before you are a refugee
Poet and education artist Arji Manuelpillai made 'before you are a refugee' in response to his conversation with Ashvin Devasundaram
This is how he got there...
Arji Manuelpillai is a poet, performer and creative facilitator based in London. For over 15 years Arji has worked with community arts projects nationally and internationally. Recently, he was the Jerwood Arvon Mentee mentored by Hannah Lowe. His poetry has been published in magazines including Cannon’s Mouth, Strix, The Rialto and Bath Magg. He has also been shortlisted for the BAME Burning Eye pamphlet prize 2018, The Robert Graves Prize 2018, The Oxford Prize 2019, The Live Canon Prize 2020, The National Poetry Prize 2021 and Winchester Prize 2021. He has also come runner-up in the Robert Graves Prize 2020. Arji was provided a Develop your creative practice grant from Arts Council in January and has been using the time to interview and discuss extremism in its many forms. Arji is a member of Wayne Holloway-Smith’s poetry group, Malika’s Poetry Kitchen and London Stanza. Arji’s debut pamphlet ‘Mutton Rolls' was published with Out-Spoken Press. www.arji.org in 2020.
Dr Ashvin Immanuel Devasundaram is Senior Lecturer in World Cinema at Queen Mary University of London. He is author of India's New Independent Cinema: Rise of the Hybrid (Routledge, 2016) and Indian Cinema Beyond Bollywood: The New Independent Cinema Revolution (Routledge, 2018) - the first book and edited anthology on new Indian Indie films. Ashvin is Associate Director of the UK Asian Film Festival – London and has directed the UK Heritage Lottery-funded documentary Movies, Memories, Magic (2018).
on rehumanising refugee journeys
We need a real revamping or overhaul in the way we think about refugee journeys... to go back to domiciles, the space where individuals might encounter conflict or oppression, persecution and repression [which] cause them to put their lives on the line, crossing the blue desert of the Mediterranean.
on potentials lost, left, taken away
I love the idea of potential - you could have been that, you could have been doing this - the hopes and the dreams you have when you leave your place to be somewhere safe... That's the greatest sadness: the idea that someone gets somewhere and then still can't fulfill their potential.
on modes of refugee representation within film and theatre
on foregrounding voice, formal innovation and the profundity of little things
How innovative are our mechanisms to bring these stories to as wide an audience as possible? We need a more pluralistic platform where people who have actually experienced their journeys can collaborate with creative artists.
on methods to contest rhetoric of exceptionalism
Be vocal with your position in terms of the art that you're creating...: create work that staples your position within a political battlefield.
Ashvin Devasundaram wrote this response to his conversation with Arji Manuelpillai
Arji and Ashvin's conversation was facilitated by Kazzum Arts. Kazzum provides opportunities for children and young people to explore creativity at times in their lives when they are most in need of support. Kazzum's Pathways programme, founded in 2002, engages young asylum seekers, refugees and new migrants in a range of workshops to support their creativity and wellbeing.
Arji has written a further reflection on his experience of making 'before you are a refugee' and the process of conversing with Ashvin, which you can read on Kazzum's site here.
Together with Queen Mary's Centre for Public Engagement, Arts and Culture commissioned Kazzum to explore those topics and questions most urgent to the communities with whom Kazzum works. The commission represents Queen Mary's core committment to support and celebrate the critical role of arts organisations within our East End communities -- cultural and academic -- and beyond.