"No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark”.
This ‘rallying call’ from British Somali poet, Warsan Shire, provided the inspiration for a collaborative exhibition between Edinburgh Printmakers and their partners Cork Printmakers, which formed part of a larger project supported by the British Council / Creative Scotland partnership in 2019.
The project provided a research and development (R&D) phase to help the partners develop new relationships with similar organisations across Europe, to lay the foundations for a longer, three-year programme, ‘In from the Margins’.
This R&D phase involved Edinburgh Printmakers and Cork Printmakers working in partnership to develop a joint curation model and establish relationships with print studios across Europe whose practice is socially engaged.
An open call by both studios inviting submissions launched at Edinburgh Printmakers with an ‘Over the Borders’ event on 21 June, which brought together ‘artists from refugee and migrant backgrounds and groups supporting refugee and migrant communities, to share food and stories and the theme of migration and cultural identity’ (Shân Edwards, 2020).
The event welcomed visits from Cork Printmakers and AgaLab, from Amsterdam and involved 45 participants. Edinburgh Printmakers artists, Lindy Furby and Cat Outram led a workshop, creating a patchwork paper quilt representing participants’ perspectives on the meaning of ‘home’. ‘The stories shared were sometimes harrowing, sometimes inspirational but always rooted in personal experiences which have made us all who we are’ (Shân Edwards, 2020).
The resultant exhibition ‘Mouth of a Shark’ ran from October 2019 to January 2020 in Edinburgh. Including exchanges of artists’ work between Scotland and Ireland, as described by Edinburgh Printmakers’ chief executive, Shân Edwards, the exhibition ‘explored humanity and what unites and divides us’.
The exhibition was scheduled to be presented in Cork by Cork Printmakers over the summer but has been postponed as a result of Covid-19.
In addition to the visit to Edinburgh by AgaLab, partnership development saw staff from Edinburgh Printmakers visit Funen Printmaking Studio in Odense, Denmark, and staff from Cork Printmakers visited the International Centre of Graphic Arts in Ljubljana, Slovenia resulting in the formation of a new five-partner project, based around shared values on working with refugee and migrant artists.
As Shân Edwards comments: ‘The resulting partnership is based on a new level of mutual trust and understanding which we feel will stand us in good stead for delivering the programme.’
Together the partners have been successful in an application for Creative Europe funding to realise the ambitions of the ‘In from the Margins’ programme. This will see partner studios identify as Studios of Sanctuary and offer residency opportunities to refugees and asylum-seeking artists and/or artists effected by migration, bringing such artists into mainstream programming.
‘We are hugely grateful to the British Council and Creative Scotland for supporting the development phase of the ‘In from the Margins’ project and allowing us the time to build meaningful partnerships with print studios across Europe. We can’t wait to get started delivering a network of Studios of Sanctuary for refugee and migrant artists across Europe’ (Shân Edwards).
For Edinburgh Printmakers, the project has also bolstered local connections to refugee and migrant communities with closer ties to The Welcoming Project, Edinburgh’s Iranian Cultural Festival and the Refugee Festival Scotland.
Today, 20 June, marks World Refugee Day, a time when communities around the world recognise and pay tribute to refugees so it is apt to be sharing the story of this project now. Likewise, many of us across the world will have reflected on the meaning of ‘home’ during national lockdowns in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, so there is resonance too in reflecting on the creative work made through the ‘Over the Borders’ event.