Historically, Ipswich has been home to many diverse communities, including refugees. However, over the last 20 years, brutal conflicts and persecution have led to increased numbers of refugees from the Middle East, Africa and Europe becoming residents in the town. The effects of displacement and changes in language, culture and environment can be profound, but many embrace their new surroundings and wish to be accepted for their similarities, while keeping their traditions and the memory of home alive.
In a special commission for the PhotoEast Festival, whose theme for 2018 is Belonging, Ipswich photographer Gillian Allard worked with members of the different local refugee communities to reflect on their experiences of what it means to ‘belong’.
Some of the participants had arrived in the UK under trying circumstances only to be faced with the many challenges that this circumstance had on their daily lives. During the project they reflected upon how they maintain their faith, develop friendships, integrate into a new society and way of life and manage their connections with home, which due to political or technological barriers were often difficult or impossible. This resulted in Gillian creating a range of portraits and still lives. She then used a technique to bond each digital image to an OSB sheet (approx.130cm by 93cm) and worked into each piece using other media and also developed a triptych series, that told simple narratives about the individual/s.
"At first the project was difficult for us all, meeting as strangers to explore individual, often emotional narratives.
This was of course, aided by the SRS workers and staff who knew the group well and were prepared to ‘kick-start’ conversations about the theme. However, I can honestly say it did not take long to gel with such a kind and friendly group and to develop a rapport and trust that evolved over time. I feel genuinely lucky and thrilled to have been a part of such an interesting and often humbling project – I have really enjoyed working with particularly the ladies from the IWG, that inspired my creativity more than they realise. It has been a both rewarding and often humbling creative exchange – thank you so much. My hope is that as the audience of our collaboration you feel some sense of the participants generosity in sharing their ideas on Belonging; such as family, friendship, experience, culture and memories - that reflect our similarities as people, that share a complicated world".
Gillian Allard 2018