Children and Radical Joy: A review of Drawing Together

I walk in and it’s quiet. Not an eerie kind of silence, but a calm stillness. It is just past 10am and the Drawing Together installation is still being set up. 

By Olivia Sykes, Refugee Festival Scotland volunteer

There’s a very low hum coming from the centre of the room. Just a few voices whispering. Here I met Michael Archibald, a Youth Board Creative Change Maker for Articulate, the organisation providing the exhibition space. He led me around the room and the surrounding silence allowed us to talk.

Michael explained that this installation focuses on the experiences of young people in Scotland, Norway and Finland and their navigation of refugee life. He showed me a projector wall surrounded by sofas and armchairs that welcome you to listen to Ravi Kohli, the lead creator of this installation, explain the artwork in an introductory video. The entire setting aims to make you feel comfortable and encourages togetherness. Kohli says: “young people give you a sense of being alive.” This is a crucial message of this exhibition. We need to learn and look to young people to go into the future.

All around there are signs of joy and wonder, emotions that we, as a collective, experience in childhood then slowly forget as we grow. One section of the exhibition displays artwork made by young people about what they want for the future. Their dreams, their hopes, made me instantly smile. Kohli says that he wants people to understand that life is not black and white, but full of different colours. This exhibition shows that figuratively and quite literally. Looking around in any direction fills the viewer’s field of vision with so many colours and bright images, evocative of childhood.

My favourite part however was right in the centre. This is where I discovered that the buzzing I had heard earlier was not just the sounds of people setting up. It was also coming from a large light shrouded with sheets. Michael informed me that the exhibition creators took everyday sounds and voices to create a soundscape, which played on a loop so that people feel comfortable. The display radiates a light and is full of more images and words from Finland, Norway and Scotland. The everyday sounds remind us that we are all one people, living our lives, and trying to find connections.

This was particularly moving to me. When we are born, we come with a blank slate. Everyone is screaming into the world, trying to find their place. Childhood is a time where exploration and friendship are encouraged. We are told to be kind, to think about our hopes. This project focuses on these things in how we understand what wellbeing means while still keeping in mind the difficult parts of life.

A big part of the current global refugee dialogue focuses on the differences between people. Yet, this project so seamlessly captures that we are more alike than we perhaps realize. All children dream, and they all laugh. Somewhere along the line, adults seem to forget what that means.

One part of the video mentions the phrase radical joy. This, I feel, is a perfect snapshot of what this project achieves. Joy can transform us in a truly radical way that fear cannot. If we all focus more on what makes us joyful, if we focus on that part of youth and we take more time to listen, that makes us all a little more together.

The Drawing Together exhibition is on display at the Articulate Cultural Trust in Glasgow until Wednesday 28 June. 

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