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Encountering Scotland: Photographs of migrant experiences in Fife

Food, calmness and happy people are some of the subjects represented in a new photography exhibition at the University of St Andrews’ Bell Pettigrew Museum, created by pupils from Madras College and young migrants who have recently arrived in Fife.

Encountering Scotland: Photographs of Migrant Experiences in Fife shows images taken by young people from Syria, Vietnam, Turkey and Pakistan to give an insight into what life is like in their new home. The exhibition, which runs until Friday 31 August 2018, shares some of their thoughts on nature, people and the differences between Scotland and their home cultures through the medium of photography.

The exhibition is the result of a ground-breaking collaborative project between the Museum of the University of St Andrews (MUSA) and Fife Council’s Department of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), aimed at enabling migrants to share their experiences and develop their English-language skills in a real-world environment.

The young migrants have worked closely with pupils from Madras College, a secondary school in St Andrews, who discussed experiences with the group and worked with them to write the text on display alongside the photographs.

Principal Professor Sally Mapstone meets exhibition participants at MUSA

Pupils also received training in employability skills, including project management, marketing and carrying out research. The pupils have taken charge of all aspects of the exhibition planning, from designing the marketing material and selecting the themes to putting the pictures on the wall.

Matt Sheard, Learning & Access Curator at MUSA, said: “At times it’s been quite eye-opening for the school pupils. One of the photographs in the exhibition shows a sink with both taps running. The Syrian girl who took it explained to them that she chose this as her subject to show how grateful she is for the water in this country. In Syria water is scarce and often dirty. That, I think, gave them a new take on life.

“It’s not all been quite so serious though we’ve had a lot of fun and everyone has made some new friends as part of the project. One of the subjects that comes across quite strongly in the display is people; the participants were keen to show how happy they think the people of Scotland are. Other things that the migrants have noticed are quite surprising, the size of jellyfish here, how low the clouds are in the sky or even the funny way in which seagulls behave. All these things come across in the photographs.”

Alison Marshall, English tutor at Fife Council, worked closely with the young photographers for the project. She said: “It was a very rewarding way to work. To facilitate an opportunity for ‘real’ language contact with native speakers is a surprisingly difficult thing to achieve. I truly felt that the students benefitted greatly.”

Rayan, one of the youngest photographers in the exhibition, said: “I like practising English. I didn’t learn English in Syria. My English has improved, this project has given me confidence.”

For most of the participants, using photography to tell a story or share a message was a new concept. This is the first time that any of the group have had photographs in an exhibition.

Marwa, one of the other project participants, said: “Previously I took photos for good memories, I took selfies. Now I learnt how to take good photos and I can translate photos. I like to know my photos will be seen.”

The exhibition has received support from Stagecoach. An extended version of the exhibition will be on display at Dunfermline’s Carnegie Library and Galleries from 19 January 2019.


Issued by the University of St Andrews Communications Office.

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