Images and Journeys
October 2015 – January 2016
Devised and led by Amy Charlesworth in collaboration with Pavilion
Hosted by Hyde Park Picture House and Leeds Industrial Museum this four-part screening programme explored the image of journeying and the journeying of the image in the 21st century. It was programmed in collaboration with service-users from Meeting Point Leeds, an organisation that providers support and information for refugees and asylum seekers.
Images and Journeys aimed to expand on three intersecting elements: the potentials and limits of the lens-based image; the relation between mediation and the western media; questions of authorship and issues of control.
The first two screenings took place as workshops in October and November 2015 wherein which a range of artist’s films and documentaries were used as the basis for group discussion. Through these workshops, films were selected and then screened to the public at Hyde Park Picture House in December 2015 and January 2016.
The programme was prompted by an interest in the relationship between images of migration, or the migrant figure and the strategies used to mediate and disseminate those images. In the light of widespread media coverage about the so-called ‘migrant crisis’, the screenings explored how artists and film-makers are challenging dominant representations of migration in alternative approaches to both content and form. Of particular inspiration was the work of anonymous Syrian film collective, Abounadarra who, since 2011, have released a short film online every Friday. These range from short profiles on the Free Syria football team in Egypt, to a woman discussing her work in an orphanage in Syria, to a craftsman talking as he works, to the bombing of the Russian flight over Sinai and the subsequent reactions in Syria. They aim to produce a form of ‘counter-information’ that consider the ‘everyday’ as it relates to the standard images of Syria circulated to the rest of the world. For more information see the Guardian's film blog or watch Abounaddara films on Vimeo.
Abounadarra, like many before, see the production of these counter-images as a powerful mechanism for telling a different and expanded – invariably more complicated story – forcing one to consider what place ‘culture’ might have in a state of emergency and how such a culture is shaped by, or made in reaction to, media outlets (both citizen journalism and professional bodies).
The first of the two public screenings focused on the representation of migrant groups and attitudes towards migrants within the UK. For the second screening films were selected that related to the question of journeying in other parts of the world. In all cases the films were British-made. The programme was funded by Film Hub North, part of the BFI Film Audience Network, which aims to develop audiences for UK film.
The first public screening consisted of four films which shown together foregrounded the ‘right to the image’, or indeed the making of one’s own image. Sari Red, by Pratibher Parmar (1988) and Island Race by William Raban (1996), while formally distinct from one another take issues of race, travel/migration, nationalism and nationality through engagements with reportage. Both works deal with the contradictory aspects of the perpetual movement of the city - but through distinct means of accelerated observational footage, or lyrical poetic voice-over - and the indelible markers of violence on the cityscape. The third film was Fences Make Senses (2014) in which contemporary artist George Barber, draws attention to our island nation, and the journeys people take to get here. Instead of re-interviewing the forsaken, George Barber gathers a group of Londoners and friends - who are precisely not refugees - to re-stage some of the common refugee experiences: to think through, to experience and act out the lines, improvising the themes, situations and ideas that refugees frequently face. His work presents the injustices and paradoxes of a global situation in which, unlike many of the world’s displaced people, consumer goods can move freely around the globe. The final film of this screening was ‘They call us maids: a domestic workers’ story,’ a short animation film commissioned by Pavilion in 2014 and made by Leeds Animation Workshop in collaboration with Justice for Domestic Workers. The film draws on extensive interviews with migrant domestic workers, employed to work in private homes, often for long hours and low pay, who are campaigning for their rights and protection in the UK.
The second public screening began with Hamedullah: The Road Home (2012), which focuses on the situation of British immigrants who arrive in the UK when they are children but who face deportation on turning 18. In the film, director Sue Clayton gives a camera to one young man, Hamedullah, who faces such a situation, asking him to film his journey once he arrives in Afghanistan, his place of birth. In the second film, made in 1996, but extremely resonant today, Lis Rhodes’ Running Light responds to the experience of migrant workers trapped in work camps in Europe and America. Using photography, Super-8 and 16mm film as well as voiceover, drawing and writing the work deals, in a very different way, with the problem of making visible a reality that is impossible to access. Both these films draw attention to the experience of being trapped in a liminal zone, where people exist in a place but are unable to settle in it or call it home.
The question of who gets to travel and how was raised through the workshops with Meeting Point Leeds and were foregrounded within this screening. Rosalind Nashashibi’s film Electrical Gaza (2015) explicitly foregrounds the role of the ‘fixers and drivers’ in enabling her, as a Western woman, to travel relatively unhindered around Gaza. Both Electrical Gaza and the fourth film John Smith’s Dirty Pictures I (2007) are set in the Palestinian Territories. In one the camera’s eye weaves in and out of spaces capturing both the banalities and beauties of daily life whilst the other remains bound to the confines of the hotel room. While Nashashibi’s footage morphs, from time to time, into computer-modelled animations that resemble children’s stories, Smith’s unscripted monologue quite unexpectedly reveals the power of the mediated image when his camera rests with equal perseverance on both the ceiling of his hotel room and the view of Bethlehem from his window: here then a feeling of expectancy, the ‘waiting for something to happen’, is transferred from ceiling to city space, a space which too often articulated solely as a zone of conflict.
These screenings were free but generous donations will support projects working with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in the UK.