Colours of the world combine for Nelson refugee mural

BRADEN FASTIER / Stuff.co.nz

Local, and settled refugee kids participate in a multicultural mural with a theme of 'home' at the Victory Community Centre in Nelson.

 

Nine young artists from diverse cultural backgrounds have shared their time and stories on a multi-cultural mural project in Nelson this week.

The four-day programme, held at the Victory Community Centre, was funded with the help of Creative New Zealand and the Nelson-based Sukita Project.

Pictured from top Fatima Azizullah, Megan Pochin, Olive Derecourt, and Mu Pli Toe work on a multicultural mural with a ...
BRADEN FASTIER

Pictured from top Fatima Azizullah, Megan Pochin, Olive Derecourt, and Mu Pli Toe work on a multicultural mural with a theme of 'home' at the Victory Community Centre in Nelson.

The Sukita Project was established in 2010 by Dr Kay Sneddon to preserve the art and handicrafts of refugee and migrant cultures and promote these within the communities in which they live. 

"A lot of people still think that refugees have a choice about where they live in the world or that they are burdens on our community – we want to change that," she said.

The theme of the mural is 'Home'. The five-metre creation reflects different cultural perspectives, in the hope of providing a better understanding among the community they now called home.

The mural was created in two parts, representing cultural aspects of Aotearoa and Asia. It will then be joined together before going on display.

After a successful self-portrait workshop last year, Wellington-based art teacher Leila Goddard returned to guide the efforts of the group, which included resettled children from Afghanistan and Myanmar.

"Obviously the concept of home is pretty different and so we wanted them to hear each others stories that would expand each others perspectives, but also as a relationship-building exercise, getting them to bond and interact," Goddard said.

Having previously lived on the Myanmar-Thai border, Goddard was compelled to contact Sneddon two years ago after seeing some of the Sukita Project's Karen weaving at art gallery in Tasman.

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"I said 'this is Burmese' and the man said "oh, yeah there's this woman that does weaving in Nelson", so I tracked her down."

With Sneddon keen to introduce something new for the local refugee community, a further meeting at Nelson's Suter Gallery saw the pair decide to work together.

Goddard was already known to Sneddon through her work teaching art in the stateless Mon and Karen region on the Thai-Myanmar border, which saw one of her students awarded an UNESCO art prize.

"I read about that and thought 'okay, maybe Leila can help here in Nelson, so I invited her to come help us," Sneddon said.

Goddard saw art as a "bridge to building self-confidence", which then gave the motivation to try other things.

As a teacher, she had enjoyed watching the teens skills improve throughout the creative process. 

"I think they've learnt a lot already, I can see their dexterity has improved - because there is a lot of flat colour and patterns it means they have had to do a lot of line work." 

Once completed, Sneddon and Goddard hoped to display the mural in a public space, to bring further exposure to the young artists' cultures, and to educate those who may not fully understand their backgrounds.

Year 10 student Mu Aye Pan said she had enjoyed putting her Kayan heritage into a creative outlet that would soon be seen by many others. 

"My family will be proud of me," she said.  

It was not just refugees who gained enjoyment from the project.

Garin College student Olivia Derecourt said the mural had allowed her a great opportunity to find a common ground with the refugees.

"It's good because you see some of them around school but you may not have had a conversation with them or got to hang out with them."

Anyone who can offer a space to display the mural can contact Dr Kay Sneddon at k.sriyaraj@gmail.com.

 - Stuff

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