Photographer: Edith Whitehead
From 29th October to 2nd November 2019 we ran our fourth annual photography exhibition. Titled Belonging the exhibition featured 10 of our clients, each photographed by a different artist and interviewed by journalists from the Refugee Journalism Project. The exhibition is an opportunity to celebrate the incredible achievements of our clients and thank our supporters for helping us deliver our mission. Additionally, the exhibition is a chance to present our refugee clients in a new light.
Co-curated by Juliet Stevenson and Breaking Barriers, Belonging included photographs by a diverse group of 10 photographers: Adama Jalloh, Alice Aedy, Cherry Au, David Brunetti, David Emery, Jo Metson Scott, Kalpesh Lathigra, Maaria Lohiya, Ruth Grimberg and Sara Nicomedi. Their portraits, shot in multiple distinct styles, shone a new light on the individuality of each subject with the aid of a simple object.
Belonging saw each client photographed with an object that is meaningful to them and asked visitors to consider what gave them a sense of belonging in their own lives. In doing so we hoped that visitors would recognise that,
despite the different objects they might pick, the humanity represented by each is one shared by us all.
The personal stories of each subject were captured through face to face interviews with 3 journalists: Ernest Zhanaev, Marsha Glenn and Zozan Yasar who are resuming their careers in journalism with the support of the Refugee Journalism Project, and bring their own unique understanding of the refugee experience to the exhibition.
Photographer: Edith Whitehead
A note from Juliet Stevenson…
It is my great pleasure to welcome you to Breaking Barriers’ 2019 Exhibition: Belonging.
I’m very proud to act as an Ambassador for Breaking Barriers, whose work is both vitally necessary and extraordinarily effective. The refugee crisis is one of the biggest issues of our times, and the most challenging aspect of refugee experience is often that of having to build a new life from scratch in an unknown land and an unfamiliar language.
We quite regularly hear stories about refugees in the media. Stories that are often sensationalised, conflating refugees with economic migrants or framing them as a threat, and almost always treating them as ‘other’, a homogenous group with the same experiences, hopes and dreams for the future.
In the current climate it is more important than ever that we recognise ourselves in those we encounter. That’s why we’re so proud to present Belonging.
In this exhibition you will read the extraordinary stories of 10 very ordinary people for whom becoming a refugee was never a choice but rather something thrust upon them by circumstances far beyond their control.
Each of the individuals photographed brings their own unique story, experience, skills, passions, hopes and beliefs. From Sarah, a single mother raising a child in a new country to Eid, a young man with dreams of Olympic glory. No two refugees experience the same journey, nor even the same interpretation of what the word belonging means to them. But what does connect each of them is a profound need to realise that interpretation, and to secure it.
A sense of belonging is vital for all of us. Feeling connected with, and accepted in, the communities in which we spend our lives is not a luxury, it is a necessity. Belonging brings purpose, motivation, peace of mind, pride and the chance to build deep roots and feel secure in our homes. Consequently, a strong sense of belonging is positively associated with wellbeing and mental health.
Belonging is also inextricably linked with community. For many, that means a sense of remaining linked to the places in which we grew up or chose to build our lives. For those who have that choice taken away from them then, belonging is a precious commodity that needs to be found or created anew.
Work can be hugely important in creating a sense of belonging in a foreign city. It fosters purpose and pride, it provides the opportunity for independence and exploration, and offers a platform for meeting people and creating new networks and a community of support. By enabling refugees to find employment, Breaking Barriers helps clients to gain a sense of belonging in the place they have arrived in and encourages employers to create welcoming environments within their organisations.
For this exhibition, we asked each of our clients to select an object that is meaningful to them. So often, asylum seekers are forced to leave everything they own behind them, and to make their migration journeys with little more than the clothes on their backs, only to arrive in a society shaped by materialism and where the value of what you possess is dominant over almost all else. Each client was asked to pick an object in their life that held some significance – perhaps as a link to previous experience, or a representation of the dreams and aspirations that guide their current actions.
As you consider these extraordinary portraits, and read the accompanying stories, I invite each of you to consider what gives you a sense of belonging in your own life? What are the objects that remind you of your roots, that express your identity, that provide you with motivation or represent the things you still want to find or achieve? Each of us will have our own objects, our own distinct stories to tell, but the humanity they represent is one shared by us all.
Our home for the week was Proud Central where the exhibition was on display and we felt so welcomed by the staff and the community that came and visited throughout the week. Thank you to Proud for your generosity and support. We had so many nice comments from visitors about the space and how welcoming and accessible it was.
“We were absolutely elated to have Breaking Barriers taking over the Upper Gallery at Proud Galleries in Charing Cross, London. Britain’s leading refugee employment charity popped up in our space for their annual exhibition co-curated by actress and activist Juliet Stevenson. ‘Belonging’ was a truly compelling photography show inviting visitors to learn about the daily struggle of refugees finding their way in Britain, their new home, while also encouraging them to get involved and transform the refugees’ lives into a greater force for good. We do not want Breaking Barrier’s remarkable work to end with their show. Proud Galleries cordially invites you to visit our Best of Proud exhibition in Charing Cross and want to make you aware that you can also hire our gallery space for evening cocktails, shows and Christmas celebrations. For every photo you purchase or booking you place to hire the venue we will make sure to contribute to Breaking Barriers! Simply make sure to mention them when approaching us!”
Javier Robledo | Proud Central Gallery Manager
We have been overwhelmed by the positive response the exhibition received from everyone who visited the display and additionally from the press that covered ‘Belonging’. The BB team really enjoyed reading all of your heartwarming messages of support in our guest book.
Thank you to everyone who attended the exhibition and encouraged friends and family to visit. We are so grateful for your support and generosity which plays a central role in enabling us to deliver our mission and achieving our vision of providing every refugee in London to acquire the knowledge, confidence and experience they need to secure stable and fulfilling jobs.
Belonging was generously supported by our lead partner Bank of America and our associate sponsors IKEA, Mayer Brown and Proud Galleries.
Thank you to The Pret Foundation, U+I, Metro Imaging and Iconic Media solutions for your support with our 2019 exhibition.
To learn more about how we partner with businesses and create sustainable solutions to refugee integration in the UK find more information on our website here.