Refugee Art

As the number of refugees in the world hits a staggering 60 million, and with camps such as the Calais ‘Jungle’ closing down, an increasing number of artists are creating work that shines a light on this appalling crisis.

Given arts power to wow and move us, it comes as no surprise that people are using the medium as a response to the ongoing refugee crisis. Across the globe, artists, organizations and activists are producing art about migrants and refugees in an attempt to raise awareness, change misconceptions and enhance cultural integration.

#SafePassage, 2016 © Ai Weiwei Studio

Chinese dissident artist and activist Ai Weiwei, known for his critical view of the Chinese government, has used various artistic tactics to draw attention to what he calls ‘”the biggest, most shameful humanitarian crisis since World War II”. As well as his controversial recreation of the image of  a Syrian toddler who drowned off the coast of Turkey, Ai Weiwei covered the columns of Berlin’s Konzerthaus concert hall with 14,000 salvaged refugee life vests and wrapped golden thermal blankets around his Zodiac animal sculptures on display in front of the National Gallery’s Trade and Fair Palace in Prague. His large solo exhibition #SafePassage, on display in Amsterdam’s Foam Gallery until December, includes thousands of photos taken by Weiwei on his iPhone whilst visiting refugee camps all around the Mediterranean.

Exhibition SafePassage Ai Weiwei C Foam 2016 Photo Anne van der Weijden

The recent Refugees exhibition in Sydney brought together the work of 22 world-renowned artists including Max Ernst, Lucien Freud, Helmut Newton and Yoko Ono, to offer a platform for discussing the plight of refugees around the world and address the lack of compassion that has been shown in Australia towards asylum seekers. The curator of Refugees, Toni Bailey, told the Guardian, “I’m hoping that these artists who have big reputations can attract attention, and in doing that we can change misconceptions about refugees and asylum seekers.”

Prominent artists have also been voicing solidarity with the refugees via street art and graffiti on walls across the the globe. Parisian street artist JR (think Banksy meets Damien Hirst) has long been making the invisible, marginalised and forgotten visible with his provocative supersized murals that grace buildings, tower blocks, even entire streets.  Since pasting an image of a pregnant refugee on half a mile of the Seine embankment in Paris, JR has continued to throw up images of immigrants on cityscapes around the world. With a wave of his artist’s wand he turned a container ship into an epic cruising art-work which, coincidently, ended up rescuing a boatload of immigrants from Libya.

JR at Galerie Perrotin, 2015

Artists closer to home are also riding the refugee art wave and producing work which packs a socio-political punch. Over the last year, Evolution Arts tutor and Brighton based socially engaged artist Bern O’Donoghue has been busy making hundreds of origami paper boats for her project Refugees Crossing. The boats are a response to the estimated 3,771 migrants and refugees who drowned in 2015 while crossing the Mediterranean Sea.  Speaking to the Guardian, Bern said:

“We all need to help these people and engage the government to take a more compassionate position. Each paper boat has a fact about refugees on them. I’d like the boats to be seen in towns and cities across the UK, to remind people that refugees need and deserve our help.”

As well as appearing in exhibitions in the UK, the colourful boats have been placed in streets, on buses, trains, planes, at stations and bus stops in over 100 towns and cities world-wide in an attempt to generate wider debate and change the negative discourse surrounding the crisis. Bern recently paired up her boats with polaroids by the photojournalist Giovanna Del Sarto for the joint exhibition Another Crossing at Murmuarations Gallery (see top image).

Art is all the more powerful when it comes from the hearts, hands and minds of the refugees themselves. Since 2006 Art Refugee UK has been providing safe creative spaces inside refugee camps, where teams of professionals encourage and enable refugees to express themselves through drawing, film and photography. Art Refugee UK’s Tony Gammidge is organising a symposium at Brighton University on 9th November with the title ‘(How) Can the arts engage with the ongoing refugee crisis’.

Counterpoint Arts is another organisation that supports and produces art by and about migrants and refugees and who believes in ‘the ability of the arts to inspire social change and enhance inclusion and cultural integration of refugees and migrants’. Writing for Forced Migration Review, Awet Andemicael champions the myriad psychological, emotional and social benefits of artistic activity, and its power to enhance lives of refugees both within and beyond the camps.

