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Giving Refugees a Voice Through Performance Art

Thursday 25 May 2017

With the media’s attention now firmly focused on domestic issues, it can be easy to forget that millions of people have been displaced from their homes, trying to find a safe haven from war, persecution and poverty. For most of us, the refugee crisis is far enough away to forget in our daily lives.

Students and academics from Sheffield Hallam University are exploring how performance can give a voice back to refugees in a project entitled Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow.

Sheffield Hallam University’s Dr Henry Bell and second year BA Performance for Stage and Screen students have collaborated with contemporary artist Bryan McCormack, to bring to life drawings made by child refugees.

Bryan McCormack spent most of the last year travelling to refugee sites across Europe. Whilst there, he asked people to draw three simple drawings: their past life (Yesterday), their present life (Today), and to imagine their future (Tomorrow). The drawings have been gathered together and will be used as "visual blocks" for the centrepiece of an installation promoted by the Fondazione Giorgio Cini and is one of the collateral events at the Biennale di Venezia – 57th International Art Exhibition.

Bryan brought these drawings to Dr Henry Bell to further explore how reimagining these images in real life could help to create a traceability of the experience of displacement, giving a voice and a dignity to people who have had this taken away. It is for this reason that another essential component to Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow. are the regular posts of the refugees' work on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Bryan delivered a masterclass to second year performace students as part of their Applied Theatre module - a subject which explores how theatre techniques can affect social change. The students sculpted themselved into a tableau inspired by the drawings to debate how they could take action to respond to the crisis themselves.

The year group are currently in Venice, to perform an interactive, debate-driven performance at the Fondazione Giorgio Cini - and the aim is for this to be the first of many performances that can lead audiences to both place meditative focus on the experience of the refugees that Bryan has worked with as well as consider how they, as an audience, can take action. The students’ ultimate aim is to perform in cities affected by the crisis, as well as in refugee camps and sites across Europe.

Elizabeth Pennington, one of the students currently performing the piece in Venice said: "Working on this project has deeply impacted me and changed me in ways I could not have imagined. I hope the project gets people talking about this crisis again. I hope that it inspires world leaders to take action in a way we have not seen. I hope that those who see the project see people, like you and me, and not simply statistics of this crisis."

To find out more about the Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow project follow on social media:

Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/yesterdaytodaytomorrowyesterdaytodaytomorrow/
Instagram : https://www.instagram.com/yesterday__today_tomorrow/
Twitter : https://twitter.com/Yester_Today_T
Wikipedia : Yesterday/Today/Tomorrow

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