An exhibition of artwork created by young people in Lambeth with a range of innovative pieces to celebrate Refugee Week.
The pieces that Ceri Buck worked on include banners of messages of welcome to new arrivals to our classroom with Ashmole Primary school year 4.
A new arrival needs someone to go to the park with to feel welcome.
People need to know the giraffe snot joke to feel welcome in our school.
Year 3 at Heathbrook school drew miniatures with a caption of how they would welcome a new arrival.
New arrivals need to know that spaghetti isn’t yellow worms! They need to go to Lyme Regis to feel welcome. They need to know where the library and to be introduced to your friends!
And with new arrivals themselves at Olive School. we created tiles of welcome in different languages and miniatures of drawings exploring human rights imagery.
Recipe for Life at Ashmole and Heathbrook Primary Schools and the Olive School
Recipe for Life was a commission for young artists in schools, a series of workshops in schools and it culminated in a two and a half week showing at the Oval House Theatre Cafe Gallery to celebrate Refugee Week. All artwork produced explored the themes of what you, and what everyone needs for a good life in this country. What is your “Recipe for Life”? And this overall theme reflected Refugee Week’s Simple Acts campaign which aimed to raise awareness of what you can do to make life better for refugees and everyone else around you.
My role in Recipe for Life was to devise a workshop at Ashmole Primary School, Heathbrook Primary School and the Olive School to explore the issues and to create pieces of art which involved text in visual, sculptural and spatial ways. I worked together with Salih who runs drama workshops with Refugee Youth at Oval House, and who himself is a young refugee from Sudan.
We started workshops in the Primary Schools with a very brief introduction to the day and to Refugee Week and then we did some drama warm ups so that even though we were in their everyday classroom, there was a different kind of energy buzzing through the children and in the room. Salih and I then facilitated ‘How can you help me?’ role plays. One of us would mime a situation in which we were struggling and the children had to guess for themselves what our difficulty was, volunteer to intervene in the role play and remedy the situation. All without speaking. We mimed struggling with heavy shopping, falling over and injuring an ankle and being lost in a city and trying to find the way to the post office when you don’t speak English. There was obviously more than one possibility for each situation and scope for children to interpret and intervene in the scene in ways that reflected their own personalities.
We then trundled in a trolley – a suitcase on wheels – full of objects that were clues about what everyone needs for a good life; emotional needs (a photo of family), physical needs (a blanket, a plate and spoon), cultural and expressive needs (a musical CD, a paintbrush, a pen), the need for play and relaxation, (a toy, a book), the need to learn and communicate (a dictionary, a phone). The trolley itself was an implicit symbol of a life on the move, journeys, being in transit, living out of a suitcase.
Then it was time for the children to start creating something out of these ideas for themselves. They worked in small groups on a large piece of paper and created a mind map of what they could do to help a new arrival settle in their school (Let her join in, Stand up for him, Introduce her to your friends, Show them the books in the library, Play them your favourite CD, and brilliant quirky insights such as, Explain what spaghetti is in case they think it’s yellow worms and Take them to Lyme Regis). These simple acts were keyholes into the children’s world, into what’s really important to them, as well as how they would like to be welcomed.
Ashmole School created banners with the text of their welcome actions, so we had MAKE THEM FEEL MIRË SE ERDHET (we’d looked at a poster of the word ‘Welcome’ in all the different languages that are spoken in Lambeth, one group took a shine to this welcome in Albanian), YOU NEED SOMEONE TO GO TO THE PARK WITH, and YOU NEED TO KNOW THE GIRAFFE SNOT JOKE (which is, just so you know, ‘What’s green and hangs on a tree in a zoo? Giraffe snot’). This activity was challenging and multi-layered; it involved choosing the exact words to create into a banner, counting the letters, deciding who would make which letters, deciding what colour scheme to use for the cards, drawing letters on a large scale on newspaper to fill an A5 card, cutting out letters, arranging and gluing letters, and checking and adding letters missed out. Any length of space in the classroom became a place to lay out the arrangement, bits of newspaper were flying around the room, letters got all mixed up. We finished bang on time, not a minute before, and I was impressed with the children’s dedication to the task and how they managed working in groups.
Heathbrook School created miniatures of welcome action and colourful drawings, which were assembled together into a panel of 30 miniatures. The brief for the children was to not leave any space blank, they had to cover the 8cm x 8cm square in colour. The children unleashed their intricate and eye-catching drawing and design talent and skills. The panel was much admired during the exhibition and Heathbrook students came to see it for themselves.
With the Olive School, we worked slightly differently. The group of young people we worked with were new arrivals themselves, most only having been here for a couple of weeks or months. The drama warmers were crucial in moving beyond the slightly-frosty-and-I’m-still-checking-this-out-teenage reserve. The trolley activity was excellent for introducing or reinforcing vocabulary with real objects. We skipped the role play with this group. We spent more time looking at human rights imagery and expressions and the young people drew their own text and image symbol of human rights (and I showed the Heathbrook miniatures as an inspiration for a bold use of colour). We spent the afternoon painting words of welcome in different languages on tiles, exploring a new medium and the effect of paint on the tiles. The Olive School students and their teacher came to the Private view and saw their work on display.
I came away from the project very inspired by the creativity and talent of the students and much appreciative of the support that the teachers had given. I always try to establish a dynamic of trusting support with the students and teacher in the first few activities in each new classroom that I visit. These are my simple acts to make life better for everyone around me.