This is not
chance encounter

An exhibition that questions what it means to work with immigration stories

This is not a chance encounter

Bahzad Sulaiman
Betül Aksu
Didem Toy
Giulia Dongilli
Léna Lewis-King
Rosella Galindo
Sivan Rubinstein
Tafadzwa Muchenje
Tisa Neža Herlec

Betül Aksu

Leicester city centre and online
12-30 August 2022

As part of Journeys Festival International

Read More ︎︎︎

This is not a chance encounter is an outdoor and online exhibition that brings together 9 artists to question what it means to work with immigration stories for art projects. The exhibition looks at encounters that don't happen by chance, and follows the traces of immigration policies that result in displacement globally.

The works in the exhibition blur definitions between a response and an artwork, and invite people to explore the artists’ lived immigration experiences put side by side with the stories of young refugees and asylum seekers in the UK.

The exhibition offers more than one path to come across the works. People might directly look at the works ︎online or visit the outdoor exhibition in Leicester city centre. To see the map of the locations, visit ︎Journeys Festival International. Once the exhibition is over and the website is down, people might come back to the exhibition booklet to read about how the exhibition came together.  

First encounter

In the summer of 2021, Journeys Festival International organised 8 workshops for young refugees and asylum seekers in Manchester, Leicester, and Portsmouth. The festival worked with the British Red Cross, After 18, and The Hope Project to facilitate these workshops.

The facilitators wanted to understand the needs of the young refugees and asylum seekers, and to create a social space for them where they could express themselves. During these workshops, the young refugees and asylum seekers went on walks together, took photographs, made collages, wrote poems, and shared personal stories with each other. Their creative work, called Your City online space, is documented in the following website ︎ None of the artists exhibiting at This is not a chance encounter exhibition participated in these workshops.
Second encounter

In the summer of 2021, Journeys Festival International invited me, Betül Aksu, to create a new artwork based on the creative work of the young refugees and asylum seekers. At the time, I was living outside the UK and my freedom of movement was restricted due to my passport as well as Covid-19 travel restrictions.

There was a physical distance between me and the young immigrants in the UK. This distance made me think about my own history with the UK immigration system. I lived in the UK between 2015 and 2020 under a visa which didn’t allow me to work as a freelance artist. I was now invited to remotely work, as an artist, with stories of other immigrants, to make an artwork for a festival in the UK. Although we were physically far, our categorised identities were close to each other. We all had backgrounds in immigration, according to the UK.

The stories of the young immigrants were documented by the facilitators and shared with me via a cloud storage service. Accessing their personal stories without getting to know them felt like a process similar to looking at someone’s papers at the border. No human touch, just data claimed to represent that person’s life.

There was no data about the languages they spoke. It was not possible to reach out to them, to hear what was happening in their lives outside facilitated creative workshops. In this reality of not knowing and disconnection, I wanted to work with their stories to highlight the lack of connection between the subject and the audience of art.
Third encounter

How would a work of art question the lack of connection between the subject, the immigrants, and the audience, the festival-goers, of art? An exhibition on the streets felt like a starting point. I invited 8 artists to remotely join the conversation and discuss what it meant to work with documented stories of young refugees and asylum seekers in the UK.

Each artist was invited to create one response to Your City online space.  There was no restriction for the medium of the responses. The artists were free to respond in their preferred ways. Either with a drawing, photograph, collage, sound, moving-image, poem or an essay. None of the artists met the young refugees and asylum seekers in person prior to creating the responses, and this lack of human connection formed the basis of their responses.

The following paragraphs are lines from the artists themselves, about their approach to the exhibition, and the ways they formed their responses.

Betül Aksu
Immigration as art material

My response was to invite other artists to have conversations about how to, and whether, translate documented immigration stories into artworks. 
Giulia Dongilli

The first work that inspired me was in the Portsmouth section and the group spent some time on the beach making pictures with the stones.  The image of this blank paper on this beach full of infinite stones gave me the feeling of the thousands and thousands of possibilities of stories that were hidden in that beach, but also that each of us has.

This element for me was the key for reading all the works on the website, where I saw each author as an explorer and a storyteller, expressing themselves and their journey. From that concept I thought about the importance of telling positive stories that could create empathy, union and that could resonate with everyone. For that reason, I decided to be an explorer myself by trying to tell a universal story to sum all of theirs. A story about rebirth and transformation.
Didem Toy
Ends of Places

When I was looking at the works in the Your City online space, I thought and tried to imagine who these people are, and what kind of people they are. This process led me to focus on obscurity and the placeholder concept. For me, these themes were possible to implement with any work from the online space. However, I especially felt a connection with the photo series based in Manchester, and this feeling guided me in my response. Based on this, I aimed to transform different perceptions about people and places with the placeholder concept.

