Migration Matters Festival


Migration Matters Festival 

The Sheffield Migration Matters festival is in its twentieth year and continues to pursue the aim of giving a platform to artists who can sometimes find it difficult to get one. The problem, says Festival Director Sam Holland, can be that society often sees them as simply ‘an asylum seeker’ or ‘a migrant’ and those words take on a one dimensional aspect. Migration Matters aims to capitalize on the city’s natural inclusiveness to relabel them as ‘an artist.’

It’s a concept which ties in neatly with our own objectives at The Art House: as we said during in our Facebook Pride week – we only do one label and that’s ‘artist’.
And that label is a powerful one:

That word is a liberating and inspiring one. It can inspire them as individuals and it can inspire other people too. Because it reminds us that in whatever circumstances – good and bad – art does what it always does. It steps in and gives a motivation or a new perspective.
“Art has either accompanied these people on their journeys or it has found them along the way.
“And we have the full spectrum of what art is – photography, painting, theatre, dance and more besides – but the thing that pulls together the participants is the way that art has to some degree enabled them to reclaim their identity.
“They are all too often branded with labels they don’t want and then gifted template stories which are not accurate or real. Art – as used in this festival – lets them powerfully tell their own stories. It makes them visible as people again, as individuals.

And, although they may have started their lives many miles away, they are now actually living in Sheffield and a part of the city with their day to day lives, their ongoing stories and the work they create.

“Sheffield was the UK’s first City of Sanctuary and for good reason. The city has a fantastic tradition of welcome and friendliness. At its best, people have come here and those labels of ‘immigrant’ or ‘migrant’ or ‘refugee’ have faded away and being replaced by the word ‘Sheffielder.’
“It’s not easy and it isn’t always like that but what I’d say to people who don’t feel that way is come to some of the Migrant Matters events. Come with your different opinions, your different points of view and talk to real people. Hear real stories; see real experiences portrayed in all those different mediums of dance, paint and imagery.
“They’ll find, I hope, empathy and a connection. These are people like everyone else with incredible stories and talents. They’re parents, they’re colleagues and they’re artists. As I said, some of them have always been artists and but others have become so along the way. But – right here, right now – the common thread is the sense of artistic talent that reminds us we are human together.”

So does Sam believe that events like Migration Matters can change how people think?

My background is in theatre and yes, I think that seeing first hand someone’s expression of an experience is much more potent than the stereotypical portrayals we often see in the media.
There was a Sanctuary In Parliament Theatre group who performed a play (9 Lives) in the UK parliament about a Zimbabwe gay activist. And their performance changed the way parliamentarians viewed the issues they tackled. That’s incredibly powerful.
But that experience isn’t reserved for the great and the good – experiences like that take place every day throughout our festival. Right here, right in the middle of Sheffield. If you want to be a part of it then you need to come along – whether you feel you know where you stand in the debate or whether you just want to know more.”

So – we asked Sam – what’s the most surprising misconception about refugees and immigration?

“I think it’s the general skepticism about people’s reasons for coming. So often people do not choose to come – to leave behind their country and their homes and their families. They do so because there is no alternative.
“And often they are desperate to return. After the Kosovo war the majority of people returned when it was safe to do so. Often the refugee mindset isn’t how can I make myself stay it’s when can I go home.”

And, amongst this year’s programme, a recommendation for Art House blog readers?

“I think the lineup is strong enough for whatever you choose to attend to speak to you but, in the Manifestations event at Theatre Deli, we have three artists. One of them, Karmand Tahsin, took part last year. He originally studied Art at Iraq University but had to flee his home country due to war. He works during the actual events so you can watch him actually create. Last year he used nails and thread to create a self-portrait. (See images.) It was incredible to watch – he’ll be creating something during the installation this year. Expect something equally powerful. And don’t think of it as ‘refugee art.’ Karmand’s home for the last two years has been Sheffield; expect Sheffielder art – powerful, honest and human.

“We really hope you’ll come and see.”