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Reciprocity: Giving and Receiving through the Lens of Refugees and Asylum Seekers Across the UK

Refugee week should last 365 days a year. This is why, a post-refugee week a group of refugee photographers have come together to challenge stereotypes about people seeking safety, a project curated by the Socially Engaged Art Salon, IMIX and Jemima Compton, a Master’s student from the University of Sussex.

In this exhibition, 8 participants used disposable cameras to take photos on the theme of ‘Giving and Receiving’. The reason for this theme is to explore the importance of reciprocity amongst refugee communities. In the UK, the government’s Hostile Environment policies mean that asylum seekers are not allowed to work. This means that their freedoms are restricted and people cannot help but be reliant on state and charitable aid. This feeds narratives that portray migrants as benefit hoarders who get to stay in hotels when the reality is that most people want to work, contribute and have the same rights as those with citizenship do.

The participants were each given a disposable camera and were asked to take pictures on the theme of ‘giving and receiving. The photos revealed different ideas related to the theme including everyday reciprocal exchanges with friends, the public, nature and animals.

In this exhibition, our participants demonstrate what giving and receiving mean to them. And ultimately, here they are, giving a gift to you through their photography in this exhibition.

Some of the works from the project will be exhibited at the BMECP Centre, 10A Fleet St. Brighton BN1 4ZE July 8-15 Monday to Friday 10am-5pm

The exhibition was supported by Sussex University, IMIX and Art Council England

Hannah: I quite like the way these ones are. They bear nostalgia

The experience got me out of the house. I recall not being out of the house a while before the project’s timeline. I prefer not to use people as subjects. (I prefer abstract but heavy on the thought if that makes sense).

I chose to take pictures of these subjects as they are part of nature. Nature is freely given to us. We also receive from nature. I may have been feeding the birds or watching the waterfall but they’d go on without me and nevertheless.

The asylum process (as I am an asylum seeker) can be a lonely experience. It can be degrading and painful to walk. People are harsh because you have nothing, literally.

When you said it’s about giving and receiving, I knew it’d be an interesting project. When you are not allowed to work or study further and get £40.80 per week to cater for food, clothes and well-being, you are mostly ever on the receiving end. ‘It may be giving someone a meal or a smile,’ you said but these are basic needs according to Marlow’s hierarchy of needs because we are human beings too who can do everything but gave up our everything for survival.

The photos are a feeling of freedom.

Oh to flow free like water,

Oh to shine beautifully like a flower,

Oh to fly as a bird,

Oh to be protected like the duck’s children,


Oh, to not be inside looking out, to not be a fool who sits alone talking to the moon

Juhaina: ...This was my first time taking photos with this type of camera, it was exciting and scary not knowing what the photo was going to look like when I took the photo. I like the picture of the father and daughter holding hands, it reminds me of my relationship with my father....

...The photo I took of the boy on the beach made me sad. It reminded me of when I first arrived at the UK and I didn’t have anything to do except sit on the beach. But I am glad because things are better now.

Elis: ...Sometimes you don’t realise that giving and receiving go together, it creates a balance. I like the photo of the water, it represents life and freedom.

Ali G: ...When I got to the UK and covid happened I was doing food distribution, it was a very personal moment when I saw this. It’s funny how you can see something in the present that reminds you of the past...

Suso: ...I took a picture of the college because in Gambia I never had a college or school and I didn’t think I would ever be able to go to one. Now I do and it’s very nice....

...This bird came and took my pizza, I was so hungry and angry. I said to my teacher: this isn’t fair this is an English bird not a Gambian bird, I want my food. My teacher is so nice and bought me another pizza.

Amir: ...I really enjoyed this project. When you give something, you are receiving, whether it’s a smile or a gift it’s not important what it is. For example, if you give some food to the birds, they will always be with you. It’s nice to talk to animals, it reminds me of my home. I used to have lots of birds and pets so I really love them...

...One problem was I had plans to take pictures of people on the street, but they didn’t trust me and didn’t know who I am so it was difficult. In the end, my friends helped me.

Tura: The shoes were a gift for my birthday so it reminds me of my birthday...

...My bed because it’s comfy...


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