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Visual Arts

Featured artist: Isabel Lima
4th July 2016

Isabel Lima is a Newcastle-based artist whose socially-engaged practice addresses the connections between sense of place, identity and displacement. Her projects involve various groups of people, particularly refugees and asylum seekers, and often take the form of video, performance and installation.

Broken Chords Can Sing a Little – Episode 1: The Birds is a new film by Isabel Lima, commissioned by Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, part of their  exhibition If All Relations Were to Reach Equilibrium, Then This Building Would Dissolve,  11 June until 18 September 2016 in Middlesbrough.

Lima’s new film addresses the ‘migration crisis’ in general and the experience of displacement by Middlesbrough-based asylum seekers and refugees in particular. It explores the feelings, memories, anxieties, and aspirations of these groups against the backdrop of relevant governmental policies, news and public debates. The work brings Lima’s interviews with asylum seekers and refugees, charity workers and politicians together with found footage such as the television coverage of the Home Affairs Committee inquiry into the ‘migration crisis’. It also includes scenes inspired by Aristophanes’ classical theatrical comedy The Birds, acted by asylum seekers and refugees, who wear bird masks to conceal their identities. The scenes take place in sites as varied as the Transporter Bridge, a Kurdish café and Middlesbrough’s Home Office reporting centre.


This is the first episode of a series of five to be developed as part of a new research project for which Lima will be looking at ways of mapping and rendering visible the current refugee crisis in Europe. This research will be conducted in two distinct geographical places: in Greece representing the entry point of many asylum seekers into Europe; and in North East England representing one of the final destinations and a settlement place for refugees in the UK. Working directly with asylum seekers/refugees; support groups, charities and NGOs; local governments and agencies; academics, artists and local populations, Lima will engage each group in a collaborative process to produce a series of performances to camera that portray their experiences regarding the migration crisis.

Senior curator Miguel Amado said: “These projects are examples of art being used as a tool to bring people together and get inspired to breathe new life into Teesside’s tradition of making as well as to start conversations about social issues relevant both in Middlesbrough and internationally. As a key civic institution in the town, we want to contribute to the development of a critical and socially conscious creative community which can make a significant and dynamic contribution to economic regeneration, politics and cultural identity. By empowering the local art sector, we aim to give artists and collectives the platform to grow and, in turn, influence social change.”

If All Relations Were to Reach Equilibrium, Then This Building Would Dissolve – involving research, a display, and public programs – explores the subject of migration on Teesside and elsewhere, bringing together documents, artefacts and artworks made by Middlesbrough-based asylum seekers and refugees as well as British and international artists, scholars and activists.

The exhibition’s title is a piece by Liam Gillick, a text he originally proposed as part of his commission for the Home Office’s new London headquarters in the early 2000s. According to the organisation’s website, the Home Office is the government department responsible for immigration, counter-terrorism, police, drugs policy and related science and research. Gillick’s expression suggests that in a world in which all people are truly equal, or at least treated equally, the Home Office would not need to exist.