Hong Kong groups use art to change perceptions of asylum seekers

Ahead of World Refugee Day on Monday, artists have come together to hold events and create work that tackles the stigma that refugees are a burden on society

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 June, 2016, 8:32am
UPDATED : Friday, 17 June, 2016, 8:31am

Local community groups are using the arts to change public perceptions of asylum seekers in the lead-up to World Refugee Day on Monday.

About 11,000 people are currently waiting for their applications on asylum and torture grounds to be screened by Hong Kong authorities.

In the wake of negative media coverage and government comments on asylum claimants, videographer Polly McGovern and artist Katherine Sparrow have launched a multimedia art project, entitled “We Are Here”, in an attempt to counter the idea that asylum seekers and refugees are a burden on society.

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As part of the project, the women took photographs of six refugees from Egypt, Iraq, Bangladesh and various parts of Africa in front of works Sparrow painted in different parts of the city to highlight their presence.

“We believe there is a big lack of understanding on the situation for refugees in Hong Kong and even a lack of awareness of the fact that refugees even exist here,” McGovern said.

The six-month project culminated in an exhibition at the Hive Studio in Kennedy Town on Thursday night.

In addition to the photographs, the exhibition also featured artwork made by an African refugee and live performances by asylum seekers.

“What we are trying to do is not only let people know there are asylum seekers in Hong Kong but to make people realise refugees can bring positive things to a society,” McGovern said.

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Other community groups, meanwhile, are hoping to use arts and other creativity to break down barriers between asylum seekers and the local community.

Led by Samra Mayanja, a University of Hong Kong exchange student from London and a founder of the Refugee Art Movement, a three-day long art festival entitled “Imagine That!” starts on Friday at various venues.

The festival will feature workshops and performances where asylum seekers will collaborate with members of the public.

“It’s about connecting beyond socio-economic barriers, beyond cultural and racial barriers,” Mayanja said.

The HKU exchange student stressed that with local politicians suggesting camps should be built for asylum seekers, there was a lack of empathy for this section of the population in the city.

Through the festival, she hopes more people in Hong Kong will listen to the voices of refugees and also understand that they bring a wealth of knowledge to the city as well.