Emilee Moore from the Leeds-based TLANG research team reflects on the local festival workshops last week.
Before going to the workshops it was really hard for me to imagine what they would be like. I knew there would be silk painting and a vocal workshop, but it was quite hard for me to picture the value that might have for people who were on such tough life journeys. How would silk painting and singing really be of benefit to refugees and asylum seekers who must have so many more important things to be dealing with?
Having been to the workshop for the last two days I now get it completely. This is about bringing people together into a safe place where we can connect through art and voice. We might not share a common language and we might not know each other’s story, but we are able to communicate and work towards a common goal by mixing colours on silk and joining our voices in simple melodies.
I have come away from the workshops with lots of memorable images in my mind, but I also saved some by taking some photos.One of the memorable instances that I photographed is not really from the workshop, but from what one of the people in attendance was doing while others were painting. He was practising writing out the English alphabet and European numeral system on one of the blank cards we had for decorating. I sat with him for a while and he told me, with the help of a friend who interpreted, that he needed to practise because it was difficult for him, coming from Farsi. I asked if I could take a photo just of the card, and he happily agreed. At the end of the workshop he gave me the card, signed with his name. It is the nicest gift I’ve been given in a long time.
While all this was going on, I was not only a participant in the workshop but also a researcher coming from the university. In order to take the photo I felt I needed to get informed consent, using the forms that had been approved by the ethics committee and meticulously translated into Farsi, Kurdish, Arabic and Urdu by a volunteer. I gave the form to the man in Farsi, trying to explain it to him with my version in English and his interpreter friend. Another woman also helped out, reading through the four pages. The man then read the form himself from front to back. Once he finished he said something like “Ok no problem” and got back to practicing the alphabet. I had to interrupt to ask him to sign it, which he did. He then asked me to take a photo with him in it. I took the photo, but not including his face.
While I was struggling with my form in Farsi, my colleague Mike from the university had quite a following of three men. One of the men had come into the room and seen the ethics forms that Mike and I had left lying on a table, not intending that people would take them with so many more interesting things happening. This man had taken a copy in English and had sat down with it and was reading it, with obvious difficulty. Mike had noticed this and had sat down with the man, and helped him read through the four pages. I heard Mike explaining the meaning of “decline” over and over again.
I asked if I could take a photo of the form on the table being handled by 4 pairs of hands, with at least 2 mobile phones also on hand to look up information. They agreed and I took my photo, making sure not to include any faces.
So my reflections for the day: 1) I now completely understand the power of the art we were involved in for connecting people; 2) the ethics forms did not serve their original purpose, but took on a new purpose in generating learning opportunities and conversation; 3) Everything else I had to do yesterday and today seems quite frivolous – hence I have preferred to take the time to reflect on the experience with the women, men and children in the workshops and write it up in these notes.