Over 500 arts and cultural events will be held across the UK from 18–24 June to mark Refugee Week, a national festival celebrating the contributions and resilience of refugees in the UK. The festival also celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.
Key highlights include a week long programme at the V & A, live acts and performances at Shakespeare’s Globe, hip-hop artist Lowkey joining with refugee rappers for a gig at KOKO in Camden and ‘Moving Stories’ – a community theatre project written by Britain’s top playwrights and previously performed by Keira Knightly – being hosted at venues across the country, including parliament on World Refugee Day (20 June).
Founded to counter anti-refugee sentiment in 1998, Refugee Week engages hundreds of organisations and individuals to host arts, cultural and education events each year across the UK. Hundreds of thousands of people have previously attended these events that bring communities together by promoting refugee voices, and helping audiences to connect with refugee experiences.
Its programme this year ranges from world renowned established artists to community arts projects, at venues ranging from national arts institutions to shoppingcentres, and artists include ‘father of dub’ Linton Kwesi Johnson, author Marina Lewycka, the London Syrian Ensemble and rapper Lowkey.
Almir Koldzic, Co-Director of Counterpoints Arts which manages the Refugee Week partnership said: “It’s inspiring to see how Refugee Week has evolved over the years from a marginal and community-led initiative into a truly national occasion, supported by such a great, varied and growing number of partners, organisations and groups.
“It is especially exciting that this year’s programme promises to be the most vibrant and far-reaching yet. To mark the 20th anniversary, we have developed 20 Simple Acts, which we hope will inspire thousands of new people to join in — to show solidarity and help us change the way we see refugees, and ourselves.”
The breadth and scope of Refugee Week is reflected in its 20th anniversary programme, which spans theatre, film, visual arts, dance, literature, spoken word and live art. Below are some selected highlights.
A festival of performances, discussions and storytelling sessions exploring Shakespeare’s response to refuge and refugees, including:
- Read Not Dead staged reading of ‘Sir Thomas More’, first performed in 1600, which depicts the plight of the refugees and the May Day riots of 1517
- Premier of ‘Nanjing’, a monologue telling the story of the Nanjing Massacre of 1937, performed by Jude Christian
- Woodcut print workshop, ‘Fingerprints’, by Syrian-Canadian artist Dima Karout
- ‘Fragments’, a devised piece performed by male refugees and created in collaboration with Single Homeless Project and Palestinian theatre-maker Mo’min Swaitat
A week-long programme of music, workshops, and performances marking 20 years of Refugee Week, including:
- Gendering memories of Iraq, a transformative performance orchestrated by Iraqi-born artist Hayv Kahraman
- Friday late featuring Dance for Refuge DJ night and Syrian singer Hamsa Mounif performing her ‘Breath of Damascus’ collection of songs
- Pop-up performance for families created with families from Somali Integration and Development Association
— ‘Perched’, an installation of mould-blown glass swallows made by Turkish artist Felekşan Onar as her artistic response to the plight of Syrian refugees in Istanbul (shortlisted for Jameel prize).
Featuring London Sea Shanty Collective and Islington Centre for Refugee and Migrants’ choir in the Great Court, interactive art installations by Solange Leon Iriarte and Kate Plum and a screening of Ai Weiwei’s Human Flow.
To mark 20 years of Refugee Week, British Museum will also offer a tour of 20 objects from their collection that tell a refugee story.
A five day arts and theatre festival celebrating diversity and the positive impact of migration on Sheffield with a programme of pay-what-you-feel performances, films, workshops, installations, food events and more. The 2018 line-up includes father of dub poetry Linton Kwesi Johnson, Arab Puppet Theatre Foundation, Taiwan’s Kuo-hin Chuang Pangcah Dance Group and much more.
A day of music, spoken word, food, workshops, wild swimming and more in the beautiful surroundings of Ashburnham Place. Featuring Award winning jazz musicians Liane Carroll, Ian Shaw and Sarah Jane Morris, poet John Hegley, King Size Slim, Los Twangeros, Samaki Afrobeat, Hannah Atkins and Chan Reid.
MUSIC AND SPOKEN WORD
Lowkey, leading light of the UK hip hop scene and refugee rights activist, is supported by Mozambique born, London-based rapper Mohammed Yahya and Native Sun and presents a new collaboration with Palestinian rap duo EbsilJaz.
Sounds for Syria, Conway Hall, London, 23 June
Twentieth-century Syrian classics performed by The London Syrian Ensemble, some of the Damascus Conservatoire’s finest musicians
An evening of spoken word and music featuring Poetic Pilgrimage, JJ Bola, the Nawi Collective and Selina Nwulu
The Travels of Song explores both the itinerancy and universality of music, where a tune composed in one country could end up adopted by another, sometimes far away, and the compositions of musicians in exile. Peter Phillips and Richard Dering had to leave Elizabethan England because of their religion; Paul Hindemith left Germany in 1938 to avoid more trouble with the Nazis. The programme also includes two songs written by detainees of Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre.
Women’s Prize shortlisted author of A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, Marina Lewycka and award-winning writer of Refuge, Dina Nayeri explore their first-hand experiences of growing up as refugees in Europe and the USA. Lewycka and Nayeri are contributors to the new anthology The Displaced, a collection of essays by refugee writers on refugee lives, edited by Pulitzer Prize winner Viet Thanh Nguyen.
Author and editor, Ele Fountain saw first-hand the heart-breaking effects of the ‘refugee crisis’ whilst living in Ethiopia with her young family, and was compelled to write her new book for children, Boy 87.
A diverse programme of films and discussions, including ‘The Foreigner’s Home’, a provocative meditation on humanity’s oldest divisions based around Toni Morrison’s artistic and intellectual vision, and ‘Through Our Eyes’ followed by Q&A with BAFTA-winning director Samir Mehanovic.
INSTALLATIONS & WORKSHOPS
Pieces of the PEACE – installation by Esna Su at Sarabande Foundation, London, 21–23 June
An installation of hand-woven sculptures brought into the space following artist Esna Su’s performance ‘When the Nest Falls’ on 20 June. The pieces include the ‘Pieces of the PEACE’ carpet, inlaid with 3,700 Swarovski crystals, representing the distance (km) between London and Aleppo and forming one of the 6 Arabic letters of ‘al-salam’ (peace). Each crystal will be inset manually by 65 women and women during a workshop on 16 June, indicative of the number of Syrian cities. This initiative aims to facilitate and celebrate the collaborative process of creation, mending and reflection.
Esna Su grew up close to the Syrian border in Turkey. Her practice has been greatly informed by these origins and also by techniques handed down through generations of her family.
A hands-on family workshop to make and launch vessels carrying plants which will germinate and grow along Birmingham’s canals, becoming a reminder of communities who travel in search of safety
Art and Design students from Bury College explore the story of Warth Mills Internment Camp in this exhibition, inspired by interned German artists and the terrible conditions the men had to endure
Visitors to the museum will be invited to help build community and foster connection by sharing one minute of eye contact with a stranger
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