December 18, 2019

End-of-year greetings

Community Meal, Custom Folkestone, for Platforma 5


Between Brexit, ballot boxes and contested borders, 2019 has been quite a year!

But before we usher in the New Year, we want to reflect back on 2019 whilst casting forward to 2020, to track some of the highlights and ongoing journeys that we are taking with you – our artists, partners, growing networks, friends, supporters and audiences.

Despite the turbulence, 2019 was a year of collaboration and solidarity with Refugee Week (the national festival coordinated by Counterpoints Arts that celebrates the contributions, resilience and creativity of refugees) soaring to 800 local events across the UK, together with 2 networking conferences reaching at least 600 participants alongside the inauguration of a leadership programme – paving the way for vital new voices and fresh talent. We commissioned the renowned photographer, Jillian Edelstein, to create a photographic series called You, me and those who came before, with one photograph, in particular, capturing the beloved illustrator the late Judith Kerr.


Judith Kerr portrait for You, me and those who came before, Refugee Week. Credit: Jillian Edelstein


We’re looking ahead to Refugee Week 2020 and hope you’ll join us 15-21 June to explore the theme of ‘Imagine’ – read more about the Refugee Week 2020 theme here. And do come to one of our two Refugee Week Conferences, which are in London on 10 February and Bristol on 13 February. Please visit the Refugee Week website to find out more and to book your place.

Our productions in 2019 wove in and out of the Who Are We? programme at Tate Exchange, Refugee Week and the Platforma Festival in Kent and Medway.

These included the hugely moving ‘As Far as Isolation Goes’ with Basel Zaara and Tania El Khoury (installed at Tate Exchange, V&A and the Southbank) using touch, sound and interactivity to bring the audience into contact with the everyday experiences of detention centres and a mental health system that disregards people’s political and emotional needs.


As Far as Isolation Goes, by Tania El Khoury and Basel Zaraa, at the V&A, for Refugee Week. Credit: Marcia Chandra


Manaf Halbouni’s ‘Rubble Theatre’ took us to the heart of Glasgow, with the theme of ‘home and displacement’ holding centre stage outside the confines of the art gallery in a bustling St Enoch Square. The slow construction and performance of ‘Rubble Theatre’ required participation from passersby and was commissioned by Creative Scotland in the context of Refugee Festival Scotland.


Rubble Theatre, Manaf Halbouni, at St Enoch Square Glasgow, for Refugee Festival Scotland. Image: Basharat Khan


Here’s a short film by Basharat Khan on ‘Rubble Theatre’.



We embarked on our first ever ‘collective commission’ called the ‘5 R’s’ at Who Are We at Tate Exchange in a week-long Learning Lab with 14 artists (visual, spoken word, live art and dramaturges) exploring the interconnected themes of ‘Recognise, Risk, Reimagine, Rebuild and Redistribute’ through a series of collaborative actions.


Recognise, Risk, Reimagine, Rebuild, Redistribute, for Who Are We? project. Credit: Marcia Chandra


And E Li Dû Man (Left behind) with Kurdish artist, Zehra Doğan, at Who Are We? resulted in a participatory installation and publication on displacement and ‘artists at risk’, co-produced with Tate Exchange and The Open University in association with English PEN, PEN International and Index on Censorship.


Zehra Doğan, at Who Are We? project, Tate Exchange. Credit: Marcia Chandra


2019  saw a strong focus on young artists and cultural activists with a retreat dedicated to Youth, Popular Culture and Social Change at the Platforma Festival. This retreat brought together a diverse group of dreamers and doers offering new ways of thinking through the potentially political registers of gaming, hip hop and online TV.

Platforma’s much-lauded No Direction Home – with headliner Nish Kumar in Kent – proved that the power of stand up comedy is transformative, inviting us to think about the injustices of the world while laughing together. We concluded Platforma Festival with a week-long takeover of Turner Contemporary in Margate curated in dialogue with the Turner Prize show.


No Direction Home in Kent, for Platforma 5


And the Platforma legacy continues with a hiphop programme with lead artists Mohammed Yahya  and Oliver Seager, who have been working with young people from Pie Factory Music, Ramsgate and Music for Change, Margate.  Listen to some work-in-progress here produced with the Ramsgate group.


Feeling Lost Can’t Find It, hiphop youth project in Kent, part of Platforma 5. Led by Oliver Seager and Mohammed Yahya

In and between the commissions, events and gatherings, we travelled to Killary on the West Coast of Ireland to collaborate with CREATE (Dublin) to deliver the summer school on ‘Cultural Diversity and Collaborative Practice’; to Pembrokeshire in Wales to develop a co-commission with local communities in partnership with the National Theatre of Wales; and to Jordan, Cuba and Bosnia as part of the ‘Picturing Climate’ programme. We plan to return to Kent and Medway to consolidate Platforma networks and will travel to Yorkshire to build the groundwork for Platforma 2021.


Okolište, peacebuilding and climate change project, by Most Mira, for Picturing Climate. Credit: Maja Milatovic-Ovadia


As we take the leap into 2020, we aim to expand and deepen projects embarked upon in 2019. We will focus on the power of popular culture, with exciting programmes emerging in the newly hatched space of football in addition to gaming and fashion  – promising to implement different ways of ‘amplifying’ our work to more diverse and wide-spread audiences.

Watch out for an exciting hiphop pedagogy programme for Who Are We? at Tate Exchange 2020; the continuation of the No Direction Home comedy series with gigs in London, York and Sheffield; and some audacious public commissions that will draw in new national and international partners.

As ever, we could do none of this work without the passion and persistence of the artists and activists in our network; the unwavering support of our funders and Trustees; and, most importantly, the participating audiences who vote with their hearts and feet enabling us to continue to tell the story of migration through the lens of arts and culture and the people who have first-hand experience of displacement – regardless of political instabilities and recent re-alignments.

More in the New Year from the Counterpoints Arts’ Team!