Socialist Worker

Starting Again—a hardhitting exhibition that brings refugee families to life

There are few flaws in this new photography exhibition that highlights the pain and joy of reunited refugees living in Scotland, says?Stephen McBroom

Issue No. 2483

Images from Conor Ashleigh’s new exhibition show refugees living new lives in Scotland

Images from Conor Ashleigh’s new exhibition show refugees living new lives in Scotland


Conor Ashleigh’s photographic exhibition in Glasgow documents the lives of families forced to flee their homes to seek refuge abroad, finally finding safety in Scotland.

The exhibition, for the British Red Cross, presents an intimate glimpse into the daily lives of four families. They have endured long periods of separation and pain before being reunited.

Much of the photographic work concentrates on the families’ joy after being reunited with each other.

It shows simple daily routines of family life being celebrated.

Family meals, play time between children, walking in the park and caring moments between parents and children are affectionately presented.

Accompanying title cards introduce us to each of the families.

They tell us about the treacherous journeys they have endured to seek refuge and the pain of remembering what they have had to leave behind.

Some explain why they were forced to leave.

Others are understandably cautious about revealing their reason for asylum to protect family and communities in their birth country.

What unites them is that they had no choice but to leave.

Mohammad was a successful businessman in Syria, but fled the country

with his family after his house was destroyed by a rocket attack.

From Egypt he made a perilous 15-day journey on his own across the Mediterranean on a fishing boat crammed with 450 people.

He made the crossing to Britain hidden in a refrigerated lorry. A year later after his asylum claim was approved his family were able to join him in their new home in Glasgow. 

Separated 

Monir was separated from her husband, Majeed, for eight years after he left Iran in 2006 to start a new life in Scotland.

The family made three attempts to be reunited and in 2014 their family application was granted.

It was bittersweet as two of Monir’s children were by then over 18—and not eligible for reunion by the government’s callous rules.

Monir had little option but to say goodbye to her two eldest children.Missing from the exhibition is any sense of interaction the refugee families have with local people, schools or workplaces that they engage with everyday. It is taken for granted that they are welcomed.

And we are given no sense of any racism, Islamophobia or exclusion that they face in Scotland. 

However the overall effect of the exhibition is very positive. It humanises the subject and cries out for more to be done.

The refugees are presented as people, with concerns, fears, dreams and family lives common to everyone. Given the racist scapegoating, demonisation and ‘othering’ of refugees and Muslims, this is a timely and important exhibition tour.

It also hints at the rotten priorities and neglect of the government’s refugee and asylum processes.

Two of the families featured came from Dara’a in Syria, a stronghold of the Arab Spring. A counter-revolution aided by Western intervention brutally suppressed it.

So this exhibition also serves as a warning against yet more Western intervention and bombing.

Starting Again … A new life in Scotland
By Conor Ashleigh.
The exhibition will be touring various Glasgow communities
conorashleigh.com

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