When our young people were recently interviewed for some research on their adjustment to life in the UK, one of the things they mentioned was the difference in clothing between the UK and Afghanistan. From the bewilderment of seeing women in the street with their heads uncovered for the first time to discovering what styles of western clothes they like, there is a lot to learn.
With that in mind we decided to make their relationship with clothes the focus of After18’s summer 2013 ‘drop in’ style art activities.
Our first challenge was to assemble the young people in an unfamiliar room to try something new. Despite having enjoyed previous artwork sessions and having expressed interest in coming, something new and outside the scope of their usual routine is something they approach casually.
After some persuasion, young people ‘chillin’ in the vicinity were enticed in by the promise of Afghan green tea and biscuits.
Despite an initial chorus of “I can’t do that,” the Afghan green tea was mostly left to go cold as they became engrossed in modelling clay figures of themselves.
Usually our contact with the young people is prompted by some crisis (letters not understood or money not received) and consists of a flurry of explanations, phone calls and problem solving. So for the After18 staff this was also a quality experience, to be able to sit and chat to the young people about themselves as we modelled side by side. We learned many things.
For example we were thrilled to discover that one of the young men used to train snakes “to go up and down” for a snake charmer. We received instructions from the group on what to do in the event of being chased by a snake on a mountain and had to field questions about the level of danger posed by snakes in the UK.
The most striking aspect of the finished models though was their size. While some models showed strength and hope for the future, several models depicted the young person feeling small.