Don’t miss the chance to appreciate some drawings and paintings by kids currently living in Al-Abrar refugee camp in Lebanon at the From Syria With Love exhibition at Sussex University on 3rd November.

You can experience the transformative power of art for yourself by booking a course or workshop at Evolution Arts Brighton. From beginner’s drawing, to stained glass and street photography we offer many outlets for crossing the borders of creativity.

Time to Take a Stand – UP!



Whoever said laughter is the best medicine wasn’t far wrong – although they obviously hadn’t tried Valium.

The physical, psychological and social effects of humour and laughter are as bountiful as Donald Trump’s frontal hair shelf. Studies show that humour and laughter strengthen your immune system, boost your energy, diminish pain, and protect you from the damaging effects of stress. In fact a good old belly laugh can leave your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes.

Making people laugh is therefore giving them a unique gift. And the amazing thing about laughter is that it’s free – unless of course you’re lucky enough to be at one of Brighton & Hove’s many brilliant comedy nights, in which case it can cost you anything from £3 – £30, depending on the experience of the comedians.

If you’ve longed to have your entourage in stitches, but can only ever seem to muster a joke from last year’s Christmas cracker, then help is at the end of your funny bone.
Louise Stevenson

This October, Brighton Comedy Course is teaming up with Evolution Arts to offer a 6-week beginners course in the art of stand-up. Run by Louise Stevenson (pictured above) a Scottish stand-up who started her comedy career in 1999 on the New Zealand circuit, Brighton Comedy Course is for anyone who wants to:

  • Improve Confidence
  • Enhance public speaking ability
  • Increase presentation skills
  • Write and edit comedy

And who knows, you could go on to be the next stand-up sensation like several previous graduates, including the hilarious Phil Jerrod.The world is your Apollo!

comedy course

Brighton Comedy Course Graduates

I met up with Louise after Brighton Comedy Course’s most recent graduate gig at The Verdict in Kemp Town to ask her a few questions about life in the laughter lane:

Q. What made you get into comedy?

A: Honestly, I love making people laugh and thought I could. I had just moved to Wellington, NZ and I shared my aspirations with the first woman comic I saw performing and she just happened to have space on her comedy course which started the next day, fate maybe.

Q. What are the highs and lows of being a stand-up comedian?

Highs are coming off a stage with a big audience who’ve really enjoyed you. Lows are the travelling from town to town staying in places on your own (there’s a lot of cinema!), And the combination of a high and low is where a woman comes up and says “ My boyfriend totally laughed his arse off and he never thinks women are funny!”

Q. Who is your favourite comedian and why?
Kevin Bridges, because he’s hilarious and talks about a lot of things that I can relate to coming from Glasgow.

Q. How has being a comedian changed you?
Now there’s a question, well it’s given me much more confidence over the years, it also gives you the balls to share something you thinks funny without worrying what the response will be. Who cares-you won’t know its funny till you put it out there.

Q. What are 3 main things you hope people will get from your course?
Confidence, the ability to perform a tight set, and a love of comedy.

Q. TEll us a joke.!
Southern Rail-need I expand?

Give yourself and others the gift of laughter today by booking a place on the Brighton Comedy Course at Evolution Arts here.
Comedian & Brighton Comedy Course Graduate Phil Jerrod

Jerrod informs us, deadpan, that he’s the most boring man he knows, then riffs off into a fantastic set of perfectly delivered, perfectly timed and perfectly glorious comedy.” BROADWAY BABY

Certainly one to keep an eye on. His tortured ramblings about being white and middle-class run on like the nightmare I imagine it isn’t and made me genuinely laugh out loud” – The Brighton Argus


Fair Brighton & Hove

Brighton & Hove is a Fairtrade City boasting a mighty-fine ‘n fair selection of local, ethical and sustainable shops and businesses. These organisations, which include shops, wholesalers and internet stores, sell everything from to pants and ethical duvet covers to responsibly sourced tea cups and candles.

Commited to actively supporting Fairtrade partnerships with producers around the world, Brighton & Hove encourages an innovative and exciting approach to promoting Fairtrade across the city.

Here are just a few of the current events and initiatives that are taking place in and around town:

  1. Brighton and Hove Smarter Uniforms is the city-wide initiative to re-use school uniforms that aims to save parents money; to fundraise for schools and curb the amount of clothing that goes to landfill and the amount of resources used in the production of surplus clothing.
  1. The weekly Fairtrade Cupboard opens its doors at the Brighthelm Centre every Thursday from 1pm-4.30pm. Featuring products from Traidcraft and offering exquisitely made Fairtrade gifts, cards and foods to tantalize the senses.

    3.  An Ethical Fashion Show and Afro Jazz event takes place on Friday 22 July at Brighton Unitarian Church in aid of Brighton  Voices   in Exile, who provide support to refugees in the Brighton area. The show features looks from 8 countries: Kenya, Bolivia,  Guatemala, Indonesia, India, Nepal and Tibet, with clothes supplied by Brighton’s beloved Fairtrade shop, Lovethatstuff. As well as enjoying watching models flaunt their fair finery,  you will be able to savour wine and world snacks. The evening will include the live jazzy notes of Gambian master percussionist Musamboob (pictured below) and the Korns of Africa. Don’t miss this chance to celebrate global style, great music an international inclusivity! Book your cheaper advance tickets here.


In all fairness, when it comes to Fair Trade, Brighton & Hove is where it’s at!

Staying Connected – the power of the Ensō,

(image by Myra Lowe)

Across the globe – from the USA to Italy, New Zealand to Scotland – people are going round in circles, and it’s all down to writer, artist and mindfulness educator Wendy Ann Greenhalgh.

On 1st June, without any plan,  Wendy Ann drew a zencircle, an ensō, with a brush on a piece of scrap paper. Relishing the sense of wholeness and calm this experience brought, the day after she decided to draw an enso every day for a month. The day after that she invited other people via social media to do the same. By the beginning of July Wendy Ann’s ensō project had gone global, with people from many different countries uniting to be mindful and creative together.

Wendy says:

“Ensō originated in the Japanese Zen Buddhist tradition and are considered a sacred symbol that represents infinity and enlightenment, emptiness, harmony and balance. The ensō is made with one breath and with one continuous movement of the brush or pen, and so they also speak of the oneness of life, of completeness, and wholeness, the uniqueness and impermanence of the moment, and of our precious human lives. All our vulnerability, all our strength, all our gifts and flaws are in an ensō.”



(image by Wendy Ann Greenhalgh)

“I have wondered often in this last month if this is why so many people have felt inspired by the Ensō A Day project and have been moved to take part. In a world where, in just the last month, we’ve been confronted by the most terrible hate-crime in Orlando, Donald Trump’s increasingly divisive politics, and in which the UK’s vote to leave the European Union is dividing a whole continent, the Ensō A Day project is all about coming together and feeling our individual and collective wholeness, connecting with a global community that is committed to exploring creativity and mindfulness together.”

Overwhelmed by such a positive response Wendy Ann has decided to continue this mindful drawing project for another month, and invites you to jump in the ring and join her.

Here are some of Wendy Ann’s simple “stop, look, breathe, create” instructions for drawing the ensō.

Materials: You will need a sheet of paper, a pencil, pen, stick of charcoal, or a watercolour brush and a thick wash of paint (I’ve been using acrylic) or ink. I like using a simple black, blue/black, or a sepia or ochre colour—but you could make them in any colour you wish.

>> Stop—Even if you don’t have a lot of time, bring your materials together mindfully. Be aware of your body moving slowly. Sit for a moment in front of your paper.

>> Look—Close your eyes and look within. Notice how you’re feeling, what the inner weather of your emotions and thoughts are like in this moment.

>> Breathe—Bring your awareness to your breath. See how it is a circle of in and out. Follow the circles of your breath for a few moments holding your experience within it.

>> Look—Visualise an ensō. See that circle in your mind’s eye, holding a sense of what it it might mean to you today.

>> Breathe—Take your pencil, pen, charcoal or brush in your hand, staying aware of how it feels and how you are holding it.

>> Breathe—If you are using a brush, load it with enough ink or paint to make a circle in one single stroke or gesture – without needing to reload the brush.

