We speak to photographer Sam Ivin about Settling: Exploring Human Migration, a new exhibition with individuals and communities of Stoke-on-Trent. The exhibition is now open at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery.

Noor-al-ain Waheed, Maryam Waheed and Amara Waheed, Libya early 1987 by Sam Ivin

Can you tell us more about the origins of your project ‘Settling’ and your interest in working with migrants and asylum seekers?

The project began in 2017 when I was selected for a residency with Appetite, a local arts organisation in Stoke-on-Trent and GRAIN Projects, a Midlands organisation that commissions and curates photography. A local resident Val ‘Nicky’ Basnal had approached Appetite with an idea to create a collection of images focusing on the Sikh community in Stoke. This inspired Appetite and GRAIN to launch a national call-out for artists and photographers to create work on migration to Stoke, which would be shown at Appetite’s Big Feast Festival 2017.

When I applied for the opportunity I had finished my Lingering Ghosts work the year before, that project explored how long periods of waiting effected those applying for asylum in the UK. The work began after visiting a refugee centre in Cardiff in my second year at University. I was shocked to learn how long some people were waiting whilst seeking asylum in the UK, without the right to work or travel: 4 years, 7 years, 12 years. I’ve recently met someone who’s been waiting 18 years. The injustice of this is what got me interested in human migration and refugee rights.

The residency seemed like a very organic and fitting progression for Lingering Ghosts, from a more positive standpoint. The stories and images I came across were so fascinating and poignant I decided to expand the work with an Arts Council England grant in 2018.

Walerian Val Tyminski by Sam Ivin

How have you identified and worked with the individuals and communities in the development of the project? Has this been targeted or more organic?

Appetite were very helpful at linking me with community groups in the initial residency. There’s a group called the Burslem Jubilee Group for example, (who meet once a week to socialise with and assist asylum seekers and refugees) they’ve been great and really involved right from the beginning.

I contacted local groups and try to visit them as much as I can. Sometimes you may be at a community group and someone says they’re interested on the spot or knows someone who might be appropriate to contact. Other times people email you to say they’re willing to help. It’s targeted but I allow room for the organic individual meet-ups to happen too.

Can you tell me more about the works themselves? Hyacinth Stone, for instance, looks to be overlaid with painted marks?

The pieces are designed for exhibiting and are made up of two frames. One on the left is a manipulated portrait, on the right is a large square frame filled with each person’s own photographs, filled with their own images at different sizes. Reflecting on their story of migration and finding home in Stoke-on-Trent.

The 12 photographic portraits are manipulated using paint to emphasise a person’s story, situation or feelings. Hyacinth loves gardening for example, so I decided to create a wall of foliage that almost envelops her.

Hyacinth Stone by Sam Ivin

What can visitors expect from the exhibition?

A place to discover fascinating stories and photographs of human migration. There’s the series of 12 works, a projection, a wall of Polaroids and display cabinets with original photographs and test artwork. Visitors are also encouraged to share their own story of migration.

What are your ambitions and hopes for the project?

I hope that someone can read the stories, look at the pictures and understand more about why people make these journeys to live in foreign places. I believe it’s important to record these images and stories for future generations too. I’d also love to show the exhibition in other places around the UK.

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