Sculptures and art cathedral exhibition celebrating resilience and values for Refugee Week

Resilience in Clay is a an exhibition of seven heads of people who have made Chichester their home, by Sanctuary in Chichester (SiC) volunteer and sculptor Kate Viner, showing for three months from the 13th June. As part of this project, Kate has also been working with the SiC weekly women’s group and other members of our community including volunteers, to produce individual creative contributions on the topic of values in various media, which together will form a piece called A Common Thread, which will also be displayed alongside the sculptures and installed by the women’s group.

Kate describes Resilence in Clay as, “celebrating cultural values and what our new more diverse community brings to Chichester. It’s also a celebration also for aaaalll of Sanctuary.” Everyone who is a part of SiC is invited to join in – “the more the merrier!“.

The whole process has been highly participatory from the beginning, with Kate centering the benefits of the project for the contributors and paid subjects. The women’s group has been working on their creations along with Kate at their weekly meet-ups, where they also have English lessons and we provide a crèche to allow those with small children to focus on their work. There are some very moving examples of people – both sculpture subjects and members of the women’s group – who were so lacking in self-belief at the start, that they avoided eye contact. Now they are full of confidence, producing their own art works and having fun joining in with group activities and discussions. The process of making oneself vulnerable as a sculpture subject or by sharing one’s own values and culture, and the resulting increase in trust and confidence has meant that people wanted to share their stories with Kate and with each other, providing a therapeutic outlet for them and building friendships. This is despite the fact that many of the women hardly speak any English and often don’t have a common language to communicate in – they’re supporting each other to express themselves. Kate says that, “working on the values piece all together as a group has meant that there has been lots of bonding. It’s very moving to see how excited everyone is, and seeing people who have been here the longest, mainly from Syria, helping the newer arrivals, mainly from Afghanistan, and people taking it in turns to teach the others.

To start with there was only one Ukrainian going to the women’s group but more have started coming along and wanting to get involved, so the project is encouraging bonding across various cultures.

An example of values we’ve learned about is that in Afghanistan the central values are hospitality and optimism – this won’t surpise anyone who has been to an Afghan home; there is always an array of nuts and dried fruit on pretty dishes, ready for any unexpected visitors, and while guests are served tea there is usually some frying or baking going on, with the resulting delicious treats coming out of the kitchen a few minutes later.

Kate describes the “flow of optimisim” that she sees “across the board”; “The strength and resilience of everyone, and the sense of humour is extraordinary. What I have learned through this experience is absolutely backed up but what we’re trying to do here [at the charity]. I see it everyday. It’s a huge privilege so see people’s resilience and strength – I feel really proud of Sanctuary, and have a sense of respect for our community. I feel very emotional about the volunteers too, I think they are exrtaordinary and I am learning about everyone’s appreciation for Sanctuary.

We look forward to seeing you at the cathedral!

Gemma Driver

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