This project consists of a two-month period of community-engaged research and sculptural practice taking place at Sculpture Space’s art residency in Utica (New York) during the months of August and September 2018.

Sculpture Space provides specialist large-scale sculpture workshops and benefits from a unique setting at the heart of Utica, a city with a rich history of resettling refugees. Continuing my ongoing exploration of migration and displacement as topics from which to develop my sculptural work, I aim to dedicate this period to researching and working with Utica’s refugee community to find out more about their experiences and to develop a new body of work.

This project aims to highlight the universal significance of physical and psychological displacement due to consequences of war, exile or poverty. By investigating the realities of those who have created their home in exile, I aim to acknowledge and promote the importance of their individual and collective voices. Through documentation and dissemination, the project will generate a link between the reality of the local region and the wider debates on diaspora and exile currently taking place worldwide.



The majority of my work has references to childhood and this relates to my interest in psychoanalytic thinking. I have personally undergone 8 years of intensive psychoanalysis, where I met my psychoanalyst 5 days per week. This often frightens people as they look at me in slight disbelief, wondering how I managed it. The idea of going 5 days per week frightened me too initially. It was offered to me on a low fee basis, but patients who were offered this had to commit to 5 days per week for a minimum of 2 years. Perhaps people’s initial thought is you have to be very seriously unwell to need such intensive therapy. To an extent yes, your motivation for going must be serious meaning there are elements of your internal and external life that are making you considerably unhappy and substantially limiting your potential and capabilities. On the other hand you need to have a degree of sturdiness and stability so that you can maintain this process. There is usually a point in time in therapy where you get closer to the really difficult aspects of your unconscious and this is a moment where many people switch off and want to end the work. I had these moments too. Moments of euphoria where I felt I got to a really happy and enlightened place and therefore thought it would be wise to stop therapy on this high note. My psychoanalyst was perceptive and recognised this. We were able to work through it and renew the work so we could continue on our journey. I am so happy that we didn’t end it prematurely because with each renewal there was so much more to discover. One of the things that you become acutely aware of is your vulnerability, and you make close contact to the child that never leaves you. This isn’t necessarily achieved by simply talking about your childhood all the time. More often than not you talk about your day to day observations, experiences and anything that spontaneously comes to mind. Childhood is weaved back into the present and you start to make connections. At first it seems a bit alien and difficult to grasp but the longer the therapeutic work goes on for the more it’s possible to internalise a deeper understanding. In fact rather than just understanding it’s about creating a psychic change. This takes time though.

In psychoanalysis you also learn that there isn’t one answer to anything, that everything has many aspects, ambiguities and paradoxes. And you learn to deal with this. It is the opposite of dogma. Accepting that things are complex, layered. Learning to look for the truth, learning to hear it, lying with it. There are silent sessions, where the patient and analyst don’t say a word for 50 mins. I have fallen asleep in sessions. You are in an underworld and seeing the pain of others, of yourself and how frightening it is to recognise the level of vulnerability we all face. Silences in psychoanalysis are as essential as words. In those silences you can be alone in the presence of  another. For a patient, this is very valuable therapeutic work.

Due to the close contact I have had with my own vulnerability I have developed strong feelings about subject matters relating to childhood, the abuse of power and the psychic difficulties experienced by those struggling with challenging life circumstances. My journey to Utica came from this motivation. It became very unsettling that at the time of my trip to Utica the child migrant crisis on the Mexican US border was at its peak. I was on my way to research the Bosnian community in Utica who have now been settled there for over 20 years, and yet there was something so stark happening in this country that seemed so much more immediate and in need of attention. The sounds of children wailing and screaming as they were being separated from their mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters; we can only hear that for a short second before we recoil into a vacuum of not feeling.

The following works evolved in parallel to these political events alongside my research into the lives of those who have fled war and persecution. In an underworld, much like in psychoanalytic space, there is something that refuses to be forgotten. I’m interested in staying in this space, for as long as is required and I imagine my work will continue to do the same.

Insoluble Blossoms. 2018. Previously owned child swimsuits, glassware, iron, resin.



Murky Waters. 2018. Previously owned child swimsuits, glass light globes, shower frames, threaded rods, glassware, tablecloths.


By Eh Khu Hser, born 2000 in Thailand

This beautiful and tender piece is a recreation of Eh Khu’s house that her parents built in a refugee camp in Thailand. Born here, Eh Khu lived in a refugee camp all her life until arriving to Utica a few years ago.  This shift in reality is striking and I think of the impulse to want to place the past into the present and unite the two realities in this way. This was a very touching piece.



Claire Moo, born 1999, Burma

This idea started as a public garden where you can grow your own crops, and gradually turned into what appears as a utopian island. A lot of tenderness and steady momentum went into this work. Some of the participants had not had the opportunity to create artwork previously and so it was quite moving to see the potential and flare that came out during the workshops!



