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MIGRANTS: Syrians in the UK. What does home mean to you?

 “If I am a storyteller is because I listen” John Berger.


There is a Syrian proverb that says “Choose the neighbour before the house” this proverb resonates specially to me due to the war in Syria. There are millions of Syrian citizens who had to flee their homes and leave their neighbourhoods behind, reaching the unknown, for the sake of their lives.

Today I am working with the Syrian community in the UK, curating the collaborative and participatory photography exhibition entitled “MIGRANTS: Syrians in the UK. What does home mean to you?” the aim of this project is to tell multiple stories, it is a collaborative and participatory project where participants submit a photograph and a piece of text answering the question: What does home mean to you? with this project I would like to hear as many voices a possible.

The word Migrants, is too generic right? It creates a defined division: We are the Migrants, you are the Natives. I want to show this in the exhibition, how we individually, without entering in this division, interpret the word Migrant and what it means to us, asking the question: What does migration mean to you?

Last summer I went to Ritsona Refugees Camp in Greece, I helped with arts and crafts children’s workshops and the school, which were run by a great charity. In the evenings I spent my spare time working with the volunteers and residents at the camp running story telling and photography workshops. I wanted to hear the voices.

Back in London I exhibited the outcome of these workshops at the Hive gallery in Dalston during a conference with different photographers who had worked with Refugees in different camps in Europe. Currently I am in the process of self publishing an on-line book with their stories.

Grenfell Tower

Last month we, Londoners, saw something out of a nightmare, the fire of Grenfell Tower. 

I lost a beautiful friend in that fire, a young and successful photographer and her mother, her name is Khadija Saye. After the grieving, I only want justice for Khadija, her mother Mary Mendy and all the innocent people that died in that horrific event.

The last time that I spoke to Khadija was back in February, it was during a lunch break at work, she was carrying a book written by Roland Barthes entitled “Camera Lucida” and I remember commenting to her that I really liked his work and specially that book. Looking on my library, I found a copy of the book and a quote where Barthes talks about the loss of his mother “It is said that mourning, by its gradual labour, slowly erases pain; I could not, I cannot believe this; because for me, Time eliminates the emotion of loss (I do not weep), that is all. For the rest, everything has remained motionless. For what I have lost is not a Figure (the Mother), but a being; and not a being, but a quality (a soul): not the indispensable, but the irreplaceable.”

Kadhija worked from her flat where she lived with her mother. It was just recently upon her return from exhibiting her work at the Venice Biennale that she was looking to share an art studio. As for many artists in London, her home was also her studio.


You can celebrate Khadija’s life and creativity, visiting her great photography work entitled “Dwelling: In This Space We Breathe” that is exhibited at Tate Britain. I have taken a quote from her text that was published in the catalogue of the “Diaspora Pavilion” at Venice Biennale; “The series was created out of the artist’s personal need for spiritual grounding after experiencing trauma. This work is based on the search for what gives meaning to our lives and what we hold onto in times of despair and life changing challenges. We exist in the marriage of physical and spiritual remembrance. It is in these spaces that we identify with our physical and imagined bodies. Using herself as the subject, Saye felt it was necessary to physically explore how trauma is embodied in the black experience. The objects used in the images are sacred and come from different spiritual healers in Gambia through a means of exchange and prayer”

On Saturday the 16th of June, during the Refugee week and Ramadan, I went to the event at the school in Chalk Farm: “The Great get together; More in Common”. This event forms part of a series of events that were organised in memory of the MP Jo Cox. Jo who was a great supporter of welcoming more Refugees in this country said: “We are far more united and have more in common that which divides us” this was her first speech to parliament. Jo was killed in her constituency by man who did not agree with her political views.

During the event at the Haverstock schools sports hall we watched part of the film entitled EXODUS. The film tells the story of the journey of various Syrian Refugees who get smuggled to Europe. We had dinner and listened to talks with the Syrian community in London. On that night, I learned that one of the people involved in the organisation of the event; Mohammed Alhajali passed away at his home during the fire at the Grenfell Tower. Mohammed was a Syrian refugee who came to the UK with his brother back in 2014. He was a civil engineering student at West London University.

We signed a petition on change org. to get Mohammed’s parents across the UK borders for his funeral in London.


Yesterday I read on the newspapers that Italy has confirmed that cannot take more asylum seekers as the country’s social services are collapsing. More needs to be done by the UK welcoming more refugees. This is the result of the new law that was implemented by the EU; forcing Refugees to ask for asylum in the first country they arrived in Europe. So basically, Greece and Italy which are the Syrian closest neighboring countries, thus are the countries that are having to help the most in the Exodus.

The situation with Turkey is very tense, the president Erdogan won recently the country's election. Erdogan spent most of his campaigning threatening Europe, managing to get a deal in the past"The deal, to allow visa-free travel to Schengen countries, was offered in return for Turkey taking back migrants who crossed the Aegean Sea to Greece. The EU fears that, without it, Turkey will not control migration."BBC 12 June 2016 From the section EU Referendum. EU is using Turkey.

Last Sunday, I bumped into Kaya Mar in a Turkish festival at Clissold park next to Stock Newington. Kaya is a London based Turkish painter, his work is pure satire. I met him five years ago through another art project, but that is another story. He was exhibiting satirical portraits of most UK politicians, May, Corbyn, Johnson, Trump and Erdogan in the park as part of a Turkish Arts and Culture festival.

Kaya is very brave, at some point he commented that his work had not received a very good response from the audience. He is used to get life threats. His satirical oil paintings depicting Erdogan next to the words LAW and CORRUPTION at this Turkish Culture and Art festival were not very popular. Kaya’s face changed when he saw me, he looked relieved as I was someone who admires his work a lot and quite often sees and smiles at his pictures on the newspapers.

Today, I was supposed to interview Kaya for one of the on-going projects that I am working on, but this morning has cancelled. He is stranded in the airport of Hamburg. I wonder if he went to the demonstration outside the G20 summit.

I hope we can move our meeting to next week.

The MIGRANTS: Syrians citizens in the UK. What does home mean to you? photography exhibition and event" will be held this winter in London. The date and venue have to be confirmed.

Thank you for reading.

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