Artwork by young Peterborough refugees to be shown at Frieze Art Fair in Regent’s Park
The world-renowned event has been expanded this year to feature the ‘Ship of Tolerance’, an installation featuring vast sails made up of 178 paintings created by children and young people.
The ship itself is currently afloat on the River Thames at Bankside, by the Tate Modern, and further work made for the project is on show at the main Frieze fair.
Curated by acclaimed conceptual artists Ilya and Emilia Kabakov and charity Art Action Change, the Ship of Tolerance symbolises the hope and imagination that will steer the future of the young contributing artists.
Almost 40 of them are young people who have been displaced by the conflict, persecution and poverty at home.
Some of them have reached safety in the UK and are now part of Surviving to Thriving, a British Red Cross project offering holistic support to unaccompanied asylum seekers and refugees aged 11-25. Many others remain stuck in transit on the France-UK border, where charity Art Refuge is working to support their wellbeing through arts projects.
For these young people, the Ship of Tolerance may carry memories of journeys, borders and perilous sea crossings.
Kalyani McCarthy, project manager of Surviving to Thriving, said: “Looking at the ship from the bank of the Thames, I’m reminded that while some of those beautiful silk sails have crossed the Channel to be admired here in the UK, the young artists themselves are still stuck in Calais without the same legal route of safe passage.”
One boy known as ‘S’, from Eritrea, passed through the Calais ‘jungle’ and is now attending Surviving to Thriving group sessions in Peterborough. He is one of 20 young people who contributed art work to the Ship of Tolerance, and the process helped him to address the painful memories of his journey.
“Some of us came here this way, over water,” he said, “but this ship is different. It makes us feel good. It represents tolerance, which means that we are all equal and respect each other.”
In spite of the difficult situation faced by these young people, the ship highlights their capacity to imagine a better future. By exhibiting the artwork of refugees from both sides of the Channel alongside paintings created by other children and young people in the UK, the ship celebrates harmony, connection and solidarity.
Some of the young people chose to explore these concepts through their art. A 17-year-old from Ethiopia and an 18-year-old from Sudan decided to depict tolerance through kindness, showing how a simple act of kindness can really change the world. Another young artist from Morocco made a piece suggesting that people would not accept each other until they have the same rights, that equality and tolerance go hand-in-hand.
In Calais the concept of tolerance was sometimes difficult to grasp, given what the young people had suffered. Despite this, ‘T’ from Eritrea was keen to make a sail that said something about his identity. Picking a single flower stem from the Secours Catholique courtyard he said: “This is the same as a plant in my garden in Eritrea.” He was inspired by the notion that this flower would reach the UK.
Kalyani said: “At first some of them were a bit unsure about stepping outside of their comfort zones to try something new, but they soon became enthusiastic and their creativity started to shine.
“I believe this project has truly shown the power of art in bringing together young people from different backgrounds, nationalities, ethnicities and religions and it has been amazing to see all of their different interpretations of the word ‘tolerance’.”
Bobby Lloyd, CEO of Art Refuge, said it is more important than ever to support projects that draw attention to the urgent contemporary issues of displacement and bring these closer to home.
“Week by week, increasing numbers of individuals, including unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and young people, are risking their lives to cross the English Channel in the back of lorries or on small boats, with no safe passage available to them,” he said.
“With this in mind, it is crucial that we do all we can to keep the issues on the agenda, counteract stereotypes, celebrate difference and create a culture of openness and kindness. The arts have a unique role to play in this regard and the Ship of Tolerance is a brilliant vehicle for social change.”
The Frieze Art Fair presents the best of international contemporary art by emerging and established artists, alongside a dynamic programme of newly commissioned artworks, films and talks. T
he Ship of Tolerance can be seen moored on the River Thames at Tate Modern, Bankside, until October 31. It will also be part of the Frieze programme of events.
To find out more about Surviving to Thriving, visit www.redcross.org.uk/thriving.
To find out more about Art Refuge, visit https://www.artrefugeuk.org/.