As they get underway with marshaling a packed World Refugee Week, we catch up with Deborah Falzon and Julienne Schembri of Dance Beyond Borders, who will be organizing the inaugural Maltese edition of the global event across various venues on the island from 20 June
Creative expression allows us to craft experiences that inspire both enjoyment and empathy. This is arguably the most communally beneficial aspect of all artistic practice: the talented artist’s ability to pull us into a singular headspace and invite us to look at life through a different perspective.
It is precisely this phenomenon that the community arts organisation Dance Beyond Borders aims to tap into as it sets about organising World Refugee Week, taking place across various venues in Malta.
Starting on World Refugee Day itself (20 June), the wide-ranging series of cultural events will include music, dance, visual arts and film screenings, all of which will prioritise the viewpoint of the refugee artist.
Dance Beyond Borders founders Deborah Falzon and Julienne Schembri sum up the ethos of the event as “a concrete way of taking action to creating opportunities for refugees to speak up, share their stories and represent themselves through art”.
Inspired by the global World Refugee Week network, the event will officially kick off with a ‘March for Peace’ on 20 June. Inviting representatives of the refugee community to share their stories of ‘collective healing’, the march will take the form of a walk from Marsa Bridge to the town’s Belvedere Gardens, and will end with a musical performance from the percussion ensemble Trakadum.
“We believe Refugee Week will contribute towards putting Malta on the map as an EU state that actively promotes integration”
In many ways, the march embodies what the World Refugee Week is all about: giving space to refugee voices while remaining rooted in the physical spaces they share with the local community… all the while allowing those who have gathered to enjoy some music along the way.
“This is one of the most beneficial things we believe we can do as locals, because these spaces essentially represent the culture of welcome, care and celebration that we envision Malta to be,” Falzon says, stressing that this ideal vision of what Malta could (and should) be for the refugee community stems from their work on previous refugee-based projects, and the daily struggles they witnessed the participants go through.
“We started to question what action we can take as locals to contribute towards integration on a larger scale and became inspired to search for artistic events happening internationally that are founded in this vision,” Schembri says, reminding us that the World Refugee Week spans across the globe, and that Dance Beyond Borders have now essentially put together the inaugural edition of its Maltese offshoot.
“Refugee Week Malta felt like the next step for us because we believe this will contribute towards putting Malta on the map as an EU state that actively promotes integration through innovative artistic activist approaches for a more unified community that celebrates diversity and highlights shared humanity,” Falzon adds.
“Through the work of these participating artists, we are reminded of the plethora of experiences that people from this community share”
The packed all-week programme will boast a variety of artists and performers who will provide their own take on the theme of ‘healing’.
“The lead artists for the week are all presenting themes close to their heart, and very personal experiences of their own migration journey,” Schembri says.
The Iraq-born, Norway-based filmmaker and photographer Karrar Al-Azzawi will offer a glimpse into the harsh realities of people living in refugee camps; the impact of war on civilians and particularly children; and the normalising effects of violence, war, homelessness and displacement conditions imposed onto the vulnerable by others.
Malta-based Tunisian performer Mohamed Ali (Dali) Agrebi delves into his personal pain of wanting to connect with his father who is experiencing dementia but cannot due to the borders that exist between them.
Artist and curator Katel Delia will work in tandem with people from the refugee and asylum seeking community to explore the notion of home; various beliefs, cultures, languages, traditions, and food, and the familiarity in views about home.
Aidan Somers is working with refugee musicians who will be performing their original music that has been recorded and produced in Malta, presenting us with an active collaborative exchange that facilitates artistic expression and participation.
“Through the work of these participating artists, we are reminded of the plethora of experiences that people from this community share. We are reminded that we need to look beyond the label of refugee and that there are intersectional issues that people deal with and continue to deal with when they are living in a host country,” Falzon says.
Note: The March for Peace was subsequently relocated from Marsa to Valletta.
The festival has been endorsed by Counterpoints Arts, the coordinators of Refugee Week UK, and is supported by: Arts Council Malta; Association for Justice, Equality and Peace; Medina Asset Management, RiskCap International Ltd and Team Humanity Norway. Find a full programme here, and follow the festival on Facebook and Instagram for updates.