Netwerk – Working with Asylum Seekers and Refugees

Netwerk delivered two blocks of workshop sessions with the integration project Babbelonië (a regional project supported by local authorities in Flanders in which Dutch-speaking volunteers are brought together with new citizens who have arrived in the area from non Dutch-speaking countries, including those that have sought asylum in Belgium). During this programme two artists, who had both moved to Belgium from a non Dutch-speaking country, led a block of sessions with the culturally diverse Babbelonië group to reflect on the importance of cultural exchange and encounter and to think about what Europe means to them. These sessions were very successful, involving participants from Congo, Ecuador, Peru and Russia. The artist that led the first block of sessions was Sim Cha Chi, originally from South Korea, the second block was led by Athar Jabar, an artist of Iraqi origin.

As an example of the workshop sessions, the second session led by Sim Cha Chi engaged participants from Congo, Ecuador, Peru and Russia on the subject of the position of women in Belgian society in comparison to the participants countries of origin. The artist presented her own sculptural practice as well as sharing her experience of how her Korean origin and move to Europe had coloured her image of women. She then invited participants to warm up a handful of wax in the palms of their hands and to create a form that reminded them of a woman, all the time encouraging dialogue around the theme. Even though at first some participants were reluctant to participate, each person created a sculpture. The conversation then turned towards Europe, the refugee crisis and a perceived lack of solidarity between member states and between people, with one participant commenting, “you want to know something? Europe does not exist”.