Loughborough University and Tate Modern use art to tackle the divisive interpretations of asylum and immigration

Artistic answers to the refugee crisis and post-EU referendum questions of nationalism feature at Tate Modern this week when Loughborough University hold its ‘Who are we?’ event.

The project aims to offer alterative perspectives to common preconceptions about the displaced families who have come to Britain after fleeing war and bloodshed in their home countries and those stranded in camps across Europe - many of whom look to the UK as a place of sanctuary.

It opens at Tate Modern, London, today, and is free.

The cross-platform event, which runs for six days, features visual arts, film, photography, design, architecture and the spoken and written word.

Many of the established artists have their own stories of seeking asylum or fleeing conflict and settling on foreign soil, and they will use their experiences to confront a range of stereotypical views and talk and discuss ideas surrounding the subject.

One, Kosovo-born conceptual artist and activist, Alketa Xhafa Mripa, became a refugee and arrived in London when war broke out in 1998, in her home country.

Her installation takes a traditional English home interior, including upholstered chairs and carpet, and places them in the back of a small lorry – the kind used to transport refugees – and invites visitors to share their experiences of how refugees should be welcomed.

Loughborough’s contribution to the national project has been led by Professor of Communication and Media Studies, Ele Belfiore. She said: “We wanted to explore the power of artists’ takes on the refugee crisis and the question of identity and belonging in a post-EU referendum Britain in a way that challenges the simplistic, sensationalist and often negatively biased coverage that the issue received in the news media.

“We wanted to bring the insights from scholarship produced at Loughborough into conversations with the artists, so that they could feed into their creative process.

“We have made our expertise available to artists with a view of developing long term collaborations, including, we hope, bringing some of the work presented at Tate Modern to Loughborough.”

The opportunity was made available as part of Tate’s Exchange programme, launched this year, which gives international artists and performers the opportunity to use their creativity to explore this year’s theme of ‘exchange’.

The University was one of 50 associates which helped launch the unique platform last September.

Prof Belfiore said: “I am really proud that Loughborough University is one of 50 Founding Associates of the Tate Exchange.

“This gives us the opportunity to work with a global cultural institution in experimenting with the idea of what a museum should be in the 21st century, and to make our own contribution towards shaping the museum of the future as a collaborative, participatory entity that is engaged in live cultural and political debates.”

Loughborough is part of a consortium (including Counterpoints Arts, The Open University and the University of Warwick) which joint-manages the Who are we? project.

After inviting applications from interested artists, Prof Belfiore, and colleague Dr Alena Pfoser, became collaborators to six established artists.

In total, 24 artists will contribute to the Who are we? project.

Prof Belfiore said: “The artists we are working with were identified with the help of our sector partners, Counterpoint Arts, who have long standing experience of working with and supporting artists from a refugee and migrant background.

“We put a call for responses through their network and were overwhelmed by the interest, among the refugee artists’ community, in being involved. “We then, as a consortium, worked with the artists to support them in developing their ideas for their contribution to the project.”



The artists:


Alketa Xhafa Mripa www.tracesproject.org/alketa-xhafa-mripa

Refugees Welcome is a dynamic mobile installation inside a Luton tail lift van - a symbol representing refugees crossing across borders. Kosovo - born Alketa, seeks to recreate the welcoming feeling she experienced when she was new to the UK. Alketa’s previous work – Thinking of you – turned a football pitch in Kosovo into a giant art installation, with thousands of dresses hung on washing lines in a powerful and poignant tribute to survivors of sexual violence. The exact location of the van will be announced shortly.


Ania Bas & Season Butler http://aniabas.blogspot.co.uk http://seasonbutler.com

Weight invites participants to write about 24 brands ranging from cheese and sausage to TV and online platforms, which according to research undertaken by Campaign into the top 10 brands favoured by Remainers and Brexiters, define the divided nation.



Behjat http://behjaturl.tumblr.com

From a Distance What would it mean to experience our own privileged lives as inextricably tied up with the exposed lives of less fortunate others elsewhere in the world? Under the fear of war, as thousands of families fled their homelands, a mother of twin infants started her journey to seek a safer place.  During the journey, a tragedy occurred. Behjat explores these events through a series of drawings in order to explore their meaning and make connections to a wider audience.

Bern O’Donoghue http://www.bernodonoghue.com

Dead Reckoning is an ever-developing project, an installation formed of thousands of tiny, hand-marbled paper boats, each marked with a relationship to another person, bearing witness to the thousands of migrants and refugees who have died and continue to die whilst attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea.


Elena Bukovala https://www.linkedin.com/in/elena-dina-boukouvala-2bb05045

Dialogues across borders questions and explores who are we to each other as the “refugee crisis” unfolds. In this workshop methodologies of trans-border networking and the cultural alliances developed through shared play and co-creation will be explored. Elena Bukovala is a performance and drama therapist.


Eva Sajovic http://www.evasajovic.co.uk

UnLearning the Role of the Artist: is a Learning Lab where artists can reflect on their role in situations of displacement. Artists have the means to move, look, collect and display stories, metaphors and visuals. Yet, are these stories the ones vulnerable subjects wants to tell? To whom these stories are told and what can they achieve in a world over-saturated with imagery?


