IMAGINE is a small, not-for-profit organisation that ran art workshops in the Calais ‘Jungle’ in 2016.
“Hari Reed is a PhD student researching the ways that grassroots organisations that were active in Calais from 2014-2018 represent refugees creatively through the arts. She is co-editor of UEA Refugee History and UK coordinator of the organisation IMAGINE.”
The Protestimony exhibition is the fulfilment of IMAGINE’s commitment to use the artwork created in these workshops as a form of political activism: as protest, advocacy and awareness-raising. Protestimony is a visual and interactive art exhibition that aims to communicate an alternative narrative about the “refugee crisis” to a diverse audience in the UK and France. Protestimony challenges the dehumanising and depoliticising anti-refugee and migrant rhetoric of mainstream media using artworks and other material created by refugees who lived in the Calais Jungle.
Protestimony was developed by Lujza Richter, Hari Reed and Marthe Chabrol. They worked to facilitate a platform for refugees to communicate their views – personal and political, controversial and banal – to their host communities in France and the UK. The form and ethic of the exhibition has been developed in conjunction with former Jungle residents from various backgrounds. This means that the focus of Protestimony is not on what refugees experienced in Calais, but how refugees choose to interpret and communicate what they experienced in Calais.
By displaying refugees’ artwork and reflecting their views about the Jungle, the exhibition is also a reflection on the information we receive in the UK about refugees, the names and terms used to describe refugees, and the specific exclusionary narrative this promotes. The exhibition reminds visitors that refugees are political beings, who should not be reduced in simplified accounts either to victims or perpetrators. This communication of the creative products and opinions of refugees intends to reduce isolation, stigma and discrimination at a community level by challenging these over-simplified media narratives.
As the name suggests, Protestimony both records something about refugees in the Jungle, and engages with the problem of representing refugees in the current political context. The exhibition is self-referential, and places different representational strategies alongside one another to demonstrate that there is no simple ‘truth’ about the so-called refugee crisis. Protestimony features documentaries, maps, poems, paintings, sculptures and illustrations alongside interactive art and music projects developed and delivered by former ‘Jungle’ residents. The artwork is displayed inside makeshift shelters, constructed just as they were in the Jungle. This provides an interactive experience, while emphasising the ethical limitations of this form of witnessing.
Protestimony is also a record of the work done by grassroots organisations in Calais. The role of volunteers is presented in a way that allows visitors to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of charity work in Calais, now that the camp has been destroyed. More information about IMAGINE and the artists we work with can be found on our website: