Arrivals – humanising immigration
On Monday 12 and Tuesday 13 October, at the University of Sheffield’s ‘Migrants in the City’ conference at Cutler’s Hall, there’s a sneak preview of a project by Jeremy Abrahams that is going to be shown in full in 2016. In this guest blog, Jeremy explains the background to his project and what he was hoping it would show.
‘We are all immigrants: it simply depends how far back you go.’
Robert Winder (2005) Bloody Foreigners: The Story of Immigration to Britain.
In Bloody Foreigners, Robert Winder tells a lovely tale of the origin of the name of John O’Groats, the northernmost tip of mainland Britain. The name of the village is not, as you might think, Scottish, nor Irish, but is actually derived from Jan de Groot, a Dutchman who arrived in south-east England but moved north to start a ferry service between Scotland and Orkney. Winder’s point, of course, is that immigration has always been a part of our history, and always will be. What seems to change is attitudes towards it.
At the end of 2013 I was new to professional photography and looking for a personal project. As someone born here but whose family came from Lithuania in the nineteenth century, immigration was uppermost in my thoughts. Partly inspired by a friend who came to Sheffield from Prague on the Kindertransport in 1939, leaving her family behind, I decided to photograph one person who migrated from overseas to Sheffield in every year from 1939 to 2016. This was to be my ‘Arrivals’ project.
Each subject chooses where in Sheffield they would like their picture to be taken. So ‘Arrivals’ is a portrait of the city, of the pattern of migration and of 77 individuals, documenting and celebrating the diversity of Sheffield’s population.
Of course, an image can say something about the subject’s life, but it cannot fully explain why they left their country of origin and came to Sheffield. So each subject’s image is accompanied by a short piece of text – in their own voice – which enhances the visual story and makes us aware of the uniqueness of each person’s experience.
Like most major urban areas of the UK, Sheffield has substantial communities of Afro-Caribbean and Asian origin.
Sheffield, as the first ‘City of Sanctuary’, has a track record of welcoming refugees whose stories reflect the troubles in their countries of origin. Many refugees from the Pinochet dictatorship settled in Sheffield during the 1970s.
More recent events around the world have also brought people to Sheffield.
Of course the free movement of labour within the EU has also brought new Arrivals.
And finally, the story of a young woman who came to Sheffield as a student, to find herself separated from her family during the bombing of Gaza by Israel in 2014.
‘Arrivals’ project: www.jeremyabrahams.co.uk/arrivals
Subjects are still needed! Please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org
A small number of ‘Arrivals’ images can be seen at the University of Sheffield’s ‘Migrants in the City’ conference at Cutler’s Hall on Monday 12 and Tuesday 13 October 2015.
The full ‘Arrivals’ exhibition will open at Weston Park Museum in Sheffield in late summer 2016.