For two weeks in the beginning of January this year, Turkish artist Secil Yaylali stayed in Zico House as a resident artist. There she encountered many migrant workers and decided to embark on a participatory art project together with them using art to express themselves and collage their life stories. Read an account of her experience:
I already knew the theme of migrant workers in Beirut and the last Sunday of 2011, I joined the End of Year Party of Migrant Workers Task Force in Zico House. I had the opportunity to see the colourful lives in combination with their big problems. It was very surprising that they were coming from so many different countries with great cultures or countries which are either poor or with civil wars. I wanted to learn more about their stories and share with them, and create an exchange by using a medium different than words.
I really believe that everyone is an artist, if the proper tools are provided and a method proposed the creation starts. I proposed a workshop with some migrant workers and explained them my idea about a workshop with them.
Before coming to Beirut, I already collected some old photographs from the cities I regularly live (Berlin, Istanbul, Turin) and also some from Beirut. I invited migrant workers to bring their own or family photographs and maybe even some photographs from families they work for. Then with theses selected photos were copied to black-white copies in different sizes and some objects and subject can be taken from them to create their own life stories. By these black-white copies, their photos were not harmed and the time differences were minimized by putting them in one colour.
Building a story is not that easy, but sometimes, your unconscious selection also tells a story. It was important to play with the material and we need to see it as a game and create and enjoy at the same time.
In this step, we attached the collaged photographs to a big sized cloth piece. On the next steps I want to put a Phoenician purple colour on this cream colour natural cloth. This purple was famous from prehistoric times from Mediterranean region and especially from Lebanon. And some period of the history this purple was only used for royal people and these collages I wanted to question the royalty.
I’ve done 4 workshops, I tried to put myself behind and let them express their stories:
2 workshops with Rahel from Ethiopia, one workshop with a Sudanese group and the another one with a Nepalese and Sri Lankan women. It was amazing to see all of them have different approach to beauty and the creation. Their ideas and choices are different.
The stories came from Nepali were constructed. One participant make a family where the young year old boy is the grand father and the 5 year old girl is the grandmother and then the family tree is going upside down, another made a combination of religions with Buddhism-Islam and Christianity, and having some symbols of it. They made their own frames as individual works and make their own short stories in that. In Rahel’s work (she was making a big collage with her boss old family photos and herself and her friends and recreating of new groups of society, and was full of impressions and tells about he conscious or unconscious thoughts in an abstract way. With Sudani group worked all together and they mainly used the old photos and few of their own photos which was also full of small stories like changing the gun of the soldier with a bunch of flower. I think for all the participants, it was also a practice different then their daily lives. I think we all enjoyed it even one of them commented that that she can teach people to make these kind of works at her hometown.
I knew that their free time was valuable because almost all have to work all the week days except Sunday. I am glad that they spend this time in my workshop. When I start to learn more about “migrant workers” conditions, it started to terrify me more and more. I am sure that people who fight against it they have to be supported. I also see my workshop as a way to open a window to migrant workers, and I believe that it was good to give it a try. For my part, an artist I try make best out of my work, try to make more workshops and finalize it with an exhibition and reflect my approach by emphasizing that we are equal in the small world.
Special thanks to: Migrant Workers Task Force and Zico / Zico House and (Hassan from Zico House), Salah, Janie, Ibrahim, Priya, the Sudanese Community, the Nepalese Community and Rahel Zegeye.