Gil Mualem Doron www.a4community.com

The New Union Flag is a proposal for an alternative flag for the U.K. by the artist Gil Mualem-Doron. The Union Jack has never been officially adopted as the emblem of the United Kingdom but has just ‘fallen into use’. The New Union Flag is a modified version of the Union Jack, which includes designs of former colonized communities and of various ethnic and national groups that live in the UK today.  The project will involve petitioning parliament to discuss the adoption of The New Union Flag as the emblem of the United Kingdom.


JC Niala and Dr Yvette Hutchison & Dr Tim White

Who You Think We Are is a conversational performance' with audience participation, around language, the words

we use, how we talk. Language reveals the markers of identity - objects, dialect, race, gender, ability. Are we able

to define who we think we are, and how we became us? JC Niala is stage, screenwriter and poet. Dr Yvette Hutchison is Associate Professor of Theatre and Performance and Dr Tim White, Principal Teaching Fellow in Theatre and Performance Studies.


Laura Malacart http://www.lauramalacart.info

Robert: This project rehearses the idea that our subjectivities are structured by economics.  It engages with the brand mode of address and with the history of tea and of the first Western corporation via a participatory installation.  Chinese and English and are presented via a meaningful sense attributed to source and target language.  People are invited to a complementary Chinese language class with a carefully considered syllabus.


Lucia Scazzocchio http://www.socialbroadcasts.co.uk

Beyond The Babble is an interactive and participatory audio focused installation, exploring questions of identity & belonging.  Participants are invited to record personal thoughts, stories and experiences around questions of individual and collective identity. Who are we? Who am I? Over the course of the exhibition each recording is integrated into a living and growing sound installation.


Natasha Davis http://www.natashaproductions.com

50 Rooms is part of a series of furniture pieces whose static quality is intertwined with personal histories to comment on crossing borders and the transitory nature of lives. The installation is linked to ideas of home, belonging and in-between spaces, using memories of distant events, magic realism, stem cells and martial arts. Natasha’s installation work is often derived from and related to her live performance work.


Jillian Edelstein http://www.jillianedelstein.co.uk

Searching for Great Aunt Mina was inspired by a photograph and a commissioned photo essay for the London Sunday Times Magazine about the Sangoma, the traditional healers, (shamans) who are called by their Ancestors to heal. For Who are we? Jillian will be in conversation with Liz Jobey, an associate editor of the FT Weekend Magazine. Her story takes in the history of Eastern Europe and the solid immigration drive to Southern Africa from Eastern Europe. Photography, film interviews and diary pieces are used to illustrate Jillian’s family’s search for stability due to forced removal. This story echoes the lives of everyday migrants and asylum seekers today coming to Europe from the challenged parts of Africa, and the conflict zones of the Middle East.


Dana Olărescu and Bojana Janković http://www.therethere.eu

Trigger Warning is a participatory installation that merges traditional games from English village fêtes with the xenophobia of the media's anti-immigrant, and specifically anti-Eastern European rhetoric. The audience is invited to experience the life of a typical immigrant as imagined by the British media over the last decade: the job-stealing, benefits-scrounging, non-integrated Eastern European. Devised by There There, a 50% Serbian, 50% Romanian performance duo, Trigger Warning is invigilated by a group of Eastern Europeans of different professional, economic and generational experiences.


Alia Syed http://www.aliasyed.net.uk

On a Wing and a Prayer is a film inspired by the story of Abdul Rahman Haroun, who walked through the channel tunnel on 17th August 2015. Mr Haroun is currently held on remand having been charged under The Malicious Damage Act of 1861. The arcane language of this bylaw, when juxtaposed against the physical and emotional feat of traversing a 31-mile tunnel while high speed trains pass by forms the narrative arc for this film. A voice-over of excerpts from this obscure Victorian statute is set against an approximation of his journey created by filming a walk through the Rotherhithe Tunnel under the Thames.


Richard Dedomenichi http://www.dedomenici.com

Shed Your Fears is a booth, in which two people get to confess their fears to each other.  In the context of recent sociopolitical upheavals, participants would be encouraged to share their innermost fears. And by sharing them, hopefully shedding them, and transcending them.  Free tea and biscuits would be provided through a slot in the wall. Depending on how the conversation goes, participants can choose to exit through the separate doors through which they entered, or meet through a third connecting door that they both have to unlock from each side.


Nele Vos http://www.vos-org.com

Citizenshop/ship is an interactive travelling installation, which incorporates an online web shop where questions about data collection by policy makers and sociologists are raised and an assemblage of personal voices talking about citizenship is presented. The visitor experiences the government’s point of view alongside her/his own multidimensional needs, moving from being a spectator to becoming a co-author of the installation.

The installation interrogates emerging questions surrounding citizenship, such as the economic privatisation of the nation state, the worldwide increase in migration, cross-border interlinked technologies, and the disadvantages faced by the majority of people under these new international circumstances.



Venue: Switch House, Level 5, Tate Modern, Bankside, London SE1 9TG)

Date: 14-19 March 2017



  • 14 March 2017 at 12.00–18.00
  • 15 March 2017 at 12.00–18.00
  • 16 March 2017 at 12.00–18.00
  • 17 March 2017 at 12.00–18.00
  • 18 March 2017 at 12.00–18.00
  • 19 March 2017 at 12.00–16.00

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 17/37

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