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03 Jul 2017


New Beginnings Festival for Refugee Week celebrates Sydney artists

The festival included film screenings, creative workshops, an art exhibition and a tea ceremony.

The New Beginnings Festival for Refugee Week — the first instalment of SSI’s 2017 New Beginnings: Refugee Arts & Culture Festival — attracted 600 people to a series of creative events that highlighted the artistic talents of exiled artists and craftspeople.

SSI Arts & Culture Coordinator Carolina Triana, who produced the festival, said it was an opportunity for Sydneysiders to come together and learn about the cultural heritage and vibrant artistry of some of Australia’s newest community members.

“Being a ‘refugee’ is not the singularly defining aspect of a person’s identity,” she said. “Our aim was to facilitate creative exchanges between refugee and non-refugee communities. Getting to know someone through their art makes us focus on their creativity and potential — labels are no longer relevant.”

The festival launched on June 21 at 107 in Redfern with the opening of the Singular/Plural art exhibition. Curated by Denise Thwaites, the exhibition featured work from newly arrived artists alongside their established peers Garry Trinh, Alex Seton, Aroha Groves and Lindy Lee.

The fun continued three days later with a sold-out traditional Persian tea ceremony hosted by Ladan Haghighat. After watching Ms Haghighat prepare her aromatic blend, guests sampled the tea and learned how to make their own, using a mixture of herbs and spices.

The event was organised by the Community Kouzina Project as part of a collaboration with the New Beginnings Festival for Refugee Week that also included an installation and a special series of recipes and stories from people of refugee background created in the lead-up to the festival.

The New Beginnings Festival for Refugee Week also strayed into the world of film, giving refugee filmmakers an opportunity to tell their stories in their own voices at the Sydney Stories screening night.

The short films were developed during a six-week community filmmaking workshop facilitated by arts company CuriousWorks. The filmmakers produced works on everything from gender equality and marriage to family reunions and adapting to life in Australia.

On July 1, as the New Beginnings festivities drew to a close, Sydneysiders got their chance to meet some of the artists exhibiting in Singular/Plural during two creative workshops. A master weaver from Afghanistan, Sayd Mahmod taught a unique tapestry making technique, while Sameer Dakhil gave a demonstration of the intricate engraving work that his family has undertaken in Iraq for more than six hundred years.

Missed out on the fun? The New Beginnings: Refugee Arts & Culture Festival will resume on Saturday, November 18 with a one-day festival in Darling Harbour. Click here for more information, or follow New Beginnings on Instagram for updates.

The festival has been a free public celebration of the diverse and rich creativity and talents of refugees, migrants and people seeking asylum since it started in 2015. Click here to find out how you can support this important event.

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