How an exhibition is exploring the struggles, hopes and dreams of refugee and migrant women through art

‘This project has given me a way to express my feelings when it’s just too painful for me to speak about what I’ve been through’

Salma Zulfiqar
Friday 29 June 2018 15:02
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This section, by a Somali refugee, looks at how Muslim women wearing the hijab are portrayed as terrorists
This section, by a Somali refugee, looks at how Muslim women wearing the hijab are portrayed as terrorists

A “Migration Blanket” created by refugee women from Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Senegal – together with international artist and activist Salma Zulfiqar – shows the challenges they face with integration in the UK as well as their ambitions as part of the project Creative Expressions by Women on the Move.

Many of the women that took part in the project, funded by the Arts Council and National Lottery, have had tragic journeys and recreated them on canvas over a series of workshops between January and February this year.

The project has also received support from journalist, author and anti-racism campaigner Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, who addressed the women during a creative session and inspired their artwork by sharing her personal stories of integration.

Mahreen from Islamabad, Pakistan, is an asylum seeker and having no status for years has left her unable to provide for her children properly – despite having the skills and ambition to work and become a role model for other women.

Art is helping the women to rebuild their confidence

“Many of the women are isolated, depressed, don’t want to go out and they don’t mix with others and they often live in fear. They are vulnerable migrant and refugee women and they can easily be pushed into something nasty if they are not supported in the right way,” Mahreen says.

“These kind of creative activities have helped me change my perception of life and the way I see myself. I know I have something to contribute to the community. This project has given me a way to express my feelings when it’s just too painful for me to speak about what I’ve been through. This is the first time I’m taking part in an art project with an exhibition and I feel very proud. It’s good for all of us, it’s giving us more confidence. I want to share my story so that people can understand us better and we learn from each other and live together in harmony. But the women need more support and more activities like this.”

The project has also received support from Malala Yousafzai’s father, Ziauddin, and Jess Phillips, MP for Birmingham Yardley.

Speaking about the Migration Blanket exhibition, artist Salma Zulfiqar says: “We live in a world where hatred is increasing and my project aims to bring people closer together by creating better understanding of cultures through art.

“As the late MP Jo Cox said, ‘We have more in common than that which divides us’, and my project aims to show that.

“Many migrant women in Birmingham are isolated and vulnerable and this project has helped some of them express their struggles and dreams and learn more about who they are and about what they want to achieve in life through art.”

She adds: “Taking part in this public project has helped them improve their confidence and realise their potential, as many of them have skills which they have not been able to use so far, due to setbacks.”

Zulfiqar also runs a project called ARTconnects in Birmingham to bring people from different cultures closer together. Her artwork has been exhibited in Paris, London, Birmingham, Greece and Kabul.

MP Jess Phillips says: “I think the issue around the integration of migrants, which Salma is highlighting in her project, is important and very powerful.”

The exhibition showing the struggles, hopes and dreams of refugee and migrant women is open at the Library of Birmingham.

You can follow Salma Zulfiqar’s other creative projects on her website and social media channels.

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