What was the inspiration for this event?
Jessie: We wanted showcase stories of the SIGOHA archive in a public place. Considering that the debate over the imminent EU referendum has inevitably focused on, and stigmatised, the role of immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers in this country, we thought this was the right time. We hope to provide an alternative narrative on this debate through giving a voice to those who are consistently spoken over.
Alasdair: As well as the referendum, we knew that Refugee Festival Scotland was happening, so we thought this would be the perfect time to put on an exhibition, while being part of wider programme of events related to refugees and immigration. Our exhibition started on the 11th June and ends on the 26th, as part of Refugee Festival Scotland.
How did you go about gathering the team for it?
Alasdair: We wanted take the project further, beyond the website and decided to put on an exhibition. We then approached The Pipe Factory, as we like their exhibition space, so we’ve been working in affiliation with their committee as well.
Jessie: In terms of the team of participants, it was a really mixed bag of how we got in touch with each other. I started off by interviewing friends of friends, then asking them for more friends who might want to be interviewed. I approached lots of community organisations who work with migrants in Glasgow.
I’ve also been very active on twitter (@talesofglasgow), instagram (settled_in_glasgow) and facebook, and I also used to write for TimeOut so I put a shout out on there, and people found me through that.
How did you become interested in making this project?
Jessie: We were inspired by studying oral history at the University of Glasgow. Oral history gives a voice to normal people who are usually spoken for, it reveals unique, personal stories that can illuminate so much more about a city, or a culture, than reading statistics in a book.
Alasdair: Oral history is often an afterthought in the exhibition space and it has been a really interesting making it the focus of our exhibition.
Was your process typical of the way that you'd make an exhibition?
Alasdair: This is the first SIGOHA exhibition so we don’t have a typical process yet! We wanted to be a part of Refugee Festival Scotland, so we had quite a short timeframe. This meant we had to start contacting venues and applying to be a part of the festival before we knew exactly what was going to be in the exhibition, so I guess in that sense the process was fairly unconventional.
Some of the elements like the recordings existed already online and the other elements like the objects and the events hadn’t yet taken shape. We had an abstract idea of what we were hoping for but the process was ultimately governed by a desire to facilitate co-production with the participants.
We contacted the participants to invite them take part in the exhibition firstly to represent material aspects of immigration but also to use the exhibition space for their own projects. Combining elements from around twenty different people meant that we really had no idea what would turn up, it was a really exciting process and we’re really thankful that so many of the participants have gotten involved. We asked the participants to lend us objects of significance that highlight parts of their stories and this has resulted in a range of things from asylum documents to sand from Robben Island.
Jessie: I guess that is the most important thing that we are trying to achieve, to allow our participants to represent themselves, and to avoid telling their stories for them.
What do you hope that the audience will experience?
Jessie: We hope that, through listening to these stories, exhibition-goers will engage in narratives that they may not have had access to before and hear another perspective to what’s in the press.
Alasdair: For others these stories of making a new place 'home' may be quite similar to their own experiences. We hope to give the audience a stake in the exhibition by seeing themselves or someone they can relate to represented in a public space. We are advocating an alternative history, using the perspectives of people who would not usually find themselves in an exhibition.
Jessie: With this in mind we’re also hoping to attract an audience of people who may not usually visit art galleries – this is partly why we chose to be in The Pipe Factory, next to the Barras market in the east end of the city. As our exhibition celebrates normal people, we’d like anyone and everyone to feel comfortable visiting it.
Alasdair: This is one of the reasons we wanted to be in the Pipe Factory rather than in a more typical ‘white cube’ gallery setting, which can be quite intimating. As an alternative exhibition space, the Pipe Factory gave us the opportunity to experiment in a more community orientated environment.
What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
Alasdair: Our approach is quite like a museum; we have presented the objects as artefacts with appropriate historical accreditation. In this way, the audience is encouraged to appreciate personal and historical significance of the objects as well as their aesthetic value. By referencing the museum, we wanted to explore the notion that artefacts in museum exhibitions gain more authority. We hope this will help the audience to engage with the stories and consider them as an important part of history.
Jessie: We also offered the exhibition space to our participants, who are using it to host a varied programme of events over the two weeks of the exhibition. They are hosting film screenings, talks, concerts and plays, discussions and workshops within the exhibition space. In this way, the audience is invited to interact with our participants face to face, in the same space that their stories are being shared.
Alasdair: As far as possible we are hosting all of our events within the exhibition space.
We hope this will create an interesting dialogue between the exhibition itself and the discussions and work shops held within that space. Each of the events interacts with the space in a different way from meditation workshops to live music and a play. The exhibition should provide a unique setting for the events and provoke further discussion on migration.
SIGOHA is an online archive of conversations with people who have settled in and around Glasgow having been born outside of the UK. This project hopes to construct a social history of Glasgow and the surrounding area through the stories of people who have experienced living in different cultures and contexts and have come to make their lives here.
Oral history is the study of history through the stories of normal people. Daily experiences and memories that may seem ordinary to one person might hold great meaning to the right historian. As an oral history archive, SIGOHA is not seeking to find out anything specific, but instead to illuminate a broad section of Glasgow’s history.
Through their experiences of living in other countries before moving to Glasgow, SIGOHA participants can provide perspectives on the city that may never have been considered by people who were born in the UK. Furthermore, through participants’ stories of their lives before moving to Glasgow, SIGOHA also documents the histories of many cities and countries around the world.