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Arts Together marks Refugee Week

A photography project which aims to capture the hopes and lives of refugees and asylum seekers in Leeds has been launched by Arts Together to mark Refugee Week.

Running from 15-21 June, Refugee Week takes place every year across the world in the week around World Refugee Day on 20 June. In the UK, it encourages a better understanding between communities through a nationwide programme of arts, cultural and educational events that celebrate the contribution of refugees to the country.

With this year’s theme ‘Imagine’ as their starting point, refugee and asylum seeker members of Arts Together partner Mafwa Theatre will discuss how they imagined their lives would be when they reached the UK and, in particular, when they arrived in Leeds. After hearing their thoughts, photographer Lizzie Coombes will take portraits of them in a way that connects to their story, producing a series of portraits that reveal the role of imagination in the lives of people looking to make their home in the city.

Mafwa Theatre lead a workshop at the Arts Together End-of-Year Celebration © Tom Arber

Leeds-based photographer Lizzie Coombes has a long track record of work in community, social documentary, theatre and portraiture:

“During these unprecedented times, human connections feel precious and important to me. I’m looking forward to meeting, listening and talking to the participants, and collaborating with them to create photographic portraits they feel represent them and their sense of place within our communities.”

Mafwa Theatre works with refugees, asylum seekers and other Leeds communities to create theatre and performance art. They were keen to become involved in the project to see how photography could be used to explore the personal experiences of their members and to discover how people’s lives today compare to how they originally envisioned they would be.

Participants at Mafwa Theatre

“This project is a brilliant opportunity to highlight the experiences of refugees and asylum seekers living in Leeds. We fully expect the resulting words and images to enlighten and challenge, while also forming a great collection to share with others.”

– Keziah Berelson, Co-Artistic Director, Mafwa Theatre

When the project is complete, the photographs will be featured on the Arts Together website and it is also hoped to produce a brochure commemorating the activity for both those involved and the wider community.

Arts Together End-of-Year Celebration at Left Bank Leeds © Tom Arber

A network of over 70 arts and community organisations in the greater Leeds area, Arts Together is funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, and is administrated by Opera North, who were awarded Theatre of Sanctuary status for their work with refugees and asylum seekers in 2018.

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