Refugee Art and Bookmarks

Last Friday the Community Migrant Resource Centre in partnership with the City of Parramatta Library launched the Refugee Bookmarker project, to kick of Refugee Week proceedings. 

The overall aim of the project, which showcases the pieces of 5 refugee artists on bookmarks that will be available across 7 different library sites, including the NSW state library, was to raise awareness about the issues affecting refugees and the positive contributions they've made to Australian society. 

Michelle Aneli introduces the Refugee Bookmarker project to the audience

Michelle Aneli introduces the Refugee Bookmarker project to the audience

Addressing the audience, project coordinator Michelle Aneli spoke about why the week was so significant, "The theme for Refugee Week is “With courage let us all combine”. Taken from the second verse of our national anthem, the theme celebrates the courage of refugees and of people who speak out against persecution and injustice. It serves as a call for unity and for positive action, encouraging Australians to improve our nation’s welcome for refugees and to acknowledge the skills and energy refugees bring to their new home." 

Artists (from left to right), Mohaned, Wali, Anamika, Damon and Mohammed pause for a photo during the launch

Artists (from left to right), Mohaned, Wali, Anamika, Damon and Mohammed pause for a photo during the launch

Michelle spoke about how rewarding it was working with the 5 artists, who represent experiences from Afghanistan, India, Iran and Iraq. "I am honoured to have met and worked with these 5 artists, Wali, Mohaned, Anamika, Mohammed, and Damon. Their artworks tell stories of destruction but also hope for renewal; dreams of the refuge land from behind the fence; learning to appreciate the now and to seek happiness from within, that life is ever evolving but never forgotten, and home is where you make it. I thank them for sharing their lives with us and for being apart of this project to and advocating for the rights, freedom, and humanity of those who are in need of protection." 

The bookmarks, seen below, are available for collection at the various branches of the City of Parramatta Libraries. 

LAUNCH: A mentoring model of success

Over the past several months, the CMRC has been running an innovative mentoring project named ‘LAUNCH.’ The project is a 6 month pilot, run in partnership with Marque Lawyers, a SME law firm with a commitment to social justice.

Mentees (from migrant or refugee backgrounds) who have never experienced a corporate workplace environment in Australia, are connected with mentors (lawyers from Marque), who then sit together to develop an individual goal setting plan for the mentees that develops their skills, confidence and self esteem.

Chichi, a mentee from Zambia, spoke of her personal circumstance before entering the project. “I had been out of the workforce for many years, I lost touch with my work ethics and sadly with myself. I forgot about the language and technologies used in the workplace and most importantly that I have the skills and qualifications for the desired job that I want. I lost my inner self esteem and the fear of not been valued crept in. I forgot that, ten years of my life, I had worked so hard and achieved a lot for myself and the company I had worked for.”

Chichi described how her mentor, Felicia (Fee), has helped her regain her confidence and self belief, “my mentor, Fee has done a great job concerning goal setting and motivating me to achieve my goals. She has thoroughly guided me through resume preparation and job hunting. Above all, she made me realise that I have got great skills by sorting out my messed-up resume. Honestly, when she reviewed my resume by updating it according to the Australian formula and put herself as my referee, I almost fell off the chair! Like I mentioned before that I lost touch with myself, I could not believe that everything on the two-page resume was me… Before the program, I had understated myself, so looking at my resume was a shocker!”

Chichi poses with postcards from her mentor Felicia

Chichi poses with postcards from her mentor Felicia

Project coordinator, Priscella Mabor said “Our aim was to reset the goal posts on what is an achievable goal and measure of when someone is ready to make informed decisions about their pathway to employment, navigating education pathways and staying afloat in either an education or employment setting.”

She described how the project was structured in order to ensure a best fit model for mentees and mentors, “all the mentors received trauma-informed cultural competency training and all mentees received pre-placement training. Participants in the program applied with written applications and were provided with a meet & greet event, after submitting professional and personal briefs. The mentees were able to select their preferred mentors through a speed dating process.”

CMRC's Faiza Shakori delivers trauma-informed cultural compentency training to Marque Lawyers staff and potential mentors

CMRC's Faiza Shakori delivers trauma-informed cultural compentency training to Marque Lawyers staff and potential mentors

Chichi has taken her new found confidence and resume and secured a second interview for a potential administrative role within a cleaning company she had previously applied to in a capacity of just being a cleaner. Depending on the success of the pilot, and all signs point to it having positive outcomes, the CMRC is looking to continue this LAUNCH model of mentorship and create more pathways to employment for migrants and refugees.

Refugee Bookmarker Project - Culture Does Not Know Death

‘Culture Does Not Know Death,’ says Mohanad El Ghezi, a refugee from Iraq, as he describes the meanings behind his clay and acrylic artwork. Mohanad’s work is being displayed at Fairfield Musuem until the 9th September 2017 as part of the Shanasheel Exhibition, which showcases the works of Australian-Iraqi artists living in Western Sydney, exploring ideas of place, storytelling and identity.  Mohanad’s own artwork explores the diversely rich cultural and religious history of Iraq and its people, and how it has been affected by decades of war.

“This work is talking about unity, Iraqi unity, and to represent this I have symbols that are significant to different provinces and people in Iraq.” Mohanad says that important historical symbols, artifacts and architecture have been attacked by whom he deems as the enemies of Iraq, but despite this, the spirit of Iraq and its people will continue to endure.

Mohanad intimately details the meaning behind his work

Mohanad intimately details the meaning behind his work

“There is life inside, within the traditional artworks and artifacts of Iraqi culture, it speaks to something beyond itself, and although the enemies of Iraq try to break and destroy it, they can’t, because there is life inside, culture does not know death.”

Mohanad is just one of a few artists who are part of the Refugee Bookmarker Project, a partnership between CMRC and Parramatta Library. Project coordinator, Michelle Aneli describes the project, “ we are working with 6 refugee artists for a period of 2 months (April & May 2017) to collaborate on a bookmark project which will showcase the Australian refugee intake through artwork and written stories of the refugee artists journey to Australia.

The artists represent different cultural, ethnic and racial backgrounds from the Middle East including, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq & Iran. We hope that by creating these bookmarks we can humanise the refugee experience and continue to raise awareness of this human rights issue.”
 

Mohanad describes his hometown of Ur in Iraq and how it inspired his work

Mohanad describes his hometown of Ur in Iraq and how it inspired his work

The project is being run in conjunction with Refugee Week 2017, whose theme this year is ‘with courage let us all combine.’ Michelle believes that art is one of the best mediums to spark conversations and build bridges, “As human beings we all deserve a platform to share our stories and express ourselves whether it be through song, dance, art, writing, or speech. Unfortunately as a ‘refugee’ there are social, economic, and political barriers which may inhibit social participation and acceptance amongst the wider community. “Refugee Week” being  Australia’s peak annual activity provides refugees and other Australians to speak up and raise awareness about the issues affecting refugees and celebrate the positive contributions made by refugees to Australia.” 

Refugees like Mohanad are enriching and making contributions to the arts in Australia, driving creativity and culture. Here is Mohanad’s piece, in his words

Culture Does Not Know Death - Clay and Acrylic on Canvas

“All the beautiful remnants of Iraqi culture have become evil to the nation. The sky and clouds are black with smoke from explosions. As long as history remains and there are those who love the land of the prophets, the homeland of the Sumerians, Assyrians, Akkadians, Iraq can be restored to its former glory. My art is about having hope that Iraqi civilisation will rise again, like its beautiful history. The hope I represent through this work is that the next steps for Iraqi civilisation is to establish as beautiful and grand a future as it has in its past.”