>> Create—Draw your ensō on either an in-breath, or an out-breath, or on a full circle of the breath (in and out). Experiment and see what feels right.

>> Stop—Remember this is one moment in time, all that your are, all that is, in one mark on the page.

Sign your ensō and then place it somewhere you’ll see it regularly, so that it can remind you of the importance of mindfulness, of the simplicity of the present moment. Traditionally, the ensō is accompanied by a sacred text, a koan or quote from spiritual texts or sutras. You might also like to add some words to your ensō—a mantra, affirmation of unity, an expression of gratitude, whatever you wish. Or you may leave the paper with just its circle.

The whole practice can be experienced with just a few breaths—so there’s always time to fit it into the busiest of days. And please don’t worry about making perfect circles, that’s really not the aim. In fact, it’s often the misshapen, wonky circles I draw that I like the best because they reflect my wonky body with its aches and pains, or my tense breath after a busy week of teaching. Let the circles just be what they are. Let you be just who you are in this moment, and know your own wholeness.

If you’d like to share your ensō on social media so we can all enjoy them, then please use the #ensoaday and #stoplookbreathecreate hashtags so we can find them. Many people are posting them on the central hub for this project, the Art of Mindfulness Facebook page. You can see Wendy’s own ensō there too.

Wendy Ann will be teaching an exciting mix of mindfulness courses and workshops at Evolution Arts this Autumn including: Mindfulness & the Art of Creativity,  Mindfulness & the Art of Collage, Mindfulness & the Art of Drawing, and Mindfulness & the Art of Writing .

Arts Attack

Art in education currently at an all time low in the UK, and with the government set to make even further cuts to Arts funding, it’s not looking rosy for the creative sector.

Published last year, the Warwick commission report highlights the systematic assault on creativity, culture and the arts and insists that arts education should be an entitlement for all children. It also shows a downward trend in participation in most cultural activities.

Vikki Heywood CBE, Chairman of the Warwick Commission on the Future of Cultural Value said:

“The key message from this report is that the government and the cultural and creative industries need to take a united and coherent approach that guarantees equal access for everyone to a rich cultural education and the opportunity to live a creative life. There are barriers and inequalities in Britain today that prevent this from being a universal human right. This is bad for business and bad for society.”

One of the biggest problems for the arts is national and local funding cuts, with Arts Council England cut by 32% and local government by 40% between 2010 and 2015.


Scottish actor James McAvoy (pictured above) has set up a fund in his home country to help give children from poorer backgrounds access to the kinds of art education that many comprehensive schools are being forced to do away with. Speaking to BBC’s The One Show, he said:

“I do worry about a country in which the government doesn’t allow everyone, across the board, to have access to an education that also includes art… because art is the one thing that if you don’t have money will help you see beyond your horizons and see beyond your limitations”

These are undoubtedly worrying times for our country’s creative sector, and sadly the future of Evolution Arts is itself in doubt. We recently informed our community that we are at risk of closure and asked people to send us their suggestions, support and donations in a bid to help save the centre. This ‘rescue mission’ is still in progress and we are doing everything in our power to ensure that we can continue delivering the diverse and exciting range of courses and workshops that has made Evolution Arts one of Brighton and Hove’s most treasured creative institutions.


Evolution Arts began life back in the summer of 1993. The centre was one of the first places in Brighton to offer yoga and it has been a thriving hub for yogis and creatives ever since. Renowned for its inspiring and diverse programme of workshops, courses and drop-ins, lead by a talented team of  tutors Evolution Arts gives people the opportunity to lead richer, more creative and healthier lives. Joining our community is a way to nourish talents, learn new skills and meet likeminded people, whilst pursuing the things that make you feel alive.






Whether our members have been coming here for years, or are fresh through our doors, they are united by their thirst for creativity, an interest in self-development and the desire to live richer and more fulfilled lives.


You can become part of our vibrant community and help prevent the end of Evolution by doing one or all of the following:

1. Enrol on one of our upcoming courses and workshops – we are taking bookings for both our summer and autumn programmes.

2. Join our Facebook Group ‘Evolution Arts Community’. 

3. Follow us on Twitter @evolution_arts

4. Share this blogpost.

5. Donate. You will find the donate button on the home page of our website

Thank you for your support!