By Marina Clauzet
Universitat de Barcelona
Refugees and art – How can arts integrate and support social inclusion of refugees?
Dimensions of social exclusion
To understand how to integrate individuals into society, it is necessary to go back and understand the origin of the problem, the social exclusion. The term “social exclusion” should be used with care, as it already carries a certain stigmatization of a group of individuals. Although the concept is often derived and connected to poverty, they are different concepts. Social exclusion is more than a material condition. It is also a process that excludes individuals or groups of social, economic and cultural networks (Poggi, 2003). The term social exclusion refers to the experience of people who are prevented from being full members of society. Social exclusion is complex and multidimensional, which can occur when several types of problems are experienced at the same time. Dynamism highlights time as an important variable, since no one is momentarily excluded, but the situation of exclusion can be extended and repeated in consecutive periods (Bossert, D’Ambrosio & Peragine, 2007). Social exclusion touches on broader concepts that include economic, political and social dimensions. De Haan (1998) identifies three dimensions of social exclusion:
- Rights (civil, legal, democratic, human)
- Resources (capital, social and human, employment)
- Relationships (family and social networks)
When we speak about socially excluded groups, it is important to understand the type of exclusion that the group is going through. Different groups go through different types of exclusion. Exclusion also touches on concepts such as lack of access to public services and participation in decision-making processes. Another dimension of exclusion concerns human and political rights, including equality, freedom of expression, justice and dignity (Bhalla & Lapeyre, 1997). The causes and effects of social exclusion are connected and contextualized. The causes are multiple and can act alone or cumulatively on the process of exclusion.
Other individuals do not experience the dimensions of exclusion experienced by refugees.
The first dimension is the physical exclusion. Refugees seeking asylum have often been arrested when they arrive in the new country. Once inside the country, they often live in peripheral neighbourhoods or isolated from the rest of society. Most refugees arriving in a new country face many of the everyday problems of others individuals, such as poverty, in terms of income and goods. However, they add to these the previous experience of immigration and the policies that exclude assistance for labour insertion and the consequent entry of income.
Another dimension of the observed exclusion is the capability to exercise citizenship. Host policies often prohibit or limit access to work, health services, housing, financial aid, and settlement-related services. Some of the aspects related to the exclusion of refugees are the difficulty of access to services and benefits, poverty as a result of obstacles to finding a job, the waiting time imposed in many countries until their situation can be regularized and the risk of long term poverty. Lack of language, lack of requirements, non-transferability of skills, racism and discrimination create barriers to labour insertion.
Particular experiences such as lack of preparation for leaving their country of origin, experiences of trauma or torture, interruption in education, loss of loved ones and mental health problems, add additional barriers to exclusion.
Family reunification, while not embodying the same dimensions of social exclusion, is a central issue for many refugees. Those who are not allowed to bring the members of their family, who are in danger in another country, will never feel fully included in this society.
Concepts commonly related to the refugees
The knowledge about the following concepts helps understand the refugees’ context and also reassures the importance of identifying needs, to be able to find the best way to support processes of healing, adaptation, integration and transformation of refugees.
Home represents the physical integrity of an individual. It is an important space where psychological and social development occurs. It also evokes strong positive and/or negative emotions. Home is not just a place, but all the feelings and emotions associated to it. It is where the centre of the relationships are, being them healthy or not. It is where you can find in most cases rest, safety and satisfaction.
Through the hierarchy of needs presented by Maslow (which is based on the idea that each human being makes an effort to meet their individual and professional needs), it is possible to realise that in the case of the refugees, the basic needs are not met.
The disruption in the concept of “home” causes problems in the reconstruction of their identity. “Returning home” is an opportunity for the refugees to rebuild their identity.
According to Papadopoulos (2002), the refugee trauma is associated most of the time with one event, but if we look at the spectrum of a refugee trauma, we can divide it in at least four stages:
- Anticipation: when the refugee senses the danger and tries to make a decision of the best way to avoid it.
- Devastating events: when the violence occurs and the refugee needs to flee.
- Survival: when the refugee is out of danger, but he is living an uncertain life.
- Settling: when the refugee is trying to adapt to a new life in a new country.
