1 June 2020
Birmingham based artist-activist Salma Zulfiqar took the opportunity that the coronavirus lockdown created to make something beautiful in the digital space. Faced with the cancellation of her art therapy workshops, she moved the gatherings online.
ARTconnects was started in 2017 to promote things we all should be embracing more (and probably are more aware of now more than ever) – social cohesion, peace, tolerance, LGBTI rights, gender equality and general wellbeing. The project brought together asylum seekers, refugees and vulnerable individuals and has held over 100 sessions across the UK and internationally too.
Art is a fluid concept, and this shows in the format of the sessions, which include covering poetry, music, conversation, pictures and paintings. These are bound together by themes or concepts and participant are encouraged to talk about their work to reduce isolation and improve confidence and language skills, while promoting understanding of different cultures and wellbeing.
The new format, conducted via Zoom, has held three sessions, and allows participants from as far afield as the US, Spain and Italy to participate. The first online sessions included inputs from the South Sudanese refugee rapper and actor Emmanuel Jal and the British actor, Michael Simkins, who starred in The Crown.
Zulfiqar has worked with refugees for a while. She showcased her project at the Global Refugee Forum hosted by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, in Geneva late last year and has run projects under the Peace One Day campaign supported by the UN. Her work has also won accolades from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, and funding from Arts Council England, for the 'Migration Blanket,' an initiative through which refugee women from around the world created an intricate canvas blanket depicting their journeys to safety.
Participants also have a chance to discuss daily challenges during lockdown, like shopping on a tight budget, keeping communal areas in shared accommodation clean, hurdles in social distancing and how to address a lack of official information.
ARTconnects is inviting new participants from the migrant-refugee community and Zulfiqar is planning a joint performance project. Those interested in supporting can donate to the group or make contact through the projects' social media channels.
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Thank you to UNHCR for sharing this story.