An artist is helping to connect asylum seekers in Doncaster with art though ceramics project

A ceramic artist is hoping to help asylum seekers living in Doncaster from all over the world to open up about their cultures and traditions by working with clay and making small pieces of art.

By Laura Andrew
Tuesday, 8th September 2020, 7:00 am

The pandemic has been hard for almost everybody but especially for those displaced in our communities.

That’s why ceramic artists Sarah Villeneau from Bessecar decided she wanted to do something to help the asylum seekers in Doncaster.

Because Sarah is an artist who works with clay she came up with the idea of putting together kits with all the materials needed to make small pieces of art.

Sarah like many other artists has had a difficult time during lockdown, with seven of her shows cancelled.

Sarah, who is aged 62, said: “It strikes me that the added trauma of a global pandemic to the situation of seeking asylum must be deeply unsettling.

“I know how therapeutic working in clay can be, how universal it is.

“It can get people to talk about their emotions.”

Sarah says that clay can be theraputuc and hopes that it will help the asylum seekers that she is working with.

Sarah initially had the idea to make the kits in a reading group she is a part of and has had previous experience working with displaced Kosovan people in Finningley.

One of her main inspirations for this project was the thought of others going through the pandemic in stressful situations.

“I have my own home and I’m not struggling financially and even I have found the lockdown quite hard,” she said.

“I can’t imagine what these people have been going through.

The project will see 24 families in Doncaster recieve art packs to make small ceramics.

“Having to deal with being uprooted and having their status challenged in a strange new country.”

Sarah will be delivering clay packs to 24 families across Doncaster and they will include everything needed to make a piece of art.

As well as the therapeutic nature of making art Sarah has set up communication between the different families through social media which has helped them to form bonds and even friendships.

The asylum seekers that Sarah is working with have traveled from Cameroon, Baghdad, Mauritius, and the Congo.

Sarah Villeneau has worked with clay for over 20 years.

“Hopefully through the exploration of their culture, we can start an open dialogue and education here in Doncaster about topics such as immigration.”

Sarah hopes that not only will the art therapy benefit the participants but also bring a valuable resource to those who view the art.

Stories and experiences from other cultures that would not be available otherwise to the wider Doncaster public.

Sarah has not asked the families involved to make anything specifically but she asked them to record the process of the creation of the art.

Either in the written word, photographs, or recorded audio.

With this information, Sarah will be making a response to each piece of art she collects from the families.

She said: “It’s quite scary for an artist as I can’t plan it at all I have no idea what they will make so I don’t know what my response will be.

“I imagine that they will be quite abstract in nature and be based on feelings rather than literal ideas.”

Sarah has worked with ceramics for over 20 years and has a studio in Sheffield.

She is passionate about working more within the Doncaster artistic community in the future and this project is just the beginning according to Sarah.

Like many artists, the past six months have been very different for Sarah.

“Everything went online which was a huge learning curve for me.

“I don’t sell online so I had to rethink how my engagement with buyers would continue.

“I found it quite strange as I work in a 3D medium, clay is tactile and all about touch.

“I lost that connection with the real world.”

Sarah says she spent a lot of time taking photos of nature during the lockdown as she is fascinated with the idea of beauty and decay.

She enjoyed seeing the world respond to the pandemic with art, especially seeing non-artistic people getting creative.

“If there’s one positive thing to come out of this I think that the art world is going to become more inclusive.

“I’ve seen ordinary people in their homes re-creating the great works of art with found objects.

“People who would say that their not artists but everyone has the ability to make art.

“Just dressing yourself in the morning is itself an artistic act.”

Sarah did her MA at Loughborough University in 2014 and was subsequently selected to the Royal Society of Sculptors and Design Nation.

Last year she participated in the biannual Festival of Ceramic Art in Sasama, Japan.Sarah also set up a sculpture collective called Material Voice in 2018 and they had their first exhibition at Kelham Island Museum last autumn.

Her previous work in Doncaster includes involvement with Darts where she worked for around 10 years.

Sarah hopes in the future that the work created by the asylum seekers and herself will be able to be put on display in a gallery but due to Covid-19 there is no such space arranged yet.

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