Colours of Edinburgh – a group named for the ‘positiveness’ that colours represent – is an initiative which runs exhibitions to raise money for charities supporting refugees, but to also share their stories. A research team selects interviews with newcomers and refugees and creates a package to send to artists across the world to inspire their work, but the charity also hosts public events, such as their club night at Mash House to further raise awareness. After the success of their first project, their target for this year is to raise £2,500 in donations, with any profits going towards Bikes for Refugees and the Welcoming Edinburgh, which “work towards the better integration of newcomers or refugees in Edinburgh.”
Speaking to Project Manager, Loes Ansems, we discussed the ethos of the group and their activism. Launched in January 2018 by two students from the University of Edinburgh, the aim of the exhibition was to create a new and innovative movement that “represent[s] untold or unrepresented stories of newcomers or refugees to Edinburgh.”
A graduate in Middle Eastern Studies and Arabic, Ansems highlighted how her experience with her studies made her aware of “the conflicts that force the displacement of people,” but in being in Edinburgh, she also feels that “we also need to work on the local [level] because what we face in Edinburgh is something that is created in an international environment.”
When asked why the group uses art as a medium for raising money for charity, Ansems explained that “art has a different kind of way of getting a story across to people.” Art as a medium creates an “extra dimension” which allows stories to be open for interpretation by all.
In working towards a new exhibition around the end of March or beginning of April, the “research team is doing a lot of interviews with newcomers in Edinburgh and so… collecting stories that [they] want to represent during the exhibition.” This month, the call will be put out for artists to respond to the research and stories so keep an eye out if you want to get involved.
However, this is a group who not only relate stories but “work in constant discussion with the charities,” maintaining what Ansems calls an “artsy element” but still referring back to the charities for guidance throughout the process. With regard to the process of telling stories themselves, the candid explanation from Ansems is that they ensure “people who tell their stories [have] as much influence on how [Colours of Edinburgh] tell the story” and have the option of staying anonymous or being the spokesperson, there is room for all forms of involvement. The progress from story to artwork is ‘a constant negotiation with the person…to see what kind of story they want to put out’. The team focuses on asking the newcomers and refugees questions such as: ‘what are the aspects that you want to highlight’ and ‘what do you want to be left out?’
In short, Colours of Edinburgh are not taking anything for granted. Ansems explained that the group has “really looked at how interview skills can help in representing the right story” and that one of the board is a sociology graduate and has focused on being ethically aware during interviews which have aided the group on “giving the research team a lot of guidance.”
Artists who have collaborated with Colours of Edinburgh are not forgotten either. During their public event at Mash House in the first semester, Colours of Edinburgh focused on a video project with one of their biggest artists, taking videos in his studio and projecting them up on the walls of the club. Ansems described how they aim to “connect people to each other if they want to be connected,” and these connections are clearly not lost, nor forgotten after the exhibitions are finished.
The project takes itself seriously, as it should, and the blog that you can find on the website aims to write “stories… not just in Edinburgh” with the group possessing ambitions to make the charity “bigger… a real social enterprise.” With a clear structure using marketing and social enterprise teams, Ansems is confident in the professionalism of the group as they monitor their impact and explore their identity to ensure they are performing effectively.
In acknowledging the difficulties of being a student and graduate initiative, she explained that, although they ‘don’t have a background in social work’ making it “hard to see what [they] practically can do to do something good,” the collective has shown her “what small things are possible.” The genuine care of Colours of Edinburgh and their passion for what they do is deeply rooted in their “wanting to do something for the community, to do something for the newcomers and refugees that come here… to alleviate the stress they are facing,” even if they are starting from a grassroots level.
If the work of Colours of Edinburgh sounds like something you want to get involved in, contact them through the following links:
Image: Munkhtur Otgonbayar