The Art of Belonging - Nottingham. The Exhibition!
Updated: Aug 15, 2022
The Art of Belonging exhibition opens as part of the official new season launch at the New Art Exchange. This means that the work is given the same status as that exhibited by professional artists within the launch. The Art of Belonging exhibition will be seen by members of the public and will run for three weeks. It is located within a gallery space on the upper floor.
Ruth has arranged for all of the participants to come and view their exhibition at a time when the gallery will be fairly quiet. We have invited all the participants to come to the launch event too, explaining that members of the public might like to ask them about their work. As we wait for the start of the event Ruth, Shamila and I share our nerves wondering how many of the participants will feel confident enough to attend. In a moment of quiet before the doors open I take a picture of Shamila in front of the map:
All of the professional artists who are exhibiting have been given name badges by the gallery, Ruth also ensures that there are badges for each of the young people. Some have asked to be kept anonymous and just used their initials. A reminder, during this time of celebration that some of the young people are having to navigate complex lives as they are still at risk from traffickers.
I go downstairs and am taken back by the numbers inside the building and queuing outside. There is a DJ playing and there is a party-like atmosphere. I see two of our group outside and encourage them to come in. They collect their badges and go upstairs, and throughout the evening others from the group arrive. The first thing they do is take photographs of their own work.
Shamila and Ruth have worked with three of the boys to prepare a video about the Art of Belonging project which forms part of the exhibition. Again, the participants document this on their phones.
The video is on repeat and at one point when I am walking past it I hear some of the audio where one of the participants says: ‘‘Belongingness is for me, it is a feeling of connection to others and a connection to a place. It means feeling welcomed and accepted. It means being safe enough to be me’
As members of the public begin to make their way upstairs Ruth, Shamila and I encourage the more confident in the group to talk to them about the project. Soon around five of the group are acting as guides for the visitors. We note their smiles as they hear their work being complimented. The New Art Exchange is a gallery known for its commitment to showcasing new and marginalised artists and prides itself on its inclusive approach to diversity. Throughout the evening the visitors show their interest in the artwork and the young people.
It is so pleasing to see the work and the young people being valued and celebrated.
One of the boys says he is a little shocked that people are so interested. I ask how he feels about that, he responds ‘I feel so good.’
As the launch event draws to a close, the young people stay on to talk to us. Most have come to the event by themselves, though one has brought his foster carer. We explain that they will have chance to come again to see their work as Ruth has arranged for all the young people at NEST to visit the exhibition in the following week.
The exhibition will run for three weeks and is featured as part of the Nottingham Refugee Week events: https://nottinghamrefugeeweek.org/2022/events/the-art-of-belonging/
It is also showcased on the Visit Nottinghamshire website:
The work of the new arrivals has become a temporary part of the cultural fabric of the city. What would it take for this to be a regular feature? How can we ensure that there are future iterations of the Art of Belonging for those who come to make their new lives in our city?