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‘Bittersweet Nostalgia’: Migration, Home and Belonging

Written by: Chloe Walsh, Volunteer 

Over the past few months, Rabia Nasimi has been working in conjunction with Dr. Mastoureh Fathi in order examine ‘Migration, Home and Belonging’ through the medium of painting with women who have fled their homes to seek refuge. The pieces of art created by the ladies who participate in our weekly ESOL Classes depicted scenes which reminded them of the feeling of ‘Home’.

‘Home’ for many of the artists included countries such as Syria, Turkey, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, with many of the participants living in London as refugees. The success of this poignant project has subsequently been exhibited at the Royal Albert Hall with a beautiful launch event featuring Afghan music from John Veronica Doubleday and dancing from Tara Pandeya, documented by a large press presence.  We are delighted to share that the launch of their week-long exhibition was not only a success for the organisers, but for the women who revisited their childhood, both good and bad memories, in order to produce nostalgic pieces of art. Many of the participating artists had not attempted to create a piece of art since their childhoods. For many, this was a difficult boundary to overcome since this ‘carefree’ creativity was considered childish but many of the women revealed this activity had a deeply cathartic affect.

The artwork covered a variety of domestic, educational and political subjects, unveiling a complete sense of their homes through canvas snapshots. Some of the paintings displayed kitchen items, utensils such as potato mashers and teapots that reminded the women of spending time with loved ones before fleeing adversity. Other painted family trips in the desert which allowed them to revisit the feeling of family. Others however painted the elements of ‘home’ that they regretted. One painted the ‘Blue School’, a school only for smiling boys, leaving the girls outside and unhappy. Home in this sense was bittersweet as she depicted the longing the artist felt for her home to change in some way. Some were abstract with an intense use of colour to represent the different stages of life, green representing childhood and black representing an uncertain future in their new home. Houses divided by strict block lines in order to demonstrate the rigid gender roles of some homes. The variety of interpretations was wide and executed brilliantly, yet many of the paintings branched from similar feelings of ‘home’ peace and oppression.

The purpose of our exhibition is to uncover the bittersweet nostalgia experienced by those who have left their homes, particularly for women who have little choice in matters surrounding migration and refuge. For the participants, rediscovering art has amplified their experiences and will surely touch the affections of their audiences.

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