As Refugee Week Malta winds down to a close, we speak to some of the artists who have contributed to Malta’s inaugural edition of the international event – which this year focused on the power of ‘healing’ through art and conversation
With Refugee Week coming to a close internationally this Sunday (26 June), and its inaugural Maltese edition also winding down, we reached out to some of the artists who have participated in the very first Malta-based edition of this global festival – which this year recognizes both the struggle and resilience of refugee communities, while putting an emphasis on the necessary ‘healing’ that they should all have a right to once they arrive to a place of safety.
Organised by Dance Beyond Borders, Refugee Week features a packed programme of activities – ranging from the March for Peace which launched it last Monday, to visual arts exhibitions, spoken word events, film screenings and musical performances.
“I’m from Baghdad, but I was forced to leave in 2016. My human rights activism played a big role in me no longer being safe in my native country. I made my way through Turkey before eventually arriving to Greece, and I remained stuck there for some time as the borders into Europe had closed back up in 2016. With not much else to do, I decided to put all of my frustrations into documenting my journey through film and photography.
“The photos which make up ‘Forgotten’ reflect the experience of refugees… and crucially, I am a refugee myself. Like the rest of them, I felt forgotten in the refugee camp. But this is a reality that afflicts refugees even outside of the camps. Just look at the media portrayal of refugees – all of these people are put into one big generic box labelled ‘refugees’. There is no empathy. These layers of meaning are also what lie behind the title ‘forgotten’. But I’ve decided to call it ‘forgotten’ – in the past tense – because I feel this part of my life is behind my now. Through events like Refugee Week, we should strive to not forget refugees.”
‘Forgotten’ will be on display at The Splendid, Strait Street, Valletta until 25 June. Opening hours are 4pm-7pm (weekdays) and 10am-1pm on Saturday. The exhibition was set-up with the collaboration of Sarah Chircop
The French-born, Malta based Maltese artist Katel Delia has curated the collective exhibition ‘Finding My Place’ for Refugee Week. The result of a series of workshops Delia organised ahead of the show, the exhibition will feature the work of various refugees based in Malta, brought together by the overarching them of ‘home’.
“My artistic practice focuses on migration. To do so, I use different mediums: photography, video, writing, installation. However, for this call I did not want to focus only on my work, I wanted to co-create an exhibition with people who have found refuge in Malta.
“The workshops weren’t structured like an art academy, where everyone would be asked to copy or focus on the same subject. Instead, I decided to go for creative-participative activities, which help us all learn about each other. Thematically, we focused on ‘culture shock’ and the notion of home. I also wanted to help participants to continue developing their own practice, while also making sure that those with no background in the arts can feel comfortable to create and form part of the project.
“At the end of the day, I can offer some advice here and there, but the fact is that most of the work is done at home, on their own. I simply trust them, and I hope this helps them to trust themselves too.”
‘Finding my place’ will be on display at Quicklets and Zanzi Homes, Tower Road, Sliema until 25 June. Opening hours are 9am-5pm (weekdays) and 9am-3pm on Saturday
Katel Delia at her studio. Photo by Joanna DemarcoAs one of Refugee Week Malta’s commissioned artists, the Tunisian-born, Malta-based artist Mohamed Ali ‘Dali’ Aguerbi presents his personal story of how he deals with not being able to see his father who has begun to experience dementia. Through the screendance video ‘Don’t Forget Me’, Dali will creatively explore a variety of key themes, including borders, family, asylum, inequality, xenophobia, and LGBTIQ+ rights.
“My parents got a chance to come over to visit me in Malta from Tunisia in 2019. This was a very happy occasion for me: a great period of reconnection and sharing. But unfortunately, it was not to be repeated. The pandemic made travelling for both us difficult, and I was not granted permission to visit them in Tunisia. This was also the period in which my father began to experience the effects of dementia.
“One of the things that hit hard was the implication – made by my father’s doctors – that the dementia could have been exacerbated by a recent loss: in this case, the fact that I had gone away from Tunisia. The sense of guilt which came with this, and the physical distance between us, led me to seek therapy. In one of the sessions, I read out a letter I had written for my father. I read it out to my therapist, then never shared it again.
“But one day, a friend of mine approached me to ask whether I’d be interested in participating in an Open Mic session, and I choose to read out the letter on this occasion. It’s then that I realized that I wanted to take it further. Another friend then put a musical accompaniment to the monologue inspired by the letter, which was when I submitted it to Refugee Week.
“Ultimately, I also view the piece as an act of activism. The message being, ‘You are not alone. And one day, you will get to be with the ones you love’. To the wider public, it communicates that refugees are not just static units who come here, take your jobs, and then leave. They are human beings who experience all the small human things – forming part of a community and part of a family, one which may experience disease and other hardships.”
‘Don’t Forget Me’ will be screened at The Mill – Art, Culture and Crafts Centre, Triq Il-Bwieraq, Birkirkara until Saturday, 25 June. Opening hours are 5pm-7:30pm. Dali will be present for a ‘meet the artist’ session at the venue on 25 June from 6pm
Refugee Week Malta 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.