Nia’s Reflections on the ‘Creating Sancutary’ Exhibition

Part B:

I chose to visit the Creating Sanctuary exhibition because all the photographs were all of volunteers from Wales who are working with refugees – this was particularly relevant having just completed the Stories/Straeon Project where we looked at charities and volunteering in Cardiff during the First World War, including many stories of Belgian refugees. As well as 18 portraits, the exhibition also included quotes from the volunteers talking about their experiences, work and hopes with regards to refugees in Wales. One of the quotes which I found most affecting described the frenzied atmosphere as refugees arrived at a train station – it sounded like something straight from a history book, rather than 21st century Wales.

All of the portraits were taken by photographer Nigel Pugh, and in each picture the subjects were photographed alone. While the quotes from the volunteers all seemed to mention people they had met through their charity work, the photographs focussed on their isolation; a volunteer lying on a bed with a child’s book, but no children; sitting alone in an empty, generic waiting room; or sitting at a table laid with food, looking out of a window as if expecting guests. This had the effect of stressing the frustrations of the volunteers, many of whom discussed dealing with bureaucracy, feeling powerless and exasperation with others who are not involved and aware of the struggles refugees face. I felt the isolation in the photographs was also a comment on the current political climate, with so much backlash against refugees in the news at present.