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Refugee voices from Kakuma in art exhibition


Refugee voices from Kakuma in art exhibition

A project to depict the reality of refugee life and human displacement in various corners of the world is giving art lovers in Kenya fresh images of camp life and a better understanding of the challenges faced by exiles residing in a remote border camp.
5 February 2004
Refugee artists in Kakuma honed their skills with the help of Franco/Brazilian artist Marie-Ange Bordas, mounting an exhibtion that included this montage of a refugee girl playing in the barren camp.

NAIROBI, Feb. 5 (UNHCR) - Art and refugees may sound like subjects that cannot be farther apart, but a Franco-Brazilian artist is reminding art lovers in the Kenyan capital that refugees can be artists too, while also bringing the reality of life in a teeming camp to people visiting a recently opened exhibition.

"Refugee Voices from Kakuma" is a collection of a series of photos, video and audio installations and drawings currently on display in Nairobi's French Cultural Centre, one of the most popular showcases of Kenya's artistic scene, before travelling to Brazil later this year.

The show is part of Paris-based artist Marie-Ange Bordas' effort to portray the life of refugees through a multidisciplinary project entitled "Displacements" that she conceived while working with refugees in South Africa, Kenya and France. Her intention is to help expand the public's awareness of refugee issues through art.

Bordas lived and worked among the some 70,000 refugees in north-western Kenya's Kakuma camp for six weeks to help them bring images of refugee camp life to the wider world.

The exhibition was opened last week by France's ambassador to Kenya, Hubert Fournier, who reminded the government officials and diplomats attending the launch that refugees not only enrich their host countries with their cultures, but also with their skills and artistry.

"The medium of the arts serves to bring the plight and aspirations of refugees closer to the ordinary men and women, and I believe, will contribute to promoting and protecting their human rights," Fournier told the crowd attending the opening.

"This exhibition is an important event because cultural diversity remains a pre-requisite to dialogue between peoples from different backgrounds and fosters respect for human dignity and tolerance," Fournier said. "It not only safeguards cultural expressions, both contemporary and traditional, but it also promotes mutual understanding and creativity for our common enrichment."

Bordas first got the inspiration for an exhibition while working with refugees staying at the Massy Refugee Shelter in Paris.

The exhibit in Nairobi was the subject of a great deal of excitement among the refugees in Kakuma, and 14 artists from the camp were brought down to attend the opening ceremonies.

George Okoth-Obbo, the UN refugee agency's representative in Kenya, urged people invited to the opening to think of the more than 10 years of dusty exile that Kakuma's refugees have endured since the camp received its first refugees. He said that thousands of Kakuma's residents had initially been displaced many years earlier, first wandering across several countries in search of safety and assistance before finding the shelter and protection they needed in north-western Kenya's remote Kakuma refugee camp.

"The images Marie-Ange and these 14 young men have created portray some of this painful flight in search yet again of safety, but they also represent the plight of over 70,000 refugees from nine different nationalities who are in Kakuma," Okoth-Obbo said.

Many of Kakuma's refugees fled the long-running civil war in southern Sudan. The Sudanese are now eagerly watching the ongoing peace talks between the government and the southern rebels which are currently in recess but slated to restart in late February at a venue near the Kenyan capital.

Okoth-Obbo told the crowd to remember that the refugee artists all dream of their homelands and the day that they can repatriate in safety, and that UNHCR was working to be ready to help them return.

"As the peace negotiations unfold, we can all hope that these hopes are at long last due to become a reality as refugees can now return home in safety and dignity," the UNHCR country representative said. "Indeed, preparations for repatriation to the Sudan in particular in the aftermath of a comprehensive peace agreement, are already underway."