In the UK, we are familiar with the news headlines and the photographic images of the so-called ‘refugee crisis’. But what happens after displacement to those who are resettled and try to rebuild their lives? What about personal stories, and the relationships that form between new friends and new neighbours? And how do people hold on to loved ones and a past life that they had to leave behind?
In Which Language Do We Dream? will offer fresh insights into these issues, through the photographic perspectives of a Syrian family with first-hand experience.
The multi-stranded exhibition will present an intimate perspective on the lives of displaced people: one in which displaced people themselves tell their own stories. Archival family photos rescued from Syria will be presented alongside contemporary photographs by Rich Wiles, new work by the al-Hindawi family, and in particular Ruba al-Hindawi, as well as a specially commissioned film of WhatsApp photos sent by their extended family members and shared across national boundaries.
Rich Wiles is a documentary photographer who lived and worked for seven years in a refugee camp in Palestine, before returning to the North of England with his wife, a Palestinian refugee. Over a period of four years, Rich has been collaborating with the al-Hindawi family and their relationship has become close. “I am exploring these relationships given the parallels between our families. My wife is currently going through the immigration process, my eldest daughter was born in the Middle East and is now living in UK, much like Rami and Ruba’s eldest daughter. My youngest daughter was born here a few months after Rami and Ruba’s youngest daughter. We are all living somewhere in between homes, cultures and languages.”
In Syria, Ruba worked in a studio and photographic processing lab in Homs. When the city was besieged, she and her husband Rami and children Mustapha, Yazan and Hanan, had no choice but to flee their home country and live as displaced people in Lebanon. Five years later, they were among the few to be admitted to the UK under British Government’s resettlement programme, and were housed in a small Yorkshire market town.
What began as a documentary project by Rich Wiles has grown into a significant collaboration. With Rich’s support and encouragement Ruba began photographing herself, her husband and her children’s daily life as they navigate resettlement and integration.
Ruba says “Our lives have been different in every place, in Syria, Lebanon, and now England, and we want people to see this. Our photographs help to explain this and I want our children to be able to see how our lives have changed because I don’t know if we will ever be able to go back home or not. I like photography because photographs always take you back to the moment in which they were taken. Photography brings your memories back. I want to show people that we are trying to integrate and that my kids love living in England. We feel happy here, but really we miss home. I am enjoying working on this project because it helps me feel part of something and learn more language. Every time I take photos I feel happy and more relaxed.”
In Which Language Do We Dream? is a universal story told in a personal way, raising debates surrounding issues of displacement, identity, resettlement, integration and home. It will challenge stereotypical images of refugees, and counteract negative perceptions in politics and the media. Most importantly, through co-authorship the exhibition will consider the power of authentic representation by amplifying the voices and viewpoints of refugees experiences. Collectively, In Which Language Do We Dream? is rebuilding a family archive.
In Which Language Do We Dream? was made possible thanks to public funding from the National Lottery through Arts Council England. The exhibition is a co-created project with curator Anne McNeill guiding the photographic selection through collaboration and discussion with Rich Wiles, Ruba and family.