June 2016

Engaging Refugee Narratives: Perspectives from Academia and the Arts

June 20 and 21, 2016 


Workshops, seminars and performances

Open to the public


June 2016

Engaging Refugee Narratives: Perspectives from Academia and the Arts

University College London

Two days of events brought together academics, arts-based NGOs and artists working with refugees.  The personal narratives of refugees reveal problems faced as well as sources of resilience and strength. People make sense of their lives through telling their own stories. Academics and other researchers and writers listen, record, analyse these.  Such stories are also an essential part of the work of the NGOs and artists as they collaborate with refugees and each other.

On June 20 and 21, 2016, participants explored how the arts can be effective as essential parts of interventions in resettlement and integration for refugees and local societies.  Through seminars, workshops and performances, this was an opportunity to explore a variety of stories using drama, music, visual arts, creative writing and other forms.  The two days were organized so that they also enabled maximum contact with each other, creating possibilities for future collaborations.

Dr. Ruth Mandel (UCL) and Dr. Susan Pattie (UCL, Armenian Institute) organized Engaging Refugee Narratives, partnering with Dr. Bruce White (OICD) and John Johnston (ArtEz).  

Programme & Recordings

June 20 at the UCL Institute of Advanced Studies


Dr. Ruth Mandel, Anthropology, UCL


Aesthetic Expression and Forced Migration
Prof. Dawn Chatty, Professor Emeritus, Refugee Studies Center, University of Oxford

The presentation will examine and explore the voices and aesthetic expressions of the displaced and dispossessed as a means of understanding the effects of displacement in terms other than those of the nation-state.  It sets out to recognize and investigate the frequently silenced voices of forced migrants who exhibit adaptability, resilience, longing, and resistance in the ‘grey zones’ and borderlands between states and state bureaucracies. It moves beyond the terms‘re-settlement’ either in the state of origin, the state of current emplacement, or a third nation-state, in which durable solutions to displacement are conventionally cast, and calls for an examination of  the experience of displaced groups whose social reality conflicts with the sedentist assumptions on which the nation-state is based.

Photos in the Romance of ‘Solidarity’: Some Anthropological Reflexions on the Visual Economy of the Refugee Crisis in Greece
Prof. Evthymios Papataxiarchis, Department of Anthropology, University of the Aegean

Photos have played a key role in the refugee crisis of 2015. They have been instrumental in communicating hegemonic messages about the crisis, in mobilizing human and material resources and in providing the ‘raw materials’ with which the politics of the refugee crisis are being conducted. In this short presentation I will discuss the biography of the ’famous’ photo of ‘the three grannies feeding the refugee baby’ that was shot in Lesbos in October 2015. I will analyze its career at the local, national and European context and consider its impact on the very lives of its protagonists.


'There's No Flowers in Mogadishu' and the Same '4 Cats': Some Critical Reflections from Malta
Dr. Maria Pisani, Department of Youth and Community Studies, University of Malta; Centre for Critical Migration Studies


What are the Psychotraumatic Elements of Armenian Refugees? 
Dr. Khachatur Gasparyan, Department of Medical Psychology, Yerevan State Medical University

This is a description of a survey conducted among three refugee settlements in Armenia, reporting on identity, social and psychological aspects of these groups. We will also examine general and historical aspects related to the displacement of these refugees, looking at psychotraumatic elements mostly associated with and influenced by historical experiences, obsessive memories and forced migration.  This includes memories of the Armenian Genocide handed down through generations. Traumatic events and memories also affect personalities of refugees, increasing the probability of illness, anxiety about and perceptions of the future,  other people and God, the meaning of life and death, issues of physical and psychological security.

Who Cares for Creativity? Art and Integration in Moments of Trauma
Prof. David Napier, Department of Anthropology, University College London

In this brief talk, I review some of the ways that art functions not only as a source of healing, but as a medium for building new relationships in moments of alienation and trauma. Based on work with refugees, the homeless, and stateless peoples more generally, I describe experiences in which art provides the creative context for new dialogues around suffering and healing.



Dr. Susan Pattie



NGO and Artist Presentations

'Palimpsest': Disrupting the Concept of Single Identity
John Johnston, ArtEZ Institute of the Arts, the Netherlands, Arts and Conflict Transformation

A project developed in the aftermath of a sectarian killing in Northern Ireland brought two opposing groups of young people together through a process of art production and critical inquiry.



Actors for Human Rights: Using First-hand Accounts to Hold Audiences to Account
Christine Bacon, Ice and Fire – Verbatim Theatre


Using Art Forms to Enter into Telling One’s Story and Enable the Healing Process
Mike Ayvazian, Theatre and Visual Arts, Beirut, Lebanon

Theatre, drawing, creative writing, movement are artistic means I have used to provide refugees with ways to tell their stories.  We will discuss how these art forms enable them to distance themselves from their traumas enough to work on a different perspective, different ways to deal with their emotional/psychological life and with their physical situation.



How to Reveal Human Resources and Build Culture Through Art
Ole Hamre and Sissel Saue, Fargespill, Bergen, Norway

A practical insight into the Fargespill method which has made more than 150 000 Norwegians buy tickets to experience music and dance performed by refugees and asylum seekers.




Evening Event at Studio Theatre, RADA

Performances and Film Excerpts by Artists Working with Refugees 


Phosphorus Theatre
Dear Home Office

An Applied Theatre project with unaccompanied minor young men, developed in partnership with Afghan Association Paiwand.

Dina Mousawi, Director
Terrestrial Journeys (film excerpt)

Ice and Fire
Asylum Monologues
Verbatim Theatre

Helen East and Rick Wilson
Universal to Personal: The Story Circle

Folktales and music provide a doorway to connecting with refugee narratives as Helen and Rick perform an excerpt from a musical storytelling presentation created for a refugee camp as part of the Hakaya Al Balad Festival and British Council, Jordan, storytelling project


Ole Hamre, Sissel Saue and members of Fargespill present Fargespill, an intimate, musical meeting with young peoples’ stories about who they are and where they come from, told through music and dance from their respective cultures.

June 21 at the UCL Department of Anthropology



Giving Voice, Shaping Story, Helping the Tale to be Heard
Helen East

A practical story-making workshop with a visual thread


Learning the Refugee Narrative
Jojo Hynes and John Johnston (ArtEZ)

Participants explored the refugee narrative from the many viewpoints of media, the protesters and the refugees. We will create immediate art works through a narrative process and explore how to play with the materials and present these jarring narratives in the space as a collaborative piece. 


From the Outside In: Expressing and Playing
Mike Ayvazian

Using clown/exaggeration/fun exercises, we will explore different emotions and then translate them into masks that will then be used to create short fun scenes. The aim is to allow an expression of various emotions without worrying about the outcome. 


How to Reveal Human Resources and Build Culture Through Art

Participants will be facing Fargespill's key question, “what do you have?” as opposed to the question most often asked the newly arrived children and youngsters, “what do you lack?” Through personal songs, items and stories we will explore the power lying in the uniqueness of the individual and the strength lying in a constructive and functioning collective. The Fargespill method has proven useful as a relational tool for people involved in education, cultural and social work, and can be applied to numerous situations where constructive communication is crucial.  



Issues of Representation, Working with Refugees

Caroline Brothers
Journalist & Novelist

Rob Pinney
Documentary Photographer


Critique and Evaluation
Led by Prof.  Bruce White, OICD