Developed by ArtsEkta, the ‘Refugee and Asylum Arts Initiative’ first launched in 2014 to support and promote arts and cultural activities among Belfast’s growing population of refugees and asylum communities.
The initiative created a forum for members of the refugee, homeless and asylum communities to engage creatively with one another, sharing each other’s’ experiences, learnings, ideas and information. An initiative based on integrating different communities through engaging social activities, the original cohort of women, who first joined the initiative in April 2014, named their group the ‘Art Route Collective’ (ARC).
Art Route Collective meet regularly and have since grown to welcome more members, bringing its total membership up to fifteen. Coming together to support one another in a shared and welcoming space to shed light on their everyday life experiences and offer practical support and advice, the members of Art Route Collective take small steps as one in a bid to support all its individual members’ needs – physical, mental and social.
Members of Art Route Collective meet regularly on Tuesdays, where they socialise and share stories over each of their home country’s traditional home-cooked meals which each member would take turn and responsibility in preparing.
“Every day I would cook for my family and that’s what I miss here in Northern Ireland,” one Syrian refugee explained. It was from this that the sharing of cultural traditions through food was introduced to the initiative and from it developed the book, The Art of Cooking: Looking Beyond the Plate.
From January to July 2017, in a series of workshops ran by ArtsEkta, Northern Ireland-based refugees from across the world developed a unique collection of homemade recipes, celebrating their individually unique cultures and traditions.
Featuring contributions from refugees from conflict areas such as Iran and Syria, the book includes home-favourite dishes and eye-catching embroidered artworks created by members of Art Route Collective.
Many of the participants in Arts Ekta’s ‘Refugee and Asylum Arts Initiative’ have experienced conflict, suffered trauma and their resettlement experience is often coupled with barriers including poverty, poor housing, language barriers, discrimination, social isolation, complicated appeals procedures, and difficulties accessing mainstream services.
The initiative supports refugees and asylum seekers in overcoming language barriers and building communication skills, as well as forming positive relationships between the host community and participants and overcoming negative stereotypes.
For more information on the work of ArtsEkta, visit artsekta.org.uk.
Click here to access a digital copy of the book.