Global crises inspire arts hub events

Protesters at the anti-Trump rally.
Protesters at the anti-Trump rally.

A Wigan town centre culture hub will contribute to a global debate about refugees when it opens a new art gallery with an exhibition and panel event.

The Old Courts launches the new Isherwood Gallery with work by Jo Scorah, a Mancunian artist of Syrian heritage who is reflecting on the carnage of the country’s civil war and the horrific events in the city of Aleppo.

The arts centre is also arranging a panel discussion this weekend on the issues raised by the artworks, with discussions of migration, problems facing refugees and identity from a panel of experts and those who have fled war and persecution themselves.

With the world reeling from the fall-out from US President Donald Trump’s controversial and widely-criticised migration policies and travel ban, the event could not be more timely.

The new first-floor gallery is being transformed into a memorial to things lost in conflict, with Jo creating a huge installation made of canvas, rusted metal, threads and wire in the middle of the gallery for her exhibition Moments of Expulsion.

The artist, whose grandparents lived in Aleppo, has then created a series of wall sculptures designed to show how the war in Syria has reduced people’s homes to mere wreckage.

The exhibition opening on Thursday will be followed two days later by the panel discussion at the Crawford Street arts hub, which will be called A Sense of Belonging.

Refugees including NHS psychiatrist Dr Mustafa Alachkar and musician Tagne Tebu will discuss issues arising from leaving native lands for radically-different cultures, while Dr Shameela Zulfikar will discuss her film project documenting Syrians being moved to the island of Bute in Scotland.

The event is also being supported by Wigan Council as part of its Believe I’m Only Human campaign.

Emma Atherton from the charity Support for Wigan Arrivals Project (Swap) will speak about the work being done to help asylum seekers in the borough and says she is keen to get the message out given the recent political turmoil.

Development worker Ms Atherton said: “I was quite shocked by what happened last weekend. This is very topical.

“My message representing Swap will be to reflect the experiences of our work. I obviously can’t speak on behalf of those who have experienced forced migration but I will speak about how we try to ease that journey.

“I will tell people about the English classes we provide, about our women’s group and the other services which make their arrival here that bit easier and help them integrate into Wigan and its community.”