Journeys Festival International Portsmouth Balances Playfulness and Profundity in 2019

Journeys Festival International Portsmouth promised 10 brilliant days of exploring the refugee experience through artistic and creative encounters and delivered, yet again, for 2019.

Over 10 days (18 - 27 October), the fourth year of the Festival engaged audiences from across the city with performances, workshops and film screenings.

A fun-filled launch hosted by Outside-In Food Court featured live music, delicious food and powerful storytelling in partnership with Pamodzi Creatives. But this was just a taster for the excellent events and exhibitions in store.

The following day, a Community Conversations poetry workshop with Maggie Harris at Portsmouth Museum was heaving with excited little ones. It was great to see so many young minds achieve their Discover Arts Award while exploring journeys and views of Portsmouth through poetry.

Later, at the University of Portsmouth we launched Isobel Tarr’s The Channel. Thought-provoking conversations were had both as part of the installation and between audiences, the artist and people with experience of indefinite detention. Interaction with the piece grew across the week as more students came to listen and record their own messages.

At New Theatre Royal, Phosphoros Theatre continued to draw in the crowds with Pizza Shop Heroes. A production that centred the voices of refugees, it importantly gave them the stage to tell their own stories. Equally, photographer Rich Wiles’ Ongoing Journeys exhibition took the ‘WhatsApp still-lives’ with family archive photographs to create a personal, yet collaborative, project. It movingly brought together an extended Syrian family in images despite the physical distance between them.

The rain didn’t put a dampener on Portsmouth’s Journeys Live event either. In the shelter of Outside-In Food Court, there was a day of free, live entertainment. Celebrating talented artists from around the world, the line-up included the traditional and enchanting music of Mahroo Diba and the powerful vocals of Hamsa Mounif alongside the joy of the World Harmony Orchestra and the funky Afro Cluster. With this, great tunes, good food and the energy of Bollywood Vibes’ dance workshop, it was far from a dreary and rainy day in Portsmouth.

In other ways, nature was on the agenda in Portsmouth thanks to The Burning Tide: Climate Change and Forced Global Migration, a talk from Claire Chandler of Stand Up to Racism. An urgently-needed discussion, it focused on the key issues that need to be addressed as millions of people are already having to leave their home because of floods, droughts, fires and rising seas. Responses from the people of Portsmouth were compounded by the threat to their own homes as planning continues on the city’s flood defences.

The fascinating hybrid documentary, Island of the Hungry Ghosts at No.6 Cinema, left audiences with a lot to consider.It compared the natural migration of Christmas Islands’ red crabs which are protected and accommodated, with the treatment of people held in indefinite detention on the island told through the eyes of a therapist and her family.

Laurence Payot’s Angels combined nature and the urban in a particularly memorable way for Portsmouth inhabitants. Her video portraits appeared at some particularly exciting outdoor locations including onto the crane at Gunwharf Quays in partnership with Aspex. Featuring refugee and asylum seeker participants from across the UK, the portraits reminded those passing by how we can cope with difficult situations by finding strength in the things that make us happy. In other words, finding some light in the darkness.

From deeper conversations to light-hearted fun, this year’s Journeys Festival International Portsmouth presented a cohesive and expansive programme to cater to many different tastes and interests for a brilliant fourth year.

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