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Review: Left Bank exhibition highlights refugee community


Humanising at Left Bank Leeds – review by Shanai Dunglinson

Left Bank Leeds is hosting a comforting and heart-warming exhibition over the next month titled Humanising, by artist Mussarat Rahman. The exhibition focuses on the local refugee and asylum seeker community in and around Leeds and Bradford.

Artist Mussarat Rahman depicts the daily lives of migrants who have been victims of war and conflict and now live in the UK. The refugees featured come from Syria, Iraq, Egypt, China and more. The group of refugees in the exhibition share their own experiences of living in the UK, as well as the challenges they have faced, through the medium of art. 

A mixture of portrait shots and abstract pieces depict the people whose stories have been shared, depicting the face behind the story. This allows for more of a connection to be formed between the viewers and the storytellers. 

Mussarat believes that negative representation surrounding refugees and asylum seekers can be challenged by showcasing the positive contribution and integration this community has on local areas.

Despite leaving their families and homes, losing loved ones and witnessing the devastation that often causes people to flee, these people are active members of the West Yorkshire community. 

One contributor featured in the exhibition is Afaf El Suad, who is originally from Alexandria in Egypt. Afaf talks about her life by the beach in Egypt and the delicious Egyptian food. She said:

“I like the UK, but I miss my life in Egypt. I’ve accepted my life here, I can’t go back, to what and how? I think it’s impossible, but I can still dream.”

The exhibition highlighted the feeling of homesickness for people who have been displaced and now reside in a country that is far from home and unfamiliar. Surprisingly, Mussat achieves a focus on positivity and feelings of happiness and community, despite featuring stories that are quite devastating.

There are few outlets for sharing the stories of people who seem to attract unnecessary racist backlash for simply existing, and this exhibition not only shares these stories but connects you to the people featured through the similarities of shared life experience in West Yorkshire.

Lots of the contributors mention the cold Yorkshire weather and the far cry it is from the warmth of their home countries, with some having embraced the cold, seeing it as a refreshing addition to life in the UK. 

Imane Al Azhari, from Damascus in Syria, sums up her story in a melancholic tone:

“I would not got back to Damascus, my life over there is finished now and I have no home, and no life there. Everything is gone, my family and my friends, and all I have is memories of what was but now is no more.”

This exhibition comes at a time in which legislation for refugees is changing and the UK government is constricting refuges in seeking asylum in the UK. This exhibition does a great job at emphasising the normality of these people that, yes, they come from far-away, but still are human and part of our communities.

The exhibition is on at Left Bank until 24 June, and can be viewed Monday to Friday from 9am-5pm. 

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