Short film supporting refugee and migrant women wins at BIFF

Mon 1 March 2021

Artist and human rights activist Salma Zulfiqar's short film In Solidarity: The Migration Blanket has recently been awarded Best Animation Short at Berlin International Film Festival (BIFF).

MAC has supported the ongoing project by ARTconnects, which has provided free online workshops and sessions for Asylum Seeker and Refugee women and girls from around the world.

Salma Zulfiqar started ARTconnects with the aim of promoting inclusion, justice and empowering girls and women, particularly those from migrant and refugee backgrounds.

Salma says, "ARTconnects workshops and events enable people to reach out in support of each other and find common ground resulting in positive change, highlighting the need for tolerance, justice and LGBTQ+ rights through community peacemakers.

"Technology has saved us during this crisis. Despite the challenges and while we all moan about the endless Skype and Zoom the internet has allowed us to continue communicating in isolation. Initially, I was skeptical about how effective creative teaching would be online. I waded my way through the digital tools that enable users to design, draw and create while hosting a workshop. This meant being innovative with teaching tools, using multimedia to create meaningful sessions that yielded results.

"Dozens of girls and women from across the UK, Europe, Africa, Asia, the Middle East and the US joined us for the sessions from April 2020. ARTconnects workshops have been oversubscribed for vulnerable people living in isolation. All of the participants agreed to having a greater sense of community connection; 89% said they were interested in meeting people from different cultures during Covid-19 and 70% said their stress levels were reduced and felt accepted and included by others reducing isolation. As one of the girls who took part said: "I feel like a cup full of stress has been emptied after taking part in this workshop".

"While the technical and other challenges have been plentiful, it has been an honour to serve underrepresented, hard to reach females all over the world living in camps, orphanages and other temporary accommodation. When you work for yourself in a situation like this – when people are flagging, have lost interest and are severely depressed – one of the hardest things is to stay motivated and positive. 

"The workshops have been helping to motivate girls and women from all walks of life; with their input, coupled with my experience of mentoring and creative skills, we have developed an online programme which allows participants to express themselves in a safe space while learning new skills, rights and exchanging culture. This work culminated in the creation of our new film, an extension of the artwork exhibited during the Venice Biennale in 2019. 

"The film features over 100 pieces of artwork by females and myself is a call for unity, humanity and justice - while giving the voiceless a voice."

The project is supported by the UK Arts Council, MAC and the UNs Refugee Agency, UNHCR.

Refugees girls from all over the UK and the world participated, including in camps and orphanages. Over 25 nations represented and more than 35 females contributed artwork in 2020, adding to the blanket project which started in Birmingham in 2018 and exhibited during the Venice Biennale in 2919.

In the West Midlands , students from South and City Birmingham College and refugee women from the Bosnia UK network participated.

Read more about the project here.