Trauma is rarely associated to the first stages, but researches show that it commonly happens in the stages of survival and settling. Trauma has to do with adversity or a violent episode, but it also has to do with stigmatization, which leads us to the third concept.
There is a general point of view about the refugees, mostly disseminated by the media, that refugees are victims. In fact, they are in many ways, but this point of view leaves aside the context, their stories, the fact that all of them are unique individuals, with different needs, expectations, points of view, as well as that they are individuals that have things to say.
Promoting resilience is important for the process of empowerment and consequent integration of groups and individuals. According to Edith H. Grotberg (2003), there are three fundamental dimensions in resilience:
- Internal dimension: it is the internal support and positive elements of a person.
- External support: it is the external support that comes from family, friends, services, institutions.
- Social dimension: it is given through the social interaction and the ability to solve problems.
Promoting one of these dimensions can also strengths the others, facilitating the process of empowerment.
The role of art in building inclusive communities
New ways of relating to others are being generated, such as new experiences of networking and cooperation, social movements and experiments that involve mutual support. These new ways of relationships arise from the need to be part of a community, part of a context where lives are being developed.
Participation is the fundamental cornerstone for human development, as well as a means for its progress. Participation is an instrument for development, empowerment and social equity, allowing progress to happen, together with coexistence, citizenship and inclusion, based on the interaction between people who occupy, inhabit and give meaning to a territory (Cruz, 2012). It is through social participation that other types of involvement are generated, such as community, citizenship and political participation.
According to Giménez (2002, quoted by Cruz, 2012),
“to participate is to be present in, to be part of, to be taken into account by and for, to be involved, to intervene in, etc. To participate is to influence, to take responsibility. It is a process that necessarily links subjects and groups; the participation of someone in something relates that someone to the others also involved. Being a participant implies being a co-agent, co-participant, co-operator, co-author, co-responsible”.
Participation is understood as a process, which contains, within itself, a transforming action. Art could be an added element to this transformation, because it also carries within itself a transforming condition, in the capacity to transform emotions and generate ideas and thoughts. Cruz (2012) points out that art has the power to gather and organize, through artistic practices, combating social fragmentation, where the class is based on participation. Adding individual creativity and potential, it is possible to realize a problem to generate solutions, building up the sense of community. Cruces (2012, quoted by Cruz, 2012) explains that, in reality, creation has to do with creation itself, that is, with the search for meaning, with the production of meaning, not with the production of works. The basis for building inclusive communities, through an interdisciplinary work, is giving prominence to the people and communities in whom we are participants, favouring empowerment and the right to exercise citizenship. Art, in the field of social intervention, promotes people to actively participate in their community as full citizens, serving as a tool to create new narratives, where citizenship is placed at the centre of the social context. Cruz (2012) emphasizes that community art has three great functions: to reclaim the place, to reclaim the past and to claim memory.
The involvement of the arts in the processes of human and social development is not new and has been used for a long time in disciplines such as psychology, social education, etc. Art mediation appears to be a response to actual social necessities. It is a new field of interdisciplinary practices, where education, arts and social intervention generate a dialogue committed with the empowerment of excluded individuals and groups.
Moreno (2010) defines the concept of arts mediation as “an interdisciplinary field of practice that uses concepts from the sciences of psychology, art therapy, artistic education, sociocultural entertainment and social education, for individual/community development and social intervention through art”.
Although art mediation has been carried out for some time by educators, social workers, artists and teachers, in different educational centres, there was so far no theoretical or methodological framework uniting these practices through the common points between them.
Moreno y Cortés (2015), on their part, defined art mediation as the methodologies of intervention where art serves as a mediator between the individual, his/her ideas, values and environment, the context to which he belongs. Art mediation aims to improve people’s lives. Art is used not as an end, but as a mean to facilitate processes that promote psychosocial transformation and well-being, bringing with it a series of benefits:
- Encourages resilience.
- Facilitates creative processes and develops critical thinking.
- Promotes and develops confidence, autonomy and self-esteem.
- Promotes and improves mental and physical well-being.
- Improves the communication of ideas and information.
- Involves the individual and makes him/her participate.
- Creates social capital.
- Strengthens and promotes the development of communities.
