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Using multimedia to enrich public and specialist perceptions of immigration detention

Award Information

AHRC ref: AH/E505422/1
Discipline: Visual Arts
Funding opportunity: Research Grant
Areas of Impact: Communities Policy influence; Stimulating debate and shifting perceptions
Lead RO: University of Sussex
Region: South East

Ten years after the original exhibition,Border Country’ and its images and audio continue to engage and stimulate discussion about immigration detention with public audiences as well as specialists and academics, not just in the UK but in locations across the globe.

In 2007 ground-breaking research changed perceptions of asylum seekers in the UK and contributed to public understanding of well-being and human rights in relation to asylum detention. It also informed training for lawyers and volunteers, who work with immigrants and detainees, and generated and informed creative works including exhibitions and theatre.

Gaining unprecedented access to asylum seekers in UK Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs) and those who work with them, Melanie Friend from the University of Sussex captured their perspectives in audio recordings and photographic images. Border Country, the resultant multimedia exhibition, brought their experiences and thoughts to an international audience through displays in the UK, Germany and Canada.

The exhibition used colour photographs of landscapes and interiors to explore experiences of, for example, the design of spaces such as Visits Rooms. A sound track incorporated extracts of interviews with asylum seekers in which they expressed their thoughts and feelings about their time in detention, including the importance to them of religious practices, humour, and their relationships with IRC officers and other detainees of many cultures.

Copyright: Melanie Friend
The Visitors’ Room, Tinsley House IRC (Gatwick), April 2004. Copyright: Melanie Friend

The exhibition material enhanced the training of lawyers and volunteers working with detainees and was for example used by The Gatwick Detainee Visitors Group in its training of prospective new visitors. It also improved public understanding of immigration processes and experiences by attracting extensive press and curatorial coverage, for example articles and image gallery in The Guardian online.

The perspectives of asylum seekers were brought to a wider audience through theatre productions such as Motherland, about female and child asylum-seekers in Yarl’s Wood IRC. This was performed by renowned British actresses Juliet Stevenson, Harriet Walter and others and directed by Stephenson, using the Border Country images as a stage backdrop.

Ten years on, and most recently, six images and ten soundtracks from Border Country were exhibited at The System of Systems at GRACE in Athens in May 2017 alongside the works of other artists, including James Bridle. Melanie also continues to share her research in many different contexts and with different audiences, including giving the keynote presentation Picturing Migration at the National Library of Ireland/Institute of Art & Design Dun Laoghaire in March 2017. For more information on Border Country, visit Melanie’s website.

For more information on the project visit: www.melaniefriend.com/bordercountry/

All images copyright: Melanie Friend, from Border Country
Main image: The moat, Dover IRC, August 2005