Léna Lewis-King
Semper 4º

After spending time with the Your City online space and returning often to the Leicester pathway, I was struck by the collaged and animated figure of the Astronaut with unintelligible letters pouring out from its outstretched arms. The tether of the astronaut reminded me also of an umbilical chord, and the looping nature of the animation created a feeling of futility (which in connection to the collaged letters felt to me like a frustration with communication and connection). I resonated with this figure well, having moved 17 times in 22 years myself and whilst currently living in a country where I don’t speak the native language. Despite this connection, I couldn’t imagine how different experiences of migration are when they’re made by necessity rather than by choice, and the cultural longing this might create. The nature of the medium of collage itself echoes the fragmentary experience of migration, collecting items and images that can create bridges between homes old and new, and so this is why the Leicester pathway lead to the creation of ‘Semper 4º’.
Tisa Neža Herlec
The Topology of New

I got inspired by many different fragments, images and texts. Glimpses into the totalities of the three cities. In a way, they made me think of a city, of no city in particular. All the cities everywhere, all over the world, have something in common: many people perceiving them, making them their homes and spending time on their streets make them what they are - a fragmented plural, different to each individual and yet common to many.
Sivan Rubinstein
‘A world of its own’ reflection

Poetry writing in response to the creative work by the young participants of ‘Your City’ project.

Experiencing their response put into perspective and highlighted the importance of joy, collectivism and the beauty and the strength in the-everyday simplicity.

The city and the sound of the people allowed me to experience the same place from their ears and hearts.

It showed me that freedom can be found within us.

And it also took me back to my own story, my own experience

As an immigrant woman who is carrying the future generation

Who is applying and reapplying for my own residence permit in the uk

And who finds freedom in creating, in making and in the question of Home.

I want to thank all of the inspiring young people who have taken part in this wonderful project and were able to communicate so much depth and the importance of Hope.

Tafadzwa Muchenje

Firstly, the reason why I responded to the work was I truly felt a strong connection to the work created by the young refugee and asylum seekers as they explored and shared their connection to their cities and the UK. It took me back to my own experience of moving to the UK when I was at a young age. The whole experience of forgetting who you were and learning to assimilate and make this new world your home was a strong parallel I saw with this work. Their unique experiences got me thinking deeply about my city, what it is, what it means to me, belonging, ownership, and finally hope and resilience.

The choice of works that I am responding to really is all of them. They were all brilliant and all had some similarities and differences. Similarities such as the soundscapes, creative writing, and poetry. Some differences were flag making, collages, and using modelling clay. As I said, all of them had fragments that resonated with me, and I knew instinctively the mediums that I was going to use to respond to their work.

These mediums were creative writing and soundscapes. I was always going to respond with creative writing, but I felt that the work needed another layer and the inspiration from the soundscape from the online work made sense to include.

Overall, I have brought my own unique style and personal experience coupled with me responding to the theme and the inspiring work from these young refuge and asylum seekers. I believe that I’ve been able to create a response to be proud of.
Rosella Galindo
(unfinished) Cartographies

My response, (unfinished) Cartographies, is inspired by Portsmouth’s creative projects: group’s maps, landmarks, and representation of meaningful spaces.

The lists of places they see every day and places that are important to them inspired me to rethink how I see the place where I live and how it might be different from how it is seen by the people who have lived here all their life. What is meaningful to me might be utterly indifferent to them. My happiest place could also be somebody else's happy place, or it could bring other memories.

For my response, I drew inspiration from the maps the group made, the words they wrote about some of their unique places and the landmarks they took pictures of. As a result, I created a mixed-media map (drawing and digital editing) that includes some of these elements: the landmarks and objects that are more representative to them, the paths they traced or the memories they have about the places. It is the intention to present this work as an abstract and, somehow, unfinished piece as a way to motivate the audience to 'fill those empty spaces' with their own memories – something I have been exploring in previous works I have made (like HOME and the Green Screening workshop).

I created the text accompanying the map to respond to the works I found in Your City online space. Indeed, this was also inspired by the general ideal present in Portsmouth, Leicester and Manchester: this new city is a new opportunity for them, a new chance to find their sanctuary.

This provocation invites the audience to reflect on the text and map, as an inspiration to create their personal cartography (blank map included for them to download).
Bahzad Sulaiman
Where are you now?

I did not choose one or two artworks. Rather, I care about all the artworks, and the most important thing for me is to create a call to ask the question “Where are you now?”.

I would like to know what happened to these people who left their artwork in our hands. Are they still in the UK? Do I have the authority to use their ideas and visions of these cities as material to make art? Have their visions of these cities changed? Are they okay? And a lot of direct and indirect questions about these people.

Next encounter

This is not a chance encounter aims to be a part of continuous conversations about free movement of persons, and the ways in which immigration and asylum policies restrict people’s right to move and reside. Please get in touch with us if you’d like to join the conversation. 

Visual identity and graphic design by Belkıs Aksu
Website design by lemma_space