Another Country exhibition: a topical subject meets remarkable artwork

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The installation by Toby Peterson at Another Country. (Credit: Rachel Lee)

 

“You come in and it’s quite confrontational. It blocks off a large part of the gallery and on a very literal physical level acts as a barrier,” says artist and curator Euan Gray. “But it’s permeable, he left spaces – as if no borders or barrier is impossible to get through.”

Euan is describing the luminescent orange, capacious fence that is powerfully situated as the exhibition’s centrepiece. The towering instalment is startling yet not distressing. The artist behind it, Toby Paterson, has purposely used ‘safety’ orange. This particular shade of orange stimulates images of life jackets and rescue boats – much like those an immigrant may encounter on their journey.

Contemporary immigration to Scotland, integration and identity are the topics that this exhibition, Another Country, explores through the work of 11 artists. Euan has collaboratively curated the exhibition alongside Alberta Whittle, which is currently displayed at Edinburgh’s City Art Centre.

Each piece in the exhibition is thought-provoking and visually arresting without having to resort to shockingly pervasive imagery. The artists – all of who are either living in Scotland or were born here – address a period of cultural movement or geographical and political unrest through various mediums.

“We’re trying to look at migration from as many different angles as possible,” says Euan. And this is undoubtedly apparent.

Julie Roberts offers a historical reflection of migration with her stained glass like oil painting series on the migration of 10,000 Jewish children in 1938, known as the Kindertransport. Euan refers to it as a ‘positive forced migration’ as the operation rescued the children from the clutches of the Nazis and allowed them to start a new life. Julie perfectly captures the sense of tentative excitement and a new beginning.

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Julie Robert’s oil paintings. (Credit: Rachel Lee)

More up to date, The Brexit Beast is a reaction piece by Andrew Gilbert especially made for this exhibition. The Scottish artist’s grotesquely caricatured Loch Ness monster-like creature sits on the banks overlooking a sea of boats overturned and flailing people drowning. At the enormous monster’s claws, there is a swarm of soldiers, a burning Grenfell Tower and traffic lights. A spiked, menacing medieval morning star weapon and a defiant, waving Union Jack makes up the Brexit beast’s two-pronged tail. Observing the sketch provokes a wry smile before a sense of foreboding reality sets in.

“I’m not wanting to change anybody’s views,” says Euan. “If they just think about migration, then we’ve achieved something. I think it’s important that people just consider both sides of the argument.”

“I just think it’s a very, very important topic that’s only going to get more significant and more heated in the future because of all the tensions that are in the world at the moment.”

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Inside the Another Country exhibition. (Credit: Rachel Lee)

The exhibition took three years of planning after the idea was sparked from Euan visiting Canada and the USA. While there, realised that over 25 million people claim Scottish heritage yet the Scots cultural identity remains prominent. Another Country has previously toured a university in Minnesota and galleries in England.

During these years Euan worked on his own magnum opus for the exhibition. His standout piece is the most interactive of the exhibition, which boasts an extensive variety of art forms including sculpture, photography and film.

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Artist Euan Gray beside his work. (Photo Credit: Rachel Lee)

Although his roots are in painting, he challenged himself to design a functioning pinball machine called ‘The Immigration Game’. The picture etched on the retro machine’s backboard is of a life-jacketed immigrant clutching a young boy in his arms, reminiscent of the images commonly splashed across the front pages of newspapers. The nod to the media is deliberate.

“The game is made to be played for three minutes, which is the average time people spend reading the news.” Euan explained, “I saw the parallel between the entertainment side of playing the game and the media’s involvement with migration from the side of trying to get ratings.”

Inspired by the UKIP poster used in the run-up to Brexit, the motherboard of the machine is a sea filled with the boats full of immigrants.

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The pinball machine’s promotional poster, a painting by Euan. (Credit: Rachel Lee)

“So it was called the Immigration Game as it’s obviously a very ironic title because it’s not a game for the people trying to cross Europe in boats. We’ll play this game, we walk off and forget about it.”

A visitor is unlikely to forget this exhibition, however. Euan says the aim of the exhibition was to open a political dialogue with the audience by being playfully interactive and inclusive, which it certainly has achieved.

You can visit the free exhibition at the City Art Centre before it comes to a close on Sunday the March 17th, a mere 11 days before the UK is scheduled to leave the European Union.

There is a workshop Saturday the February 9th, titled The Legacy of Colonialism that is led by the Another Country team. The workshop will run 10 am – 4 pm at the gallery.

