: “What do you add to Cardiff?” Participants were invited to respond by writing in any language, or by drawing. Speech bubbles of various sizes had been provided so that participants were free to choose the size of their responses. The paper on which the answers were written did not pay attention to the language or format of the answers in the way that translanguaging does not. The activity invited participation and action on the respondents’ own terms but also highlighted the contribution that everyone can make to the city, beyond those permitted by financial resources. The piece grew throughout the day until nearly every speech bubble was filled.
Our final activity took place after the event. This was a photography competition. Participants were asked to take a photograph on the theme of belonging and happiness. A prize of £35.00 worth of vouchers will be awarded to winning entrants. £35.00 is the amount of money that a destitute person can currently claim to live on, whilst they’re in the application process for asylum and therefore forbidden from working. Photographs from the day including some of the competition entries are available to view here.
In all, at least 91 people attended the event which exceeded our expectations by a long way. Throughout the day people came and went yet many stayed for several hours, some for the whole day. There was a good mixture of people who were new to the city and those who had lived here for many years. We felt that the event genuinely fostered contact between those seeking asylum or having been granted refuge and others. Guests included a Welsh Assembly Member and volunteers and professionals from a range of fields.
Feedback on the event was extremely positive. This was received verbally, on the day, when people were particularly complementary about the enthusiastic and informative volunteers. It was also received subsequent to the event via Twitter and email. On feedback forms, people described the event as “enlightening”, the atmosphere as “friendly and warm” and the food as “delicious”! Many people asked for the event to be repeated although I think the team will need to take some time to get their breath back before considering that!
Perhaps the biggest success of the event, however, was the way in which it brought people together despite their different backgrounds and experiences. This was something we had explicitly aimed to do. Local people who had lived in Cardiff all their lives were able to mix with those who had arrived recently, even within the last few days, in at least two cases. By throwing open the doors of the centre, we were able to draw people in to meeting, participating and, even if only for one day, finding belonging and happiness, we hope!