A Sense of Belonging

A Sense of Belonging was an exhibition of film, sculpture, painting, photography, music and performance illustrating “the perilous journeys people make to reach freedom both physically and emotionally, the places left behind and what makes people feel a sense of belonging – a sense of being ‘home away from home’.”  It celebrated the cultures of new arrivals, and their experiences of living in Nottingham, Derby, Leicester and Loughborough.

“I have been divided into two pieces like two souls in one body.”
“One day you feel everything is yours here … and another day you don’t and that is my personal experience, and when it comes to art you can’t avoid this ‘double consciousness’ that one day this belongs to me and another day it does not.”

“All of us are at the cutting edge of a new type of identity, no longer rooted in a place or country but a series of places and journeys meeting temporarily and going off.  We do it in the way we communicate and interact.”

art identities mirrors

© Aria Ahmed

From Making the Connections


Moving People Changing Places


First generation

F. N. Souza,
Avinash Chandra
Frank Bowling
Aubrey Williams
Donald Locke
Ahmed Parvez
Anwar Schemza
Balraj Khanna
Iqbal Geoffrey
Ivan Peiris
Uzo Egonu
Li Yuan Chia
David Medalla
Rasheed Araeen

Second and third generations

Eddie Chambers
Keith Piper
Donald Rodney
Sonia Boyce
Lubaina Himid
Claudette Johnson
Mona Hatoum
Maud Sulter
Gavin Jantjes
Sutapa Biswas
Roshini Kempadoo
Rotimi Fani-Kayode
Sunil Gupta

Refugee artists

Yousif Naser
Mohsen Keiany
Breda Beban
Marisa Rueda
Saad Hirri
Emmanuel Changunda

Turner Prize
Winners and nominees

Anish Kapoor (1991)
Chris Ofili (1998)
Steve McQueen (1999)
Yinka Shonibare
(nominated 2004)
Zarina Bhimji
(nominated 2007)
Runa Islam
(nominated 2008)
Otolith Group
(nominated 2010)


Art identities

The arts offer the means for people to express who they are. Painting, drama, dance, photography and other art forms provide first and second generation migrants and refugees a creative space to tell stories, recount powerful memories, and share thoughts and feelings of freedom and joy, trauma and pain. Participating in the arts gives viewers and audiences a different perspective on the experience of migration and exile, the search for belonging and sense of exclusion.  Creative workshops can be fulfilling spaces for people of all ages and types to meet and mix with those from different backgrounds, identities, and life experiences.

Women's workshopSculptor at work
© Maggie O'Neill, Women's art workshop                                                       © John Perivolaris of sculptor Emmanuel Changunda

Writing about black British artists, the cultural theorist, Stuart Hall, distinguished between two groups: the last ‘colonials’ and the first ‘postcolonials’. The first group, who came to Britain after the Second World War, were modernist, avant-garde artists who favoured abstract expression.  The second, British-born generation pioneered the Black Art Movement. They were anti-racist, and motivated by identity issues.

"Separated from their homes of origin, marginalised from society’s mainstream, excluded and stereotyped, discriminated against in the public sphere, pushed around by the police, abused in the streets, and profoundly alienated from recognition or acceptance by British society at large, [the ‘postcolonials’] were haunted by questions of identity and belonging. ‘Who are we?’ ‘Where do we come from?’ ‘Where do we really belong?’" (Hall, 2006:18)

The desire to address these questions led these second wave artists to confront issues of migration and transnationalism as well as racism. They examined them through their own experiences and family histories. Their focus on home and belonging, journeys and memories has led to them being known as ‘diaspora artists’, thus stressing their interconnections rather than their racial or cultural differences.


The artist and researcher, Susan Pui San Lok, has been working on Golden since 2003. In this project she explores questions of “nostalgia, aspiration, cultivation and translation”, focusing particularly on the Chinese diaspora. Through video and sound pieces and installations referring to ballrooms and allotments, she considers how identities, memories and territories are cultivated and tended, and how people hold together their simultaneous desires to both settle and return.

Reflecting on Susan’s work, another artist said “it’s easy to understand why the past is often viewed through rose-coloured glass – because we generally deal with trauma by forgetting it … the high points acquire a glamorous sheen that might not have been evident in real time” (Naomi Siderfin, in Golden (Notes), 2006:76).

"Golden" imageArt identities image
© Susan Pui San Lok                                                                                                   © Heather Connolly
Refugee artists, forced from their home countries because of civil war, or political, ethnic or religious differences, have also addressed these issues. Many have confronted memories of violence, destruction, the death of friends and family, and the trauma of exile though their art practice. They have also raised questions about the problem of being categorised as a refugee or migrant artist as this can at times marginalise or exclude them from wider opportunities to show their work and gain employment.