On the 18th June 2019 we launched ‘Journeys to Manchester’, an exhibition exploring the lives of people displaced by conflict, persecution or natural disaster who have settled in Manchester. The main purpose of the exhibition is to highlight experiences and realities of migrating to a new country, using quotes from oral histories of individuals involved in our projects. It was important to us that we included cherished memories of people’s countries of origin and the discovery of cultural differences once in the UK, rather than only portraying the traumatic experiences that have become synonymous with being a refugee in mainstream media.
Another aim of the exhibition is to showcase material collected by organisations that have supported refugees since the opening of the AIU Centre in 1998, which otherwise is only seen by those who request to see it. The material includes flyers, posters and leaflets of past events, photographs from festivals and even video footage of previous Refugee Week celebrations. It was fascinating to find out about the workshops and activities on offer to refugees during the past 20 years, such as radio broadcasting workshops and community conferences. It prompted me to wonder, what are the most valuable activities and workshops being offered to refugees in Manchester today?
Curating this exhibition was a whirlwind of a task – we quickly found out just how much material we have that demonstrates the centre’s relationship with refugees over the years, and how difficult it was to navigate the not-quite up-to-date catalogues. I was given the task of unearthing everything that was suitable for the exhibition – everything we had permission to use and was appropriate to share. Collections began to spring out from MRSN (Manchester Refugee Support Network), VOKIM (Voices of Kosovo in Manchester), Lisapo (Congolese Oral History project) and many more. A highlight was finding an archive box with unidentified VHS tapes in, which our friends at the North West Film Archive helped me view and then digitise. I found footage of a Kosovar family being interviewed about their journey to Manchester, and various artistic representations of journeys made from all over the world.
To celebrate the launch of the exhibition we invited pupils from Longsight Community Primary School to visit the exhibition and create ‘found poetry’ to reflect their thoughts and feelings about it. The results were fantastic, and the children’s ideas were inspiring and thought-provoking. The craft activity involved tearing words from magazines and newspapers and arranging them on coloured paper to create a poem which reflected the way refugees feel during their journeys to Manchester. These pieces will now form an important part of our wider Refugee Week archive collection and can be seen on display in the exhibition.
If you haven’t seen the exhibition yet, it will be in the Lower Ground Floor Exhibition Space of Central Library until the 29th June and is free to visit. If you would like to request to view any of the archive material featured in the exhibition, please send an email request to email@example.com.