Marie Gillespie of The Open University and artists Elena Boukouvala and Knut Bry, met while they were volunteering at Pikpa refugee camp in Lesvos in the summer of 2016. They decided to work together with refugees in the camp to tell the story of the refugee experiences in new ways. The result was Dialogues Across Borders, an interactive exhibition sparked from the friendships forged blurring the boundaries between refugees, volunteers and artists.
Dialogues Across Borders questions and explores who we are to each other as the 'refugee crisis' unfolds. In 2016 a makeshift photography and poetry exhibition was co-created by refugees and volunteers at Pikpa Camp on the Greek island of Lesvos. The transnational friendships forged in this context and sustained by social media became the catalyst to a series of travelling interactive exhibitions across Europe.
In a series of workshops, the sharing of experiences through poetry, photography, art, theatre and music created a fertile environment for a rich and intimate cross-cultural exchange in which audiences were invited to make their own artworks (including designing bags made from refugee life jacket), building an evolving web of dialogues across borders.
They asked questions such as:
- Who are we and who are we becoming in our responses to the ‘refugee crisis’?
- Through playful co-creations and artful interventions how can we co-create new understandings of the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ – including a better understanding of the meanings and limits of hospitality and solidarity?
- What does it mean politically to bring playful co-creations and artworks into a context that is determined by legal and media discourses?
- Can playful artwork help us relate to each other in new ways?
You can find out more about these workshops on the short video postcard that we produced:
The Dialogues Across Borders project blurred the boundaries between artists, academics, activists, volunteers and refugees. It sought to break the national, physical and imaginative borders that separate and divide us through co-creating artworks.
Elena Boukouvala, a performance activist, drama therapist and founder of Play is Hope directed the Dialogues Across Borders project and the workshops.
Marie and Elena worked with the renowned Norwegian photographer Knut Bry, whose photographs, taken on successive fieldtrips to Lesvos, offered a humane, poignant yet ultimately uplifting representation of refugees rebuilding lives in contexts of profound uncertainty.
Marie’s collaborative research on smartphones and refugees and the poetry and photo exhibition she co-created with refugees at Pikpa Camp formed the basis of two of the workshops.
Elena’s travelling exhibition which she took to many cities across the world as part of Play is Hope project forged new relationships with refugees and artists and some of them joined us at the Tate by videolink from Greece to co-create songs and poems on themes of belonging, togetherness and migration on the spot.
Our workshops attracted audiences from Germany and France with visitors from London and included musicians from Greece and Play is Hope project. These workshops created new artworks based on the connections built around solidarities with refugees.
In the following video clip, Umut Erel, from the Open University interviews Elena Boukouvala and her collaborators Marie Gillespie and Knut Bry, alongside Lena Altinoglou and Yulie Tzirou who came to join us from the self-organised Pikpa refugee camp in Lesvos, Greece. They reflect on how digital technologies enabled new kinds of ‘digital solidarities’ to be forged and helped them to realize the project and bring refugees into the space of the exhibition, despite borders. They also think about how such collaborative work creates new forms of conversations across national borders.
After having watched this short video, can you think of the different transnational connections in this project? Between different types of people, between people and art work? How have these connections come about? How has the refugee crisis brought up new ways of creating connections between the people in this dialogue? What role did arts and creativity play in this? How do the participants in this interview challenge the idea that working with refugees in the camp is a one-way process of giving voice to the refugees?
Marie Gillespie was a nominated academic advisor on the BBC/Open University series Exodus. Find out more about the series here.