In 2017-2018 we are working with a range of artists on a variety of touring and place-based commissions across the UK; we’re also working with several artists to scale-up projects via R&D and through ongoing creative mentoring and learning.
Kosova-born Alketa Xhafa-Mripa is an artist and activist whose most recent work Refugees Welcome was commissioned by Counterpoints Arts in early 2016. Alketa arrived to the UK in the late ’90s, and receiving refugee status felt that she and her Kosovan community received an exemplary welcome and the opportunity of education and integration. Alketa aims to now dig deep into how the British public feels about welcoming refugees, past and present and post-Brexit.
Refugees Welcome is a mobile installation comprising of a Luton tail lift van: a potent symbol representing refugees crossing borders. The interior of the van is revamped with soft furnishings and visuals evoking ‘British Welcome’, with vintage armchairs, a rug, and a coffee table which holds the offer of a ‘tea with a refugee‘. The back interior wall displays the Union Jack with a neon sign of ‘Hope’.
The work draws on memories and uses them as a prompt for conversations with visitors to the van. The mix of agitprop, site-specific happenings, installation, and live encounters engages with current shifts in attitudes to ‘welcome’. Visitors are asked to leave their thoughts in the comments book, where stories will be shared via social media and local radio.
Alketa begins each conversation with the story of how she was welcomed to Britain and what this meant for her and her family. She performs the conversation in a very specific way, with generous openness and no judgement. She is careful that the conversation remains ‘within the work’. She connects with people with incredible ease, no matter what their opinion might be, her priority being that each party is heard and each story is recorded.
Alketa has held and collected conversations across a number of sites, including the British Museum (June 2016), Solidarity with Refugees March (September 2016), Arts for Social Change retreat (October 2016), LUSH Summit (February 2017), and as part of Who Are We? project at Tate Exchange (March 2017).
Refugees Welcome will be traveling to more locations throughout 2017, including Loughborough University, the Platforma Festival in Newcastle, and Milton Keynes.
Alketa’s early work reflected upon family, motherhood, and women’s rights: issues that feed into her current work as a socially engaged artist who is looking to question toxic ideas threatening how we see us and Britain today. Alketa’s previous Kosovo-based piece entitled Thinking of You marked a shift in her practice towards activism. For Thinking of You, Alketa used the main football stadium in Pristina to hang 5000 dresses donated by women who survived sexual violence during the Kosovan War of Independence. This included dresses donated by prominent figures such as Kosovan President Jahjaga, Rita Ora, Cherie Blair, and others. The work was praised by the UNHCR and was part of the awareness raising drive leading to an amendment of the law on the status of civilian victims and veterans, which now includes those subjected to sexual violence.