March 28, 2023

Refugee youth artwork reimagines the future through anti-racist lens

Interactive art and tech installation shares their stories March 28
A still image of one of the stop motion videos to be included in the event
Pratim Sengupta

Love, friendships, grief and pain are all part of an upcoming evening of interactive art by refugee youth titled Landings: Anti-Racist Futures in Stories.

The event on March 28 will feature five stations created by 30 refugee youth, telling the stories of newcomers in Calgary using mediums such as computer simulations, sketch and stop-motion animation, short documentaries, and songs. Through their art, the contributors, ranging in age from 14 to 21, will reimagine resettlement in an anti-racist framework. 

  • Photo above: A still image of one of the stop-motion videos included in the event. Created by Aiah Obid, Roya Karimi and Marwa Naseri (youth) who worked with Santanu Dutta (PhD student, learning sciences).

The event is part of a larger project funded by the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) — which has provided more than $1 million in support for two years — and is a collaboration with the Mind, Matter and Media Lab at the University of Calgary’s Werklund School of Education and the Youth and Anti-Racism (YARI) Collective. Under the guidance of Dr. Pratim Sengupta, PhD, of Werklund, and Dr. Pallavi Banerjee, PhD, of the Department of Sociology, the youths co-designed their projects with the support of UCalgary grad students.

Pratim Sengupta and Pallavi Banerjee

Pratim Sengupta and Pallavi Banerjee.

Samantha Lafleur

“What we have realized is [the youths], their lives are in quite segregated communities; they are either with their friends, or their families who all are either part of their communities or are people of colour,” says Banerjee. “Through the co-design process, [the youths] have developed a relationship with the team that is a different form of friendship. When they first got to our spaces, they were coming for their friends, but … I’m quite confident in the fact that now they also come for the interactions that they have with us and our team.”

Sengupta says the exhibit should provoke deeper thought in the audience about what anti-racism really is. 

“The idea of anti-racism is often on websites, at institutions and in research papers in very dogmatic ways … as if it’s a settled thing like, ‘Here’s how to be anti-racist,’ or it’s a checklist, and institutions adopt that voice a lot, but without really making meaningful changes,” says Sengupta. “And what we want is not that in this project. They are youth of colour, they are refugee youth of colour, and the countries they have left behind are not just countries, it’s their homes. 

“On one hand, there is a lot of hope and a lot of joy and dreams about making a new home in Canada but, on the other hand, there is also a sense of loss and grief. And there is love in both places.” 

Banerjee and Sengupta say a major highlight was how the work with the youths changed both themselves and their grad students.

A still image of one of the sketch animations by Santanu Dutta (PhD student, Learning Sciences) who worked with youth contributors Yasra Sabir and Asra Sabir

A still image of one of the sketch animations by Santanu Dutta (PhD student, Learning Sciences) who worked with youth contributors Yasra Sabir and Asra Sabir.

Pratim Sengupta

“I think we all had very academic ideas of what it means to work with the youth, what it means to do anti-racist work, and I think that has been dismantled,” Banerjee says. “‘Dismantling’ is one of the key processes of doing anti-racist work, and I think what this has done is dismantle some of [the] hardened ideas we came with. We re-learned and we were changed by our interactions with the youth and the stories they were sharing with us.” 

The youth come from all over the globe including countries such as Eritrea, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Ivory Coast, Congo, Azad Kashmir and Pakistan. One of the many stories at the installation is told by Aiah Obid, Roya Karimi and Marwa Naseri. The three are close friends and describe this friendship and the similarities they share through a mix of audio and sketch animation done by Santanu Dutta, a learning sciences PhD student supervised by Sengupta.

This evening is considered a pilot and Banerjee and Sengupta hope to host similar events in the future. In fact, plans are already underway for the next year’s, focusing on youth reimagining the city and city infrastructure.

“We’ve been changed by our interaction with the youth, we have learned to imagine a better future and I’m hoping that people who come to the installation experience the love and are also changed by it,” says Banerjee.
Community partner organizations supporting the event include: Calgary Catholic Immigration Society, Calgary Immigrant Women's Association, Calgary Bridge Foundation for Youth, and Centre for Newcomers.

The installation is open from 6 to 8 p.m. on March 28 at the Red and White Club at McMahon Stadium. Admission is free, but registration is required.

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