BY DAVID CUONG NGUYEN
The creation of art by, about and with refugees in the UK and beyond is ever-expanding. It is work that carries both great possibility and potential risk. How can arts most powerfully and ethically engage with migrants and refugees, their narratives and experiences? The Platforma Manifesto aims to create a shared space of possibility, creativity, and reflexivity, supporting artists and organisations to continue their important work toward positive social transformation.
Art matters. And in the contemporary context of the refugee ‘crisis’ and heightened border politics, art that represents and communicates refugee and migrant experiences and perspectives is particularly important. Such work is emerging in exhibitions, performances, projects and programmes, from small community organisations to major cultural institutions, touching artists, participants, and audiences in a range of practical and emotional ways.
What guides artists and organisations as they continue to evolve their practice in response to new challenges, new communities, and new politics? And what might a Manifesto offer? Manifestos are often thought of as rigid and binding. But a manifesto can also be flexible and aspirational. The proposed Manifesto, to be developed as part of the biennial Platforma Festival, is aimed not at limiting or determining what is created and how, but at opening up spaces of possibility and creativity; articulating a shared vision of what art by, about and with refugees and migrants might aspire to be and do.
The Manifesto workshop that I will be co-running with theatre-maker Stella Barnes, to be held 28th October at the Newcastle City Library as part of the 4th biennial Platforma Festival, aims to provoke dialogic reflection on critical issues at the interface of arts and migration. It will interrogate artistic engagement with questions of representation, quality, power, aesthetics, context, ownership, ethics, and more. Such reflection raises many questions and no simple answers: questions relating to how art is created, by whom, for whom, and with what intent. While the answers to such questions may differ, we suggest that the questions themselves, and the issues they address, may be shared. A Manifesto offers a tool for critical reflection on artistic practice and its engagement with refugees and migrants and their stories, encouraging work that is rigorous, ethical, powerful, and purposeful.
Reflecting back on my journey as an artist, from a refugee-background participant in community arts projects to a professional writer and director of theatre with refugee and migrant youth, I can see these questions and issues embedded in my practice, in my process, in my body. I know it is the same for others. By coming together and sharing our knowledge and experience, we hope to create new spaces and opportunities for artists and organisations, migrants and refugees, and allies and audiences, to pursue positive social transformation through art.
Follow Platforma on Twitter: @platformaarts and Platforma Festival: #Platforma2017
David Cuong Nguyen has been awarded an Australian Endeavour Executive Fellowship in association with Counterpoints Arts.