Hostile Environment, Artful Living: Seeking Creative Approaches to Sanctuary
This one day conference, held as part of Nottingham Refugee Week, will explore how creativity can be used to resist the ‘hostile environment’ promoted against refugee and asylum-seeking communities within the UK.
A series of online talks, workshops, networking and creative activities
A free lunch, courtesy of the Syrian Vegan Kitchen
Plus, don’t miss the free comedy gig later in the evening, from refugee-led comedy collective No Direction Home
Registration: 10 am Conference: 10.30 am – 5.30 pm for free food and drinks from the Syrian Vegan Kitchen Comedy gig: 6 – 7 pm (a more detailed schedule can be found at the end of this page)
As cited in the IPPR’s ‘Access Denied’ report (September 2020), over the past decade and beyond, the UK has witnessed the mushrooming of an aggressively hostile system that denies basic human need to those seeking sanctuary across numerous sociocultural sectors – from policing, welfare, housing, health and education to Home Office immigration systems themselves.
In response to this pervasive discourse, however, counter-narratives and counter-practices have seeded and grown with astonishing vigour across the breadth of the sociocultural sphere – from the high-profile and high-visibility (arts festivals such as Counterpoints’ ‘Refugee Week’; Charwei Tsai’s film projection ‘Hear Her Singing’ on the Southbank Centre, London; the emergence of the Cities of Sanctuary network) to altogether subtler negotiations and refusals of hostility (‘living maps’ projects whereby newly arrived sanctuary-seekers annotate maps identifying resources of use to new communities, for instance; or refugee-led wellbeing services such as Vanclaron, that operate within Serco-run hotels to nurture positive mental health). While presenting ‘life-sustaining practices’ of creative ‘uprising’ and ‘innovation’ (Espiritu et. al., 2022), this emergent nexus of narratives and practices is yet to be placed in dialogue, and thus mobilised as a site of connective critical agency.
It is the task of ‘Hostile Environment, Artful Living’ to generate a pioneering platform for such essential criticality. Blurring the boundaries between academic discourse and community-engaged activity, this 1-day event presents a series of discursive platforms designed to initiate dialogue between those working ‘artfully’ within and against the hostile environment, across and between the arts, humanities, and community-engaged sociocultural sphere.
The day is organised around three Roundtables: ‘Narratives’, exploring the mobilisation of literary, story-based, festival-based and community-based narratives that ‘artfully’ rewrite the narrative of hostility; ‘Environments’, exploring ‘artful’ negotiations of public spaces such as housing, healthcare and green space; and ‘Leading the Conversation’, presenting ‘artful’ projects developed by creatives of lived refugee experience.
Each panel consists of four ‘headline’ speakers drawn from diverse academic, cultural-creative and community locations, who will offer 10-minute presentations designed to spark debate among the wider roundtable audience. Confirmed speakers include Allan Njanji (also conference co-convenor), filmmaker of lived refugee experience, whose work explores ‘refugee voice’ in documentary journalism; blog developer Hira Aaftab, presenting refugee-led blog Our World Too; editors Rubina Bala and Alexandros Plasatis, presenting refugee-led literary journal The Other Side of Hope; and storytelling producer Naomi Wilds, discussing community-based storytelling with young communities of sanctuary-seekers. We are honoured to be hosting a Keynote (via live weblink) from Yến Lê Espiritu, Distinguished Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, San Diego, whose field-defining works on ‘critical refugee studies’ include the recent 2022 Departures and 2014 Body Counts: The Vietnam War and Militarised Refuge(es).
The day is bookended by performances from artists of lived refugee experience, opening with Florette Fetgo, spiritual artist of Cameroonian heritage, whose public actively contest police hostility in Nottingham; and closing with a gig from refugee-led comedy collective, No Direction Home.
We are proud to be serving complimentary food from the Nottingham-based refugee-led business, the Syrian Vegan Kitchen.
Throughout the day, our emphasis is on establishing collective, transdisciplinary dialogue on ‘hostile environment, artful living’, in the hope that our discussions will form the basis of an eventual edited collection of essays and interviews, and of an AHRC funding application.
Roundtable audience participants are invited from across every discipline and cultural sector, and are welcome to join for some or all of the day. Conference attendance includes complementary lunch courtesy of the refugee-led Syrian Vegan Kitchen, and entry to No Direction Home’s end-of-day comedy gig.
We also welcome posters, displays of projects and ‘cultural interventions’ that fit the theme of the event from participants.
The day’s events take place at Bonington Gallery, Nottingham Trent University city campus, which can be easily reached by tram or bus from Nottingham train station.
10 am – registration / coffee / creative networking activities / exhibition in foyer
10.30 am -11 am – Introduction from the organisers (Anna, Allan, Margaret) / interview with and performance from Florette
11 am -12.15 pm – Roundtable 1: ‘Narratives’. Chair: Anna Ball. Speakers X4 plus roundtable participants.
12.15 – 1.15 pm – lunch / networking.
1.15 – 2.30 pm – Roundtable 2: ‘Environments’. Chair: Margaret Ravenscroft. Speakers X4 plus roundtable participants.
2.30 -3 pm – Break
3 – 4.15 pm – Roundtable 3: ‘Leading the Conversation’. Chair: Allan Njanji. Speakers: The Other Side of Hope eds x 2, Hira, Usman.
4.15 – 4.30 pm – Break
4.30 – 5.30 pm – Keynote: Prof. Yen Le Espiritu.
5.30 – 6 pm – snacks and drinks
6 – 7 pm – No Direction Home comedy gig.
Yen le Espiritu (keynote)
Dr. Anna Ball is an Associate Professor in Postcolonial Feminisms, Literatures and Cultures at Nottingham Trent University. Anna is the author of Forced Migration in the Feminist Imagination: Transcultural Movements (Routledge 2021) and co-editor of an anthology of writing by women of forced migrant experience, The World Is for Everyone: New Writing by Pamoja Women Together (Palewell 2019). Her research explores the relationship between participatory arts, activism and cultural mobilisation within transnational (often gendered) arenas of forced migration.
Allan Njanji is a filmmaker, refugee, activist, and doctoral researcher at Nottingham Trent University. Allan is completing a practice-led PhD course, which includes the production of a documentary film, Voices, and a podcast series, Revealing the Untold: A Talking Point. T His filmmaking seeks to enable and platform refugee voices, and his films have been used by refugee charities as resource tools for casework and refugee integration practices. He is also on the boards of Nottingham Refugee Forum and Nottingham Arimathea Trust.
Margaret Ravenscroft is a PhD researcher in creative representations of forced migration and spatial justice/ feminist architectures at Nottingham Trent University. Margaret’s written work on representations of race and gender in the built environment has been published in industry press and she has forthcoming publications about gender, race and migration in the Journal of Postcolonial Writing and the Journal of Girlhood Studies. In addition to her research, Margaret oversees the strategic communications, outreach and engagement at Coffey Architects. She led the practice’s longlisted entry, ‘Rights of Passage’, for the 2023 Davidson Prize.
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