Int’l Settlement Canada, Refugee Voices

International Settlement Quarterly features The Voices of Refugees Installation in 2010.

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International Settlement Canada published from the Centre for International Migration and Settlement Studies (CIMSS) at Carleton University of Ottawa Ontario featured The Voices of Refugees Installation in their 23rd volume in 2010.

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What is the Voices of Refugees Multimedia Installation?

The Voices of Refugees Multimedia Installation is a collaborative portraiture, video and live performance project that engages artists and activists from the refugee community. It provides an opportunity for refugees to tell their stories and celebrate their achievements through the creation of a modern multimedia installation. For example, the following is an excerpt from one of the Voices of Refugees’ videos:

“I was almost killed in my country, I was tortured…I have found some peace in my heart, after 2 horrible experiences in prison…More than 1 week the first time, with no food, no sleeping, no water. Being beaten up by 7 soldiers…The first time I was put into a torture chamber, they put me on a chair, and I was blind folded, I was hand cuffed in the back. There was a minute of silence, complete silence, before they started to beat me up. It was at that point, when I could feel them around me – the breathing of these….people.” (Victor Fuentes, a musician/painter from El Salvador)

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When is the next Presentation of the Voices of Refugees Multimedia Installation?

The Voices of Refugees Multimedia Installation is planning a 5-day event from June 16-20 at Library and Archives Canada during World Refugee Week 2010.

Who are our Supporters?

We have been very fortunate to receive support from the City of Ottawa, the Canada Council for the Arts, Ontario Arts Council, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Library and Archives Canada, the Centre for Afghan Progress, the University of Ottawa, the University of Oxford England, Carleton University, York University, Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization, the World University Service of Canada, the Canadian Centre for International Justice and the Coalition of New Canadians for Arts and Culture.

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Who is Organizing the Project?

The Voices of Refugees project has been developed by Sherry Tompalski (installation designer) and Graham Thompson (videographer). The concept was based on the realization that many refugee artists and activists arrive in Canada with highly developed artistic skills and compelling personal stories of survival. As a result, the refugee’s work is uniquely suited to a multimedia presentation where audiences have the opportunity to see, to hear and to understand their personal accounts of, for example, walking across Chad, without food or money to escape the horrors of Darfur.

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What is the Method and Process of the Project?

Tompalski and Thompson endeavour to create an environment for audiences to interact with the refugee artists and activists. Thompson engages the refugees in the creation of a short video about their work. Tompalski creates large-scale portraits of the refugees. In combination, they create a backdrop for the presentation of refugee’s work – setting the stage with multiple video screens and pictures of the refugees. As well, Thompson and Tompalski employ the use of posters, vinyl banners, web sites and streaming media to publicize the project.

What are the benefits of Voices of Refugees project?

  • The Voices of Refugees project helps to:
  • Promote inter cultural dialogue.
  • Provide a forum for the personal expression of refugees.
  • Address problems of isolation and cultural barriers that refugees may face.
  • Acknowledge the courage, determination and energy refugee populations have brought to Canada.

What is the history of the Voices of Refugees project?

Parliament of Canada, June 16, 2009: As part of World Refugee Week celebrations, the Voices of Refugees Multimedia Installation featured 8 portraits of refugees from Central America, Central Asia and Africa, segments of their life stories displayed on four large screen video monitors and a live performance with Guatemalan revolutionary singer Tito Medina. The event included speeches by the Honourable Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism and Abraham ABRAHAM the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Representative in Canada.

Library and Archives Canada, June 15, 2009: As part of World Refugee Week celebrations, the Voices of Refugees Multimedia Installation featured 16 portraits of refugees from Central America, Central Asia and Africa, 2 large video projections and a live performance with Guatemalan revolutionary singer Tito Medina.

University of Ottawa, June 2, 2009: As part of the 2nd Annual Conference of the Canadian Association for Refugee and Forced Migration Studies, posters, videos and performances by revolutionary singer Tito Medina were presented at the conference.

National Gallery of Canada, February 25, 2009: The Refugee Portrait Workshop provided young artists with a first hand view of the creation of the Voices of Refuges Multimedia Installation and a workshop in portraiture development techniques. The seminar also discussed issues of forced migration.

Canadian Centre for International Justice, June 26, 2008: Posters from the Voices of Refuges Multimedia Installation were shown at the formal launch of the Canadian Centre for International Justice at Library and Archives Canada. The featured speakers were Maher Arar, Lloyd Axworthy and Ellen Gabriel.

World Refugee Day, June 20, 2008: Posters and videos from the Voices of Refuges Multimedia Installation were presented on World Refugee Day 2008 at Ottawa City Hall, European Economic and Social Committee of Brussels and the Bell Green Community Centre of Coventry England. Video was presented on the University of Oxford England web site. Posters were distributed to relief organizations in Islamabad, San Francisco, Dublin, Tokyo, Melbourne, New York, Washington, London, Brussels, Cairo and Johannesburg.

Who are the Refugee Artists?

Dependent upon funding, we are hoping to feature the following refugees in the World Refugee Week 2010 installation at Library and Archives Canada:

Victor Fuentes is a songwriter, painter and activist who was born and educated in El Salvador. Through his music, art and social activism, Fuentes has helped rebuild communities in his homeland which have struggled to overcome the hardships of a civil war which lasted from 1980 to 1992.

Hamid Ayoub is a painter who was born and educated in Sudan. He fled the horrors of Darfur on foot across the deserts of Chad, living under the constant threat of starvation and attack by wild animals.

Tito Medina is a music producer and activist who found his voice as a revolutionary singer/songwriter in the streets of Guatemala City during the turbulent national protests of the early ‘70s. His passionate songs cry out for justice in solidarity with the struggles of his countrymen.

Hawa Kaba is a painter from Guinea West Africa. She was jailed when she was 15 for requesting a passport, as she was trying to escape the dictatorial regime of Ahmed Sékou Touré, which killed as estimated 50,000 people from 1958 to 1984.

Martin Mbesha, who was director of the Centre Artistique de Gitega Burundi, is a sculptor from DR Congo. Mbesha survived the Second Congo War, which is considered to be the deadliest conflict worldwide since World War II.

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