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New exhibition opens at Aspex celebrating the creativity and achievements of Portsmouth’s Refugee and Asylum Seeker communities

Published: 25th June 2022 10:25
Aspex Portsmouth are delighted to present Healing and Now We Are Here - two collaborative projects between artists and Portsmouth’s Refugee and Asylum Seeker communities, now on display in the gallery’s Learning Space until 24 July 2022.

Responding to the theme of Healing, textile artist Vanessa Rolf has worked with Refugee service users and families at the Portsmouth City of Sanctuary Refugee Hub for three months, collaboratively creating two quilts, one fabric and the second quilt with colourful paper. Working together has enabled the group to share experiences and explore topics such as wellbeing, mutual care and the landscape of life changes.

“I have been inspired and humbled by those involved in this project, both service users and volunteers, who have given their time, their generosity and warmth, piecing together scraps  to create something bigger. I have felt lucky to have sat together growing something    colourful and joyful,” says Vanessa Rolf.

Now We Are Here, a new series by Portsmouth-based photographer Olufemi Olaiya, was created to highlight the contributions and accomplishments of Refugees in the United Kingdom, and how their journey, struggles and aspirations for a better life have helped define their status and place in society in their newly found home.

The portraits produced by Olaiya during a month-long residency at Aspex, aim to challenge the mainstream narrative of who a refugee is and simultaneously explore the complexities surrounding their reasons for fleeing their country of birth. Seeking protection in a distant land can come with the heavy price of losing everything for a fresh start elsewhere that is not guaranteed.

“Being a migrant myself, I put my heart and soul into this project by having personal connections with each of my sitters to capture their stories in such a way that it reflects their strength, vulnerability, and aspirations. Making them look important and larger than life was a priority for me. I have drawn inspiration from Renaissance artists such as Thomas Gainsborough, Anthony Van Dyck, Hans Holbein the younger and 1960s African contemporary photographers like Seydou Keita and Samuel Fosso to create the perfect feel for this project,” says Olufemi Olaiya.

“This exhibition builds on Aspex’s many years of work  with  our  local  Refugee  &  Asylum Seeker communities in Portsmouth, initially in partnership with Artswork & Journeys Festival International. We would like to thank Portsmouth City of Sanctuary and all the people who      have collaborated with us, and the Portsmouth Partnership who supported  this  important project”, says Joanne Bushnell, Director of Aspex Portsmouth.

Healing has been supported by The Partnership Foundation. Olufemi Olaiya has been supported by an Arts Council England Developing Your Creative Practice Award. Aspex are grateful to Portsmouth City of Sanctuary for their partnership on this project.

 

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