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The Art of Belonging - Nottingham. Spray-painting

Updated: Jul 29


We are in the New Art Exchange performance space today which has access to an outside balcony area. Shamila explains they will be spray-painting reminding them of our visit to the graffiti art in Sneinton Market. She demonstrates putting on the boiler suits to protect their clothing. Although there is some reluctance once one of the boys dons the boilersuits, others follow. There is a sense of high spirits as they take pictures of themselves wearing them.



The group watch intently as Shamila demonstrates the spray-painting process.



The activity involves them creating stencils of themselves and of some of the places they have been to in the city. Shamila also talks to individuals about adding anything that represents their cultural heritage. The stencils of themselves are created by using a projector and asking someone else to draw around the outline of their shadow. The boys choose different poses as Shamila encourages them to consider how these images represent them.



As our session comes to the end, Shamila promises they can continue next time, they seem reluctant to leave!


The following week, we are back at the gallery to continue our spray-painting, but it is raining and so cannot add any more spray painting to the pieces. Shamila has some paint pens and said she has learnt this week that ‘in Arabic, writing is considered a form of art’. She encourages the group to add written text to their pieces in their preferred language.




As they settle to the task, Shamila notices one has written ‘I feel alone’. She asks him what he means and he says that when these sessions finish or when it is the end of the day at NEST (the education provision) he does not like going back to his room in a shared house. He says he misses his family. One of the others spends a fair amount of time writing something in Arabic on a piece of paper. The end result is beautiful and when I ask what it means he says ‘forgive the world, not equal to my mother’s look’. He has also been sketching a drawing of a woman, I note that he often draws the same woman and I wonder if it is someone in particular. He didn’t start spray painting last week because he missed some of the session. Shamila talks to him about his drawing of the woman. He then says he has to leave. Like many in the group he often arrives late or leaves early to attend appointments as he is approaching the decision about his legal status where he will find out if he is given leave to remain. Shamila says he can take the paper with him as he wants to finish the drawing.

Shamila offers to take some of the group to the exhibition downstairs, Laced: in search of what connects us. This is an exhibition curated by Loren Hansi and features work which connects to Africa and its diasporas. Much of the exhibition draws on textiles and stitch work. I read in the exhibition leaflet that ‘Laced is a meditation on the threads that connect us to our-selves and each other’. Once again, I am struck by how many exhibitions in the city seem to be so relevant to the new arrivals in our project. Could we do more to make such exhibitions accessible to all new arrivals?

Shamila leads the group to one of the exhibits which comprises four linked pieces made of line drawing and embroidery. They are really interested in this and stay with the piece for a while chatting to each other about what they think they see in the images. One of the boys uses his phone to translate the text in the accompanying label.



Another asks Shamila if there is any string upstairs, she says there is and he goes back to the studio. When we go back he has created pieceswhich involves him immersing the string into paint and dripping it onto paper on the floor.




Shamila asks him if he has done this before. He laughs and says no. He regularly adapts what Shamila models or take inspiration from an artist in an exhibition and incorporate this into his own work. Shamila later tells me that he often asks to take materials home and then comes the following week to show what he has created. We observe that recently some of the others have also been asking if they can take materials home and they often show us photographs on their phones of what they have been working on outside of the sessions. I have started interviewing the participants outside of the sessions and there are many comments about how drawing allows them to forget their worries and also gives them artefacts to put on their previously empty bedroom walls.

How far is participating in the project providing them a hobby, a pastime that will help them beyond the life of the project? We hoped that the project would encourage the development of new skills but had not really appreciated the important role it could have in their sense of wellbeing.

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