Artist at work

Artist Activist Calls for “Global Solidarity” Amid COVID-19

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As the COVID-19 lockdowns stay in place to help nations flatten the curve, save lives and give their healthcare systems a fighting chance, social mixing is out of the question.

However, such strange times have also allowed creative individuals to find new ways to engage with their client base and continue pursuing their livelihoods and passions, such as Birmingham artist, Salma Zulfiqar. 

Zulfiqar could only watch as her art therapy workshops were cancelled due to coronavirus restrictions. After creating her own project, ARTconnects in 2017, Zulfiqar has seen the benefits the project has provided thanks to its mission to uplift marginalised communities including LGBTQ+ people, asylum-seekers, refugees and other vulnerable individuals. 

Salma
Artists Salma Zulfiqar at work on her Migration Blanket project. [Image: Arts Council England.]

The workshops have taken place worldwide from the UK to European countries and the UAE. 

Zulfiqar’s project is aimed at allowing those attending to showcase their own art, whether through poetry, music or visual work. The project assists with reducing social exclusion, building participants’ confidence and allowing those of different cultures and backgrounds to learn from each other.  

The project assists with reducing social exclusion, building participants’ confidence and allowing those of different cultures and backgrounds to learn from each other

Zulfiqar said: “The idea is to promote global solidarity – we’re all in the same boat.” 

Silenced women by artist Zulfiqar
‘Women With No Voice’ by Salma Zulfiqar, symbolising women suffering in silence amid a shocking rise of abuse amid the Covid-19 crisis. [Image: ArtConnects, UNHCR.]

Like thousands of others, Zulfiqar is using the platform Zoom to livestream the workshops with participants from all over the world. Famous faces such as South Sudanese rapper and actor Emmanuel Jal and British actor Micheal Simkins have joined her. 

Jal has spoken about the trauma he suffered after he lost his family in war and was forced to be a child soldier, an experience he called “mental genocide” before he managed to thankfully find refuge in Canada. 

Jal said: “You must have a dream, vision, want and know your purpose and change your environment – internal and external”.

Prior to the project, the artist and activist had worked for the United Nations in her home country of Pakistan where her work was exhibited at the Global Refugee Forum, hosted by UNHCR in Geneva last year. Her project, “Migration Blanket”, in which refugee women across the world worked to create a canvas blanket representing their experiences in search for sanctuary, Zulfiqar won an award from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.

Zulfiqar expressed concern that COVID-19 particularly affects refugees and asylum-seekers who have seen a remarkable drop in services and resources as charities are forced to close their doors.  

She said that the workshops help people escape from the constant barrage of depressive and sensationalised news by “create[ing] an energy helping to change people’s moods and minds.” 

COVID-19 particularly affects refugees and asylum-seekers who have seen a remarkable drop in services and resources as charities are forced to close their doors

Marwa is a Kurdish woman seeking asylum in the UK and participates regularly in the sessions. She said the sessions “helped me to be more social and talk confidently with people I don’t know and meet people from all over the world.” 

Marwa’s sentiments are echoed by Iranian refugee Amir, who stated the virtual get-togethers bring much-needed positivity, adding: “a smile can change someone’s day for the better.” 

Zulfiqar hopes to create a joint performance project and welcomes those from the migrant-refugee community to join those already on board. Allies can help the artist and her mission through donations and social media support.   

[Migration Blanket images: Ashley Carr/The Independent.]