Back Where You Came From

Back Where You Came From

Reflections on migration by people seeking sanctuary in Sheffield

University of Sheffield academic Dr Casey Strine and artist/art therapist Emilie Taylor have worked with asylum seekers and refugees in Sheffield to create a new art exhibition reflecting upon their experiences of seeking sanctuary in the city. The exhibition opens during Refugee Week 2015.

Ancient and modern stories of migration

The exhibition 'Back Where You Came From' examines how ancient stories about migration preserved in the biblical book of Genesis are helpful in considering the current migration crisis. The project seeks to promote open dialogue about migration through reading ancient sacred texts about migration in groups that include people from different faiths and cultures. Sanctuary seekers in the city have reflected on their movement, transience, and migration from their homes by responding to stories about the figures of Abraham, Hagar, Isaac, and Jacob from the book of Genesis.

Research and art therapy

'Back Where You Come From' comprises one part of a larger research project led by a collaboration between Dr Casey Strine and artist/art therapist Emilie Taylor. This collaboration explores how reflecting on narratives from sacred texts through discussion and art making can provide new knowledge and insight for people about their own experiences and the experiences of other people.

Bird in Hand

Dr Casey Strine, member of the Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Bible Studies at the University of Sheffield, said:

“I’m proud of this important exhibition. The book of Genesis—an ancient text that is the first book in the Bible and sacred to Jews, Christians, and Muslims—focuses on Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Each of these figures experiences forced migration. Indeed, that experience plays a crucial role in how these figures have shaped the identity and beliefs of various communities for nearly three millennia. Several participants noted how they were encouraged to see that migration is nothing new, but a longstanding experience that often comes with enormous challenges.”

Emilie Taylor, Sheffield based artist and art therapist, commented:

“The group of eight people seeking asylum, or with refugee status, who attended the sessions we provided have all experienced forced migration from their homes. They have arrived in Sheffield from eight different countries, each bringing their own story. In their work they have generously shared their difficult experiences and their insights as well as their reflections on the texts. When viewed together this provides an emotional journey for the viewer, a space within the turbulence that surrounds us to consider contemporary, individual stories of migration.”

Two Trees

Being around people with difficulties brought by government policies and seeing them put those problems aside and concentrate on doing the art humbled me. It was a positive distraction from the harsh asylum system. It proved that being disabled to do paid work is not inability to be productive

Ben, participant

The stories that we were reading were the highlight of the sessions and especially how Jacob travelled from his home town and seek refuge in his uncle’s home. This reminded me of how I was walking through the roads of Syria and Greece on my way to the UK

Tsehay, participant

More information 

'Back Where You Come From' will run from 15 to 26 June at The Gallery @ 35 Chapel Walk, in the centre of Sheffield, from 10am to 6pm. Download the exhibition brochure. 

Tags: SIIBS, migration, art, exhibition