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Media centre home > News > Refugees given a voice through art

Issued:25/05/17

An art installation responding to the global refugee crisis - which includes a special performance by Sheffield Hallam University students - has stunned audiences at the Biennale di Venezia International Art Exhibition.

The installation - Yesterday.Today.Tomorrow - brings together powerful images drawn by refugees based at camps across Europe, in which they picture their past, present and future, and is one of the collateral events at the world-renowned art exhibition.

Paris-based artist Bryan McCormack spent a year collecting the drawings from refugees in official and unofficial camps and squats across Europe. The drawings, by child and adult refugees, depict scenes ranging from the terror of dangerous sea crossings and attacks on their home towns, right through to imagined futures of safe housing and playing with friends.

The drawings, which have been published on a daily basis through the project's social media channels, are the visual blocks and centre piece for the installation in Venice, with supporting art including an applied theatre performance by students from Sheffield Hallam University.

The performance is designed to create living sculptures out of some of the drawings, with the whole group 'sculpting' each other into tableau inspired by the drawings to debate how they could take action to respond to the crisis themselves. 

The performances were filmed and are now being displayed on multiple screens as part of the installation in Venice.

For one day only, the video versions of the artwork were brought to life by the students, as they enacted a live version of their performance at the Fondazione Giorgio Cini, with the general public encouraged to interact with the performers and sculpt them according to their own reactions to the drawings and live theatre.

Dr Henry Bell, lecturer in performance studies at Sheffield Hallam, said: "This project is giving a voice and a dignity to people who have had it taken away. By bringing the drawings to life the project is helping to create a traceability of the experience of these displaced people and chronicling this humanitarian disaster. 

Students at Biennale
Bryan at Biennale
Students at Biennale 2
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Yesterday_Today_Tomorrow_7

Click to view the images

"The applied theatre element got the students to focus on the experience of the refugee artists but also to locate their lives in the context of the refugee crisis. 

"The aim is for this to be the first of many performances that can lead audiences to both place meditative focus on the experience of the refugees that Bryan has worked with as well as consider how they, as an audience, can take action. We aim, in the future, to perform in cities affected by the crisis, as well as in refugee camps and sites across Europe."

Click on the links below to learn more about the project.

For press information: Please contact Martin Webb in the Sheffield Hallam University press office on 0114 225 2621 or email m.webb@shu.ac.uk