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The Art of Belonging - Nottingham. Some weeks later, preparing for the exhibition!

We are fast approaching the date of the launch of the Art of Belonging exhibition which will be part of the new season launch at the New Art Exchange. Shamila has been working with the participants on pieces that they will include in the exhibition. Some new people have joined the group including a small group of girls. We are now based at NEST, the educational provision the young people usually attend. Shamila decided in these last sessions it would be easier to work on this final preparation here. Volunteers from the group have been coming in early and staying late to help with the preparation which would not have been possible at the gallery.

For this session the group are either working outside creating new spray-painting pieces or inside a large hall. The young people organise themselves and move between the two spaces. Those who recently joined the group have not had chance to spray paint before and are excited to make a start.

Shamila also moves between the two spaces offering support and encouragement where needed.

Shamila has a vision for an exhibit which will be the young people’s map of Nottingham. In a previous session she introduced the idea asking them about places they felt they a sense of belonging. She started today’s session by asking the group to stand around the map which at this stage is a pencil line drawing that two of the participants who have been involved from the start have made.

She draws attention to the notes around the room which they made in previous sessions and asks if there is anything else that needs adding.

A group take responsibility for coordinating the map whilst others focus on creating patches to be added to the map.

I note that when creating images of places where they feel they belong in Nottingham, there is a range of representations of the cultural places they have visited as part of the programme.

But there are also images of places that are important to individuals. When one of the participants started work on the image below, Shamila and I assumed it was an outline of one of Nottingham’s galleries. Only when he added more detail did we see it was an international foods supermarket he had discovered near the New Art Exchange!

Whilst some focus on places that are important to them, others decide to create representations of what they feel they bring to Nottingham

One participant explains that he feels safe in Nottingham and that before he arrived in the city all he had experienced was hostility. He says he tried to show this in his piece. I ask him to explain it and he says before everyone talks of places where they would be welcomed but when they got there they often were not. He says the barbed wire represents this.

Often, in previous sessions I have noted that the young people reach a point where they are each absorbed in their work, intently focused on what they are doing on their individual piece. In this session, I am struck by the ways in which they are collaborating, either by encouraging or helping an individual complete their piece or by their joint work on the map.

We have reached the end of the session. There is still much to do to get the map finalised for the exhibition and some of the group volunteer to stay on and help Shamila. As the participants tidy the room carefully storing their pieces and cleaning up the spilt paint and bits of paper, there is a sense of an ending. The next time we will be together will be when the public see their work at the exhibition launch!

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