December 14, 2018

We were thrilled to open an exhibition sharing the work of Home, an ambitious Artist Commission project we delivered in partnership with the Diocese of Canterbury and Ashford Borough Council. The exhibition was a celebration of work produced by award-winning textile artist Anna Ray with recently resettled Syrian and local mothers in Ashford, exploring themes of ‘home’ and what it means to them. The project brought together women to share experiences, explore commonalities, and celebrate difference and through tears, laughter and joy they created this exquisite collection of artwork made up of individual stories and threads, with one collective voice declaring ‘friendship!’

Photo: Matt Wilson

Through a 6-month process of creative experimentation led by Anna, the group explored diverse materials, artistic techniques and group activities, aiming to engender a social, positive and productive atmosphere in which the participants were encouraged to have agency in deciding what they would like to make,  how they would like to work and how much they wanted to share.

Photo: Anna Ray

The initiative, which started in April of this year, used arts and creativity as a way to bring a new community together. The final work – produced collaboratively with the group and Anna – was on display in County Square Shopping Centre, Ashford across two weekends with a large number of visitors coming to see the work. As a central component to the exhibition Anna created a piece titled Flowers Gather Hearts’ (shown above on the wall) in response to her experience of the project. Anna created thirty three repeat patterns which were printed onto linen, silk and cotton with the central piece ‘Gather’ being cut and hand-stitched by Anna in her studio.

One visitor said ‘I’m not from the UK and the art work and the stories I have heard today made me reconsider what home means to me, how it’s much more than a place, it’s about the people, the experiences and the connections made.’

Photo: Matt Wilson

The weekly workshops have been taking place at Concept Training in Ashford, with the support of Ashford Borough Council. Artist Anna Ray has been leading these creative sessions, which has allowed the group to explore different art forms including painting, drawing, stamping and embroidery, aspects of which can been seen in the finished artwork.

Liz Flynn, Head of Creative Programmes at People United said: “Our work focuses on bringing people together, and we use creativity to help groups to find common ground. In workshops we’ve been exploring shared ideas of ‘home’- what it means, what ‘home’ looks like, and the things we treasure within them. We’ve shared stories and experiences of cooking, cleaning, hosting parties, treasured objects, and who lives in our homes and why. The women have been creating every week, inspired by all these conversations, and now we’re able to share the final work. The women were all strangers to each other at the beginning of this project, but now we can see lasting friendships being formed, it’s been a great way for the community to come together.”

Photo: Matt Wilson

People United and the Diocese of Canterbury, who partnered for this initiative with support from Ashford Borough Council, are hopeful that the project will have a lasting legacy on the community of Ashford. Thank you to all the participants, partners and volunteers involved!

Home a film by Anna Ray

This film shows the women layering the artwork created in the workshops. You will also see the exquisite hand embroideries that some of the them made at home. The film begins with a traditional Syrian Aghabani tablecloth being laid over a hand embroidered tablecloth made by Anna’s grandmother. This layering performance was repeated during the opening of the exhibition and everyone was invited to join in (shown above.)

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