Needless to say, it’s been a bad week. So here’s one good thing that happened on the 24th June. On the evening of the result that will affect so much and so many of our lives, the British Museum held an event called ‘Moving Stories’ as part of Refugee Week. In engaging with migrant and refugee experiences through culture and arts, they curated a night to celebrate those who have made the journey to Europe, and to toast those who are still trying. There were multiple events, films screenings, theatrical performances and talks. This is just one.
In the basement of the British Museum is the Africa section. In front of carvings of ancient warriors, a group of teenagers stand on wooden crates. They each hold up signs saying what they want to be in ten years’ time. My friend and I have walked in a bit late so it takes a few minutes to figure out what’s going on. I assume they’re a group of British teenagers from a London community centre who have made this piece in response to the refugee crisis. Then I realise.
It’s a performance called ‘We Are You’ by teenagers from DOST, a centre for young refugees and migrants. As the performance unravels they tell us where they’re from, and we get a glimpse of what they care about, prioritise, need. It is mostly non-verbal, using music and dance to tell the story. They are so young and have been through so much, but they’re just telling us what it’s like to be a young Londoner. Their energy and enthusiasm is infectious. They may not all be natural performers but they seem so proud to be telling their stories and sharing this music with us.
We watch it again to see what we missed at the start. One teenager goes up to investigate a wooden crate. As he reaches to touch it, another yells out to stop him. The first pulls back but is curious, so reaches in again. The voice yells. Another teenager walks to another box. As he reaches out there’s another shout from the side. Gradually we see this group emerge, mostly boys with two girls, playing cat and mouse in partners as they try and see what’s inside the crates. It becomes a cacophony and turns into a drum beat which melts into music. In simple movements and uses of rhythm and sound, we see how much these people – so young, one was fourteen, though they look older - have been turned away, rejected. But above all it shows them embracing life in London and enjoying thinking about their futures. It isn't self pitying at all. In the programme Director Jennifer Tang explains that these performers are ‘first and foremost, teenagers’, and are defined by that, far more than by their immigrant status. The words she uses to describe them, ‘resilient, funny, generous, kind and honest’ feel so important today, when so much of the country feel lacking in these traits.
They carry on dancing through the applause, then come on with one more sign. ‘This is for our friend Hamid’. The standing ovation continues long after the music ends.
If only everyone who voted Leave could have seen this.