Festival of Migration – Day 1

A Proud Celebration of Migrant Cultures: Are we ‘New Scots’ – Kraina and Davno 

By Izzy Taylor, Refugee Festival Scotland volunteer 

I hoped I wasn’t sweating or too red in the face from the warm June sun as I walked up the steps to the Southside Centre on Friday evening, excited to attend the opening night of the Festival of Migration. This festival-within-a-festival was organised by Art27, who take their name from Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It states that everyone has the right to participate freely in the culture of their community and this multi-day event includes many representations of community, creativity, and culture.  

Before the performances began, guests were invited to view a powerful photography exhibition. Laleh Sherkat, coordinator of the project, ran a series of narrative photography workshops for novices, enabling them to capture moments of shared traditions and cultures. The framed shots were displayed in black and white, in keeping with photojournalism, which enabled textures and emotions within each shot to dominate the viewer’s experience.  

There were multiple sensory art projects to explore, including an immersive sound installation created by Elaine Cheng, and a visual display of paper cutting exploring Slavic art, folklore and myths by Marta Adamowicz and Robert Motyka.  

The friendly chatter and hum of appreciation for the exhibitions was broken by a loud bell rung by a volunteer inviting guests to take their seats in the auditorium. As we walked up the stairs, large framed quotes from poems about migration and culture were displayed. Helen Trew, Co-Director of Art27 began by welcoming everyone and thanking all those involved. The event was not only the Festival’s opening night, but the first of its kind run by Art27, who are already hoping it will become a regular celebration.  

The first speaker to the stage was Quang Nguyen, whose talk ‘Are we New Scots?’ explored questions of identity and integration for migrants in Scotland. He spoke of his experiences as a German born to Vietnamese parents now living in Scotland, and asked the audience to consider their own migration and integration experiences. Quan shared his concern that using universal labels may overlook the importance of cultural diversity and other identity differences. Through his educational talk, the concept of ‘New Scots’ was explained as a potentially powerful tool to enable inclusive citizenship, but is not without its limitations. Concluding that migrant self-identification and community organising are essential to building an integrated, inclusive Scotland, his talk was a poignant moment to pause and reflect ahead of the rest of Refugee Festival Scotland.  

“…migrant self-identification and community organising are essential to building an integrated, inclusive Scotland.” 

The audience was then introduced to ‘Kraina: The Land on the Edge’, a digital animation of the Slavic paper cut-outs displayed in the installation downstairs. The lights went down and the audience was quiet as dark blue patterns filled the screen. The short film was an enchanting and mysterious tale of a young woman plagued each night by visions and nightmares of monsters which she eventually learned how to deceive. The film used shapes and patterns created using the traditional Polish paper-cutting craft, which a group of participants had made during previous workshops. These workshops explored Slavic myth and old legend as a way to reconnect and reflect upon with tradition, stereotypes and, importantly, to help make connections between people.  

 “…members of Davno sang with smiles, visibly enjoying this special moment to share some of their culture and heritage with the audience.” 

Mesmerizing harmonies accompanied the film, recorded and sung by the female acapella group Davno. The audience was then treated to a captivating set of songs performed by the very same Davno, who sang traditional folk songs from a range of Eastern European countries. Many of the songs were love songs traditionally sung at weddings, but more somber melodies captured tales of death far from home, or of brides sad to leave their families. The evening closed with an uplifting song originating from Lithuania, which members of Davno sang with smiles, visibly enjoying this special moment to share some of their culture and heritage with the audience.  

Read Izzy’s blog on Day 2 of the Festival of Migration here.


Refugee Festival Scotland 2023 runs from 16 – 25 June. Check out what’s on where you are.