Art in Lockdown: World Refugee Day 2020

Tue 30 June 2020
Participants taking part in the ARTconnects for Refugees online workshop

We asked artist and activist Salma Zulfiqar to reflect on the online ARTconnects for Refugees workshop she delivered in partnership with MAC to mark World Refugee Day 2020. The workshop was one of the many free artistic events taking place across the region to celebrate Midsummer Festival, with the aim of connecting people in lockdown.

Stopping hate from spreading in our communities is more important than ever right now as we ease out of lockdown.

I started ARTconnects in 2017 to do just that. Through a combination of visual arts and conversation, the workshops bring together girls and women from migrant, refugee and host communities to promote better cultural understanding. 

Having worked abroad for the United Nations to support the humanitarian needs of women and children fleeing conflict, these invaluable insights provided me with a unique experience to lay the foundations of a project to build better cohesive communities throughout the arts.

If you look at the statistics, it is clear to see that we cannot live without migrants in our society – they contribute to the economy and undertake vital jobs that give back to the community. As an artist and activist from a migrant background who hails from the West Midlands, I want to show how we can celebrate migrants and refugees through art. 

Over 50 different nationalities are represented in the West Midlands. With vulnerable, high risk communities often cut off from their usual charities and support during the height of the Coronavirus crisis, I was determined to continue the project - so in April, my work went online to support these communities by promoting wellbeing and calling for solidarity in the face of adversity.

Salma Zulfiqar creating artwork during the workshop

The global pandemic and recent anti-racism protests have shown us how we need to keep up the fight for a more inclusive world, creating communities where no-one is left behind. I believe girls and women have a central role to play in this.

June 20 marked World Refugee Day this year, and with the refugee cause very much hidden following the Covid-19 outbreak, I want to remind everyone that equality is one of the important pillars of our humanity. During the special online session, held in partnership with MAC, women from African, Asian, Arab and British heritage came together in a celebration of cultural diversity.

During the session, a Kurdish Asylum seeker based in Birmingham said, "We share our culture and accept everyone."

The workshop allowed participants to connect with people in their homeland. A refugee from South Africa based in the UK taking part in the workshop said, "I’ve never done anything like this before, to be able to connect with someone in South Africa was beautiful... and I feel at ease."

June also marks Pride month and the workshop conversation focused on the importance of being able to love without fear and discrimination.

Throughout the global crisis, migrant and refugee communities have been hardest hit along with other vulnerable people. Financial restrictions, lack of access to Covid-19 information, social distancing issues and dealing with trauma from fleeing conflict have all made life much harder in the emergency situation.

One Syrian refugee said, "Lockdown has been really difficult - I can’t see friends, it’s very hard time for me. I miss my teacher and friends. We have support when I’m in class... So I thank you for this workshop."

Another participant summarised the workshop, saying, "It was real honour and privilege to hear the stories. I can’t imagine what life is like for people in this situation." ARTconnects aims to put social cohesion first and foremost - being able to connect those who don’t usually interact with migrant and refugee communities is key.  

Salma Zulfiqar's artworks have been shown during the Venice Biennale 2019, at Midlands Arts Centre, and in London, Paris, Greece and Dubai.

Find out more by visiting Salma's official website and visiting the ARTconnects Facebook Page. You can also watch Salma's recent piece Corona Revolution here.