BE WELCOME was the first in a series of art exhibitions and events to be hosted by St Ann’s Church in partnership with PassionArt, creating a conversation between spirituality, the arts and community. It extends the work of The PassionArt Trails in 2014/16, using the mindful reflection of art to explore wholehearted living. These exhibitions will allow the Christian calendar to form a structure for the events although the art works will not necessarily be religious in nature, but aim to invite us to reflect on values that are common to all faith groups, helping us to live compassionately, peacefully and creatively in our diverse and exciting city.
St Anns Church is known for its warm welcome to all who enter its doors. As well as holding regular services of worship and offering a quiet and safe space for all to pray and reflect within, the church has a heart to serve the wider community of the city, particularly the vulnerable and the stranger, offering breakfast and friendly conversation to the homeless one morning a week as part of their commitment to the Manchester Homeless Charter.
This exhibition includes stories from those who have been displaced and left lonely and vulnerable in a strange land. Clients from refugee charities based in the city have been invited to respond creatively to the exhibition and their work will be displayed in The Lady Chapel in the new year.
Manchester is a city defined by it’s historical welcome of the immigrant. It’s wealth, success and industry has been formed through the integration of migrant workers over the past two hundred years to create a truly global city. Fuelled by the Industrial Revolution, Manchester began to attract Irish workers in the early part of the 19th century for the building of the ship canal which brought many wealthy businessmen to establish and expand the industries. The growth of the textile industry brought Moroccan, Syrian and Asian cloth traders and by the end of the century Jews, Italians and Yemenis escaping poverty set up small communities within the native northern working classes. After WW2 refugees from Poland, the Ukraine and Yugoslavia fled their homes fearful of the Soviets, and were followed by large groups of Afro-Caribbean, Pakistani and other ex-colonies of the British Empire. In the past few decades the city has welcomed Europeans from many regions alongside refugees from Somalia, Kosovo and many more places escaping violence and war. Each community has added to the culture and character of this unique city making it an exciting and vibrant place to live, work and experience multi-culture.
But how do we live well together when our ideas, traditions, fashion and faith backgrounds are so different? What are some of the values we need to embrace as a city if we want to well together.
WORDS BY DIRECTOR / CURATOR LESLEY SUTTON
Our desire to belong is at the very core of our nature. When we know where we belong we take it for granted, but if we are uprooted, isolated, or experience loss and bereavement, we become vulnerable and fearful and experience deep heartache.
In this exhibition we are touching on the theme of welcoming the stranger; a spiritual value shared by most faith backgrounds; the offering of hospitality and welcome to family, friend and stranger, is to see all of humanity as our neighbour. By seeking the spark of the divine in every face we encounter we welcome the lessons and stories they can bring to us.
The refugee or stranger is someone who belongs somewhere else; whose roots, traditions and family stories derive from another landscape, a landscape that holds a memory that they still long for, but for many reasons has been torn away from them either by force or through fear. As natives with a deep sense of belonging to our place, we can choose to view them either as an intruder to our city or welcome the stories, ideas and creative expression they bring from lands and cultures unknown to us. Too often we can allow our fears and mistrust to exclude those whom we don’t understand, those who look and think differently to ourselves. Fearful of the change they might bring to our established patterns of living, we build walls around the things we don’t wish to share, be that our homes, our jobs or our emotions, in order to keep the stranger at arms length.
In this exhibition we see the response of two artists to the practice of welcoming the stranger. Each has been personally moved to respond to the current global refugee crisis by taking time to be with groups of displaced people, to listen to their stories and give them a voice through the images they have created thereby inviting us to respond with understanding and compassion to the next stranger or refugee we meet as we go about our daily routines.
Marksteen Adamson, moved by the images of two little Syrian boys, Aylan and Galip Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach, made the journey to Calais and Lebanon to spend time with, and record the stories of, refugee families in order to try and make a difference to their lives. His images and stories are quite harrowing, sharing many of the obstacles, limitations and suffering that these poor families encounter as they seek a place of safety and welcome to settle in.
Beth Kwant’s large scale paintings were born from a similar sense of compassion but created during a year long residency at a refugee project based here in Manchester. The Mustard Tree and The Boaz Trust offer advocacy, pastoral support and practical everyday needs to asylum seekers, refugees and the homeless in Greater Manchester. Her portraits depict the lives of real women who have sought to find a welcome in our city, the empty chair an invitation for them to take their place within our community.
Consider your own biases. Who do you exclude or alienate?
Ask the divine presence for the gift of compassion and hospitality.
THE STATIONS by Marksteen Adamson
TRACING PRESENCE by Elizabeth Kwant