Wooden shoes

‘Part of how I learned Dutch, was I bought wooden shoes, a very typical Dutch thing. Part of me was  searching for a new audience, so with wooden shoes I had an audience. Everyday when I walk on the streets, people come around and they talk with me – and whenever I go to different offices, people were willing to help me because I wear wooden shoes  Nobody wears wooden shoes. I wore the wooden shoes for three years. Even when I went to the theatre school for auditions, I was wearing my wooden shoes.’

Bright Richards

A recent trip to Rotterdam to speak at a community arts conference gave me a chance to meet some artists who are now living in the Netherlands but have come from other countries. I had some extraordinary meetings with people from Morocco, Turkey, Liberia and Chad and heard about their experiences of making art in their new homes.

Some of the journeys they have undertaken are almost unimaginable to anyone who has lived only in the security of contemporary western Europe. The courage and resilience with which they have established new lives and careers in the Netherlands – in the face of continuing obstacles – is humbling. Here’s the work of one person I met, Bright Richards, who is now producing his own inter-religious theatre programme, ‘As I left my father’s house‘. Aziz Aarab, pictured below, is a writer, comedian and cultural worker.

Thanks to my friends Eugene van Erven and Margreet Bouwman from the Vrede van Utrecht for their support in this project – and to Abdoul, Aziz, Bright, Sai’d and Zeliha for their time and trust.

Bread and Salt

Bread and Salt is structured around a series of meetings with people who have moved to different European countries from other parts of the world, and who have continued their artistic practice in their new homes. That practice may be professional, but more typically will be being undertaken for its own sake, privately or in community contexts. One of the tensions Bread & Salt explores is how and whether people are accepted as professionals by cultures that are very different from their own.

The meetings are social, over tea, walking in a park or attending a performance. In each case, they focus on an individual story, not just of migration but of an artistic journey and how the one has supported and enabled the other.

  • How did artistic talent emerge and flourish? How is art changed by its new context?
  • Is practice valued or rejected, easier or more difficult in this new environment?
  • And, above all perhaps, how does art empower a person to define themselves rather than simply be a subject of other, possible hostile, description?