- Strengthens the identity of a community.
- Promotes social inclusion.
- Activates social transformation.
- Reduces offensive behaviour.
- Alleviates the impact of poverty in communities.
- Promotes a culture of peace.
Art mediation can be understood as an individual process (centred on the individual) and/or a collective process (centred in the context). According to Moreno (2016), on an individual level, art allows the individual to leave their daily reality and access another reality that allows an understanding of his/her own biography and fears, initiating an internal process of transformation. Art mediation facilitates the rise to a universe that includes creativity, imagination and the ascent to the symbolic world, allowing the individual to invent, play and recreate his/her own reality, helping him/her to unblock the internal contents, favouring the contact of the individual with his/her true psychic core, rescuing the healthy parts of the individual and their potentialities, allowing the symbolic elaboration and consequent overcoming of unconscious conflicts.
On a collective level, art mediation allows sharing, through artistic experiences, spaces for coexistence and dialogue between groups, creating acceptance, new social networks and strengthening the bond between people. Art mediation interventions are based on artistic activities. According to Moreno (2016), art mediation workshops are safe and trial-free workspaces where, through the use of different artistic languages and expressions, the possibility of providing accompaniment and transformation processes is offered. It creates the opportunity for those in the group to express themselves according to their own interests and needs, promoting artistic creation (symbolic creation) and sharing reflection on productions. The workshops are structured in two phases: production and shared reflection. Art mediation can be applied to different groups in different contexts.
Art and the refugees
Having experienced traumatic, sad and violent events, refugees have a strong need to work on their emotions. With art we can approach subjects that are taboo or trauma and that are more complicated to openly talk about. Traumas can be expressed through drawings, songs or other artistic expressions without the refugees feeling uncomfortable. In cases of trauma, according to Cyrulnik (2009), art can be used as the “third way”, overcoming silence and words. That is, when an individual cannot talk about what has happened to him/her, they will be able to use artistic production for the liberation of his/her own pain, finding a way to talk about his/her history indirectly, preserving themselves, being able, through art, to give a testimony of what happened.
Artistic activities can enable the dissemination of messages on a variety of levels: conscious, subconscious, visual and verbal. This range of options makes communication richer and creates more probabilities of staying in the minds of refugees. Displacement makes it difficult for refugees to maintain local traditions, such as dance, music and theatre. Artistic activities can make these traditions revised, continued, and passed on to other generations. Isolation, segregation, poverty and psychosocial conditions experienced by refugees make them feel forgotten by the outside world. Art can help draw attention to them. Participation in artistic activities is a connection to normal life.
Art also can create new paradigms of thought, empowering people, helping them to develop a critical sense about things, being able to see problems in the context where they are inserted, through their own filters, questioning and creating tools and opportunities to transform it.
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Marina Clauzet is a Brazilian graduated in Architecture and Town Planning, a field in which she worked for many years. She comes from a family of artists and has always had a great interest and a special bond with the arts. For 8 years she lived in Australia, where she worked as an architect and also volunteered for a non-profit social enterprise, which supports refugee women and asylum seekers to become financially independent and settled in Australia. The stories, life experiences and daily contact with these women have brought her to a deep transformation. Her work for this organization made her desire grow to work with education and social inclusion of refugees and immigrants. In 2014, she left her work in architecture and travelled for 8 months in Asia, also visiting social and community projects. For her, art has always been a powerful tool for self-knowledge and she believes it is also a powerful tool for social transformation. In 2015, she moved to Barcelona, where since then, she has been doing a Masters in Art Mediation: Art for Social Transformation, Social Inclusion and Community Development, at the University of Barcelona, where her research is related to themes such as arts, immigration and social transformation. Since last year she has been doing a traineeship in an organization that develops a project that contributes through the arts to change the self-perception of children in excluded areas of Barcelona. She also volunteers for an institution developing artistic activities with immigrant children in after school hours.
 The process of symbolization allows the individual to access culture, creating a better understanding of the world and its relationships. Piaget (1959) points out the word and representation as key elements of the process of symbolization. Winnicot (1994) explains that the symbolic process is an intermediary between the creative individual and the world (Moreno, 2016).