House: How is life treating you living in Brixton, compared with your home country in Africa?
Bin: I am not living yet.
H: What do you mean?
Bin: I am not living yet in Brixton, I am staying in Brixton.
H: What is stopping you from living?
Bin: I have to wait for the Home Office.
(From a transcribed interview between House and Bin, two participant-characters in Staying)
Staying is a new art project produced by 12 lesbian asylum seekers and refugees, working with artist Oreet Ashery, and creating a fictionalised representation of the women’s experiences of the fallout from the UK’s immigration system. (The image above is produced by one of the participant’s in the project, Cloud.) From the press release:
Staying addresses issues that are frequently concealed, ignored or invisible. Ashery has collated discussions, monologues, interviews, handwriting, images, portraits, and other material during a series of intimate and emotionally raw workshops with the women, to form Staying: Dream, Bin, Soft Stud and Other Stories, a special printed publication that has been developed to extend discussion beyond the workshop space. The publication combines a booklet containing essays and character extracts with twelve individual conversation cards. Designed by Marit Muenzberg with striking black and white photographs of the women and their characters by photographer and stylist Marianna Arribas, the publication has been developed to use in a group to facilitate discussion, debate, the sharing of information and potential new art work, and will be disseminated to groups, organisations and individuals who are involved in supporting people applying for sanctuary in the UK.
Staying was inspired by the lengthy administrative procedures that require gay asylum seekers to prove their sexual identity and often, their new western gay lifestyle. Ashery worked with the women, developing fictional characters and alter egos that channelled their ideas, stories and traumas into different types of narratives. In contrast to legal demands for complete accuracy, accountability and clarity in their applications to stay, the creative processes in Staying generated repetitions, slippages, gaps in memory, interpretations, group work and fictions in immersive, deeply revealing and often painful insights into the women’s experiences. The workshops were informed and inspired by presentations by established lesbian artists – performer Lois Weaver, poet Cherry Smyth and filmmaker Campbell X; discussions, debates, arguments and reflections on character work and autobiographies.