Are Da Kar, born 1999, Burma

This is a creation of Are Da Kar’s ideal home! I like the glamour and boldness of this work. Are Da Kar is really looking into the future and creating a desired and invented object in the context of the present.



Haneen AlSaad, born 1999 and Palestinian & Islam Mohammed from Sudan worked collaboratively to create a model proposal for a Mosque that they would like to see existing in Utica. Utica has two mosques built by the Bosnian community but they differ in design to the mosques seen in Arab countries. It would be incredible to see this beautiful white Mosque exist in life scale one day in Utica.



Salsabeel Qarqouz, who is from Syria, was the youngest participant and most recent arrival to Utica. Although shy and apprehensive initially, Salsabeel flourished in the workshops with energy, spirit and imagination . She utilised all the materials offered in a beautiful and poetic way. Salsabeel spoke the least, partly because language was a slight barrier, but her internal world spoke volumes through this work.



Kawthar Qarqouz is the older sister of Salsabeel. She created a conceptual monument, describing each step as a set of challenges faced by a refugee arriving to a new country. If one is able to overcome all the challenges such as language, education and the emotional difficulties then hope opens up to a future and career that is desired by that person. I was struck by the intelligence and alertness of Kawthar, there was an inquisitive maturity about her and I am intrigued to see what the future holds for her as I feel she will accomplish a lot.




Dzejla Bungar, born 1996, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Dzejla’s very encompassing vision was for a museum and sports ground to be built in Utica. The museum would showcase the dynamic mix of cultural backgrounds and influences in Utica and thereby focus on a fair representation of everyone who has played a part in shaping what Utica is today. I’d love to think that one day such a museum will exist.



Selma Jasencic, born in Bosnia and Herzegovina, works at the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees as an Immigrant Community Navigator.

Selma chose to create a piece depicting Stari Most (Old Bridge) that was famously bombed during the Yugoslav Civil War in the 90s. The bridge was built during the Ottoman empire in the 16th century and remains one of the most beautiful landmarks in the country. I remember as a child in London seeing the news that the bridge had collapsed. My parents gasped in disbelief, it was a moment when everyone stopped and thought, the war has really gone too far now. Every moment of the war felt this way of course but this moment was deeply symbolic of a collective wound. There was a feeling of no return, the destruction of a historic heritage, a monument that contained such a rich and complex history with the slow passage of time across centuries contained in its aged stone. It is a painful history of empires and invasions but as time has weaved itself around daily living the monuments that exist today are seen as a source of pride in what was overcome and they came to represent peaceful living. Some hope returned in Stari Most’s reconstruction, completed in 2004, where the original stone and rubble that fell into Neretva was salvaged and used to rebuild the bridge. Selma’s piece depicts both the wound and the beauty and depth that result from reparative processes.

A week later we had a pop up exhibition of these works and an article in the local newspaper! It was so great seeing it all installed together. And a great turnout!!


A group of 9 women, including Selma, arrived to Sculpture Space for their first scheduled workshop and our work began! The brief was to create a model proposal for a monument or building that they would like to see existing in Utica. The enthusiasm and intent that followed was really impressive. They all dove in with strong visions for their proposals. A creation of a future dream home, a  recreating of a past home in a refugee camp, a museum showcasing different cultural backgrounds of refugees settled in Utica, a utopian island and more! The women come from many areas of the world including Palestine, Syria, Sudan, Burma and Bosnia and some have been living in Utica for a long time, since they were small children, whilst are much more recent. I was struck by the level of detail and care that went into the work. The following are images from the workshops. The next post will see the finished results!

Photo credits: Raquel Figueira


About 8 months prior to my residency at Sculpture Space I had made contact with the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees in order to create a partnership for my project, Borders Unfold. I had wanted to work with Utica’s refugee community through a number of workshops exploring notions of place and the relationship between our inner and outer worlds.

In my first meeting at the MVRCR I was met by Michael Zaffino, the executive assistant to Shelly Callahan who is the director of the organisation, and Selma Jasencic, the Immigrant Community Navigator at the Center. Tom, the director of Sculpture Space attended the meeting too and we discussed the details and logistics of the workshops. We were all very excited about what this collaboration could bring to the participants and the community. As we discussed things further, Michael and Selma discussed the challenges the center has been met with since Trump’s administration and funding cuts that have since taken place. They also pointed out the noticeable decrease of refugee arrival to Utica. This was unsettling although not surprising. I wondered what the destiny was of all the victims who no longer had the option of escaping to the US, it felt like a violent and apathetic attempt at annihilation.

Selma was herself a refugee from Bosnia and now like a number of the organisation’s staff, helps others go through the same challenges she was faced with during the 90s and beyond. There was a certain drive and resilience about Selma that felt familiar. We were excited to be collaborating on this project and it was interesting to think how our history that is distinguished by geographic fracture, had now equally brought us firmly together. We closed the meeting with Selma intending to bring together a group of participants for the workshops.