In Which Language Do We Dream?
Rich Wiles with Ruba and family
An exhibition exploring displacement, identity, integration and home.
It is almost 10 years since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War in 2011. Since then, more than 500,000 people have been killed or are missing and an estimated 5.7 million Syrians have been forced to flee their homes and country.
In the UK, we are familiar with the news headlines and the photographic images of the so-called ‘refugee crisis’. But what happens after displacement to those who are resettled and try to rebuild their lives? What about personal stories, and the relationships that form between new friends and new neighbours? And how do people hold on to loved ones and a past life that they had to leave behind?
In Which Language Do We Dream? will offer fresh insights into these issues, through the photographic perspectives of a Syrian family with first-hand experience.
The multi-stranded exhibition will present an intimate perspective on the lives of displaced people: one in which displaced people themselves tell their own stories. Archival family photos rescued from Syria will be presented alongside contemporary photographs by Rich Wiles, new work by Ruba and her family, as well as a specially commissioned film of Whats App photos sent by their extended family members and shared across national boundaries.
Rich Wiles is a documentary photographer who lived and worked for seven years in a refugee camp in Palestine, before returning to the North of England with his wife, a Palestinian refugee. Over a period of four years, Rich has been collaborating with the family and their relationship has become close. “I want to explore more of these relationships given the parallels between our families. My wife is currently going through the immigration process, my eldest daughter was born in the Middle East and is now living in UK, much like Rami and Ruba’s eldest daughter. My youngest daughter was born here a few months after Rami and Ruba’s youngest daughter. We are all living somewhere in between homes, cultures and languages.”
In Syria, Ruba worked in a studio and photographic processing lab in Homs. When the city was besieged, she and her husband Rami and children Mustapha, Yazan and Hanan, had no choice but to flee their home country and live as displaced people in Lebanon. Five years later, they were among the few to be admitted to the UK under British Government’s resettlement programme, and were housed in a small Yorkshire market town.
What began as a documentary project by Rich Wiles has grown into a significant collaboration. With Rich’s support and encouragement Ruba began photographing herself, her husband and her children’s daily life as they navigate resettlement and integration.
Ruba says “Our lives have been different in every place, in Syria, Lebanon, and now England, and we want people to see this. Our photographs help to explain this and I want our children to be able to see how our lives have changed because I don’t know if we will ever be able to go back home or not. I like photography because photographs always take you back to the moment in which they were taken. Photography brings your memories back. I want to show people that we are trying to integrate and that my kids love living in England. We feel happy here, but really we miss home. I am enjoying working on this project because it helps me feel part of something and learn more language. Every time I take photos I feel happy and more relaxed.”
In Which Language Do We Dream? is a universal story told in a personal way, raising debates surrounding issues of displacement, identity, resettlement, integration and home. It will challenge stereotypical images of refugees, and counteract negative perceptions in politics and the media. Most importantly, through co-authorship the exhibition will consider the power of authentic representation by amplifying the voices and viewpoints of refugees experiences. Collectively, In Which Language Do We Dream? is rebuilding a family archive.
In Which Language Do We Dream? was made possible thanks to public funding from the National Lottery through Arts Council England. The exhibition is a co-created project with curator Anne McNeill guiding the photographic selection through collaboration and discussion with Rich Wiles, Ruba and family.
Rich Wiles is a socially-engaged artist and documentary photographer. His practice explores social issues of our times, often focussing on notions of ‘home’ and ‘identity’ in different contexts. His work has been exhibited in 12 countries, recognised by numerous grants and awards including the Palestine Photography Award, and widely published in the international media and photographic press including Al Jazeera International, Times Educational Supplement, and the BBC.
Rich Wiles was based in Palestine from 2005 to 2016, including 7 years living and working inside Aida refugee camp. His participatory work with the camp’s children led to the establishment of Lajee Center Arts & Media Unit, an award-winning grassroots, youth-led, sustainable participatory photography and film project. He also implemented participatory work with groups of women in the West Bank and young photographers in the Gaza Strip, and has run participatory projects in UK schools.
His work has been exhibited at Migration Museum, London; Sony World Photography Awards at Somerset House, London; Fotomuseum, Antwerp, Belgium; and Amnesty International Human Rights Centre, London.
Ruba and her family
In 2012, the year after the crisis in Syria began, Rami, Ruba and their children Mustapha, Yazan and Hanan were forced to flee Homs, the city of their home. Rami had worked as a driver in Syria and Ruba had spent some time working in a photographic studio prior to getting married. In Homs they lived alongside their large extended family.
They fled across the closest border into Lebanon, remaining there until 2017 when they were offered the chance to resettle under the British Government’s VPRS scheme. Shortly after they arrived, their daughter Rayan was born. Most of their surviving family members are displaced and spread across several countries, although a few remain in Syria today.
Anne McNeill is Director of Impressions Gallery and an experienced and well respected curator, with over 25 years experience. Exhibitions include 'Facing the Front' unseen wartime fashion photographs by Lee Miller (1998); 'Seven Years' (2004) seminal exhibition by Trish Morrissey; 'Cockroach Diaries & other stories' (2010), first retrospective of Anna Fox’s work, shortlisted for the Deutsche Börse Prize; 'Lost Languages & other voices', major survey of Joy Gregory, a key artist emerging from the Black British photography movement on the 1980s; 'Beyond the Border' (2014), one of the most significant shows of new Scottish photography in a generation.
Anne is regularly invited to judge international awards, such as the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Grant, New York, 2015, and the Krasna Krausz Book Awards 2019. She is the editor of numerous publications on photography and currently writing a response to Autograph ABP’s commission of Joy Gregory’s work exploring self-care during Covid.