17 September 2018

Throughout 2018 the Paris Centre for Migrant Writing and Expression (PCMWE) continued to build on its range of activity and partnerships, enabling London-based academics and organisations to bring their work to Paris while also sharing ULIP’s research and workshop productions in London. This diversity expanded on the 2016-17 activities focused on the Being Human ‘Hope and Fear’ Festival, for which the PCMWE programmed a series of workshops with young African men living in often extreme legal precarity that culminated in a day-long workshop in London and an exhibition. We repeated aspects of this process in the autumn of 2017 for the ‘Lost and Found’ Festival, with a new focus on map-making and how people come to identify landmarks for themselves. This material then formed the basis for our collaboration with the Queen Mary University of London ‘Tate Exchange’ project ‘Producing Memory Maps, Materials, Belongings’ as well as a presentation to the MigrObjets colloquium at INALCO in Paris.

Other notable collaborations included the team from University of East London and Oxford University behind the wonderful collection Voices from the 'Jungle' - Stories from the Calais Refugee Camp (Pluto Press, 2017). We celebrated this publication with some of its authors still living in France in an evening of reading and discussion. We also collaborated with Professor Sue Clayton (Goldsmiths) who screened her film Calais Children in ULIP with an audience of students, local activists and refugees who have been participating in the PCMWE workshops. Some of them had spent many months and weeks in the Calais Jungle and the screening offered an opportunity to share their thoughts and experiences.

Outside the walls of ULIP we also worked with the arts research centre Project Phakama UK for a two-day immersion of some of their young creatives and Phakama associates in a series of encounters and workshops in the area of La Chapelle, Paris, including an afternoon with the Good Chance Theatre in the provisional ‘welcome centre’ run by the Paris authorities for asylum seekers. This was an exhilarating event that moved between different spaces of the area. In the streets, the use of games drawing and recording enabled the group to exchange across considerable barriers of language and experience, while at the local library a group of over twenty young men living rough for the most part joined in our mapping workshop. A number of the regular participants in the PCMWE workshops then joined the group for an informal meal, discussion and some poetry readings, in the ULIP basement. It was a wonderful energizing occasion, revealing what can be achieved if we create spaces for encounter.

Building on this two-day event, the PCMWE has continued to develop its workshops in the La Chapelle area and particularly in the Vaclav Havel library, where Anna-Louise Milne has established a regular ‘book-making’ workshop. This is part of a new dimension of the translational workshop process now developed over a number of years, which will gradually build a collection to be established in the library as both a record of life in the area for a legally precarious and often itinerant population as well as an archive for the future. The possibilities for this project are only just starting to emerge, but the work has already opened up new horizons and questions, as this short piece published on the new camps2cities site suggests. It has also enabled a growing association with the well-established network PEROU, or Pôle d’Exploration des Ressources Urbaines, whose work in the Essonne region and Calais has received widespread attention.

The year ahead will see more of this work come into the public sphere, both in the local library in the form of one-off artisanal books and through a series of academic publications and presentations. Keep an eye on the ULIP web-site and newsletter for updates.