Empowerment and connection: ARTconnects cultivate the creative talents of refugee women

UK for UNHCR spoke to Salma Zulfiqar about ARTconnects and the importance of art and creativity when it comes to community building.

© Salma Zulfiqar


Award-winning artist and activist Salma Zulfiqar is here to highlight the contributions that refugee women make to society. UK for UNHCR spoke to Salma about her work with ARTconnects and the importance of looking beyond the word “refugee.”

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about ARTconnects?

A: ARTconnects has been described as a ‘ground-breaking’ initiative. It is a high-impact grassroots service which empowers girls and women from refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds and promotes integration through creative expression and cross-cultural creative activities. I started the project because refugee and migrants make huge contributions to society and the economy which need to be recognised and celebrated and in the face of increasing hate crimes and racism.

The aim is to promote solidarity, stop hate from spreading in communities and prevent extremism. To date we’ve held workshops across the UK and in Europe, and in March 2020 we took the project online to reach to communities around the world in camps, orphanages and other temporary accommodation. The main artwork is the Migration Blanket project which culminated last year in the creation of a digital film In Solidarity – The Migration Blanket bringing together over 60 women’s artwork representing over 25 nations and over 100 pieces of artwork.

For many of the girls and women it was like a dream come true to see their artwork showcased internationally in high profile events. The film won best animated short at the Berlin Independent Film Festival. And this project continues this year.


Q: Through the power of art, you create peacemakers and facilitate social cohesion. How can art be used as a tool for connection?

A: Girls and women have a central role to play in community peace and ARTconnects provides them with a platform to hone their skills and excel. The beauty of art is that it has no boundaries or barriers, it’s a universal language. In ARTconnects the girls and women find common ground through the artwork and debate, and it allows for creative expression which is a human right and important for mental health as well, particularly during the pandemic. The creation of art allows for people in communities to have those difficult discussions and build bridges at time when there are growing divisions in society.


Q: The Refugee Dictionary strives to look beyond the word “refugee” – Can you tell us why you think this important?

A: It’s important to go beyond the word refugee, because it’s important not to be labelled during these troubled times, at the end of the day we are all human beings and this is our common denominator.

You can find out more information about ARTconnects on www.artconnects.co.uk and our social media channels.


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