Find out more about the gallery, exhibition and workshop here.

Scotland, a welcoming land

These are hard times for the future of immigration in the UK, Europe and the Western sphere in general. The Brits have decided to leave the union and one of the main reasons is immigration; thousands of refugees are dying in the Greek freezing cold to be part of the EU dream; and Trump’s future immigration policy does not sound promising at all. However, there is a tiny nation in the north west of Europe which is determined not to accept the general xenophobic derive and is willing to take advantage of what foreigners can contribute to its society.

Scotland has sometimes set a difference in the union. As a response to an article on The Guardian stating xenophobia against Swedes in the UK, Nicola Sturgeon commented: “[this is] a good moment to remind EU nationals living in Scotland that you are welcome here and we want you to stay.”

According to an article on the BBC from 2014, professor Robert Wright points out that despite Scotland having more tolerance to immigration in comparison to the rest of the UK, the amount of immigration in ratio to the UK is smaller, hence not comparable. Three years on, Scotland has seemed to prove its resilience and openness towards immigrants through policy; such as free education for European students, pro-immigration stance within Brexit and the efforts made by the Scottish Government to aid refugees into the country.

“Increasingly, the Scottish Government will celebrate the contribution of migrant groups,” says the Edinburgh University historian Wendy Ugolini. The fact that migrant communities have been or are part of Scottish society is thanks to political efforts, rather than an open mentality of the public.

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In the decade 2003-2013, overseas immigration doubled in Scotland and since then it has done nothing but grown. Taking into account that during the First and Second World Wars and the foreign communities that settled here, Scotland is a nation where many second and third generations of foreigners inhabit.

“The influx of thousands of foreign soldiers [during the WWII] had a dramatic impact on local life, and the spirit of a shared cause, combined with much goodwill, soon began to overcome the barriers of language and unfamiliarity”, the blog Polish Scottish Heritage quotes.

Ugolini states that “during the 20th Century we reached an idea of multiculturalism, and [perceived] diversity as a positive thing.”

However, she says; “what is interesting is that hostility towards immigrant groups always sleeps lightly, and that there is always the potential from the members of a migrant community to be perceived in some way as outsiders or as not belonging to the fabric of society.”

Migrant groups in Scotland, as in most nations, create groups for themselves and their culture. “Gathering in communities is an effort of foreigners to integrate to their new homelands, rather than isolate themselves from locals”, says the president of the Catalan Centre of Scotland, Erola Pairó. “In terms of others understanding our culture, traditions and mentality, it is a personal comfort and safety to have a community that you relate to and identify with, at your reach.”

Spanish are the fourth largest group of immigrants from Europe coming to Scotland, behind Romania, Poland and Italy. According to National Insurance Number Allocations to Adult Overseas Nationals’ Quarterly Report form June 2015, there was a 62% increase of immigration from the year before, of which 76% originated from Europe. Although statistics of the same report for 2016 report a slight decrease in immigration, Nicola Sturgeon made it clear in the New Statesman in October 2016 “we are one Scotland. We are home to all those who have chosen to live here. That is who and what we are.”

Fire in the Jungle – Calais Refugee Camp Demolished

Monday, the day many have dreading, saw the begging of what is planned to be the end of the refugee camp in Calais – more commonly known as ‘The Jungle’.

The camp, situated in the North of France, is home to over 7,000 inhabitants who will now be moved to other locations across France.

The French authorities have detailed plans for moving the Jungle-dwellers out of the camp. 150 buses will carry the former inhabitants to new Welcome and Orientation Centres (CAOs) across France.

The police, the volunteers, and the refugees themselves have had many weeks to prepare for the move. It was hoped to be a swift and straight-forward operation.

Firefighters extinguish burning makeshift shelters and tents in the "Jungle" on the third day of the evacuation of migrants and their transfer to reception centers in France, as part of the dismantlement of the camp in Calais

But last night, flames spread over the Jungle as a fire blazed. One migrant was injured from a gas canister explosion. The fire may have been started by the migrants as a final act of defiance, or some believe it could have been started by activists.

Videos and pictures from today and yesterday have sparked outrage and debate on social media. Young people have been left without a place to sleep for the evening, as registration points close they are being told to go back to the camp – which is now in flames.

Many have voiced concerns for the minors at the camp, saying the Jungle should not have been demolished until there was a plan to protect their welfare.

Migrants look at burning makeshift shelters and tents in the "Jungle" on the third day of their evacuation as part of the dismantlement of the camp called the "Jungle" in Calais

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