‘The Art of Migration’ presentation in Willunga Hub, South Australia: 4/1/2019

Willunga Poster-final.jpgOn the 4th of January 2019 our first viewing in Australia of the film  The Art of Migration produced in 2017 by Matteo Fiorucci and Bernardo Angeletti, was presented in South Australia, thanks to the Willunga Circle Of Friends for Refugees,  : members of the audience in the packed hall included artists, therapists, scientists, musicians and community members actively engaged, or interested in, supporting refugees arriving in both the local area and wider Australia .

The Make Art Not Walls approach can be described as holistic:  in the open studio space, resident volunteers and new arrivals are all potentially creating  new  communities and mapping future models of society. This was evidenced in the film, and commented on during discussion.

After the film showing a highly engaged public responded with questions and  comments regarding the role of the arts in ‘creating new worlds’ during transitional moments in the lives of both new arrivals and long-term residents. Our experience  was discussed  through the lenses of both art therapy and contemporary art practice; observed were issues around not only transitions through trauma and change for refugees , but also experiences of (abrupt,unforeseen) terminations of volunteer activities which can be , once again, traumatic echoings of  the precariousness of past experiences.



A special thanks to planner/organiser Fiona Ryan with the support of Maarten Ryder for making the event so successful .

Engage with some of the public after the event as they react to the presentation by clicking: ‘The Art of Migration’ presentation in Willunga Hub, South Australia: 4/1/2019



We are present @ ‘Personne est Invisible’ at the Consulat de la Gaiete’ in Paris 5-25th October 2018

Nel  spazio pubblico a Parigi . presso “Le Consulat” #makeartnotwallsitalia fa parte di un progetto internazionale organizzato da “Imagine” (che ha lavorato con mezzi espressivi nella “Giungla” / Calais) Foto cortesia Phoebe Wood, fotografa/giormnalista la quale ci ha anche filmato l’anno scorso per ‘france24’.

via We will be present @ ‘Personne est Invisible’ at the Consulat de la Gaiete’ in Paris 5-25th October 2018


We exhibit at Rose Gallery,Los Angeles in April 2018.



In conjunction with Human Rights Watch, ROSEGALLERY presents MAKE ART NOT WALLS, an exhibition of paintings by a group of refugees and migrants from West Africa (Nigeria and Gambia) who are currently seeking asylum in Trevi, Italy.

A reception for the exhibition will be held on 24 APRIL 2018 from six until nine pm. Virginia Ryan, the founder of MAKE ART NOT WALLS, will join us for this special event for a conversation about her work with the refugees. Additionally, the Golden Bridge Choir will grace us with a special performance during this evening’s celebration.
Proceeds from the sale of the artworks will go directly to the artists.

In series of sequential, vividly-rendered tableaux, each artist tells their story of leaving their home country. Although each story is uniquely expressed, repeated themes display the commonality of the refugees’ experiences; groups of figures huddled shoulder-to-shoulder in overcapacity boats and trucks; sleeping on floors; hiding in trucks; saying goodbye. The arduous journeys endured have spanned countries and continents and a palpable uncertainty lingers, but as one artist states in a painted text, “A journey of a thousand steps begins with a single step.”

MAKE ART NOT WALLS features six artists: Raphael Benjamin, Foday Cisse, Omoigui Felix Junior, Chinedu Michael Chinweoba, Chukwuemeka Patrick Euria, and Alex Ogbebor Enomah; and includes a selection of portraits all created in association with Make Art Not Walls, an art organization and open studio founded by Virginia Ryan in October 2016 with the subsequent help of Julia Perry and other volunteers. Men who have fled violence and scarcity in their home countries have been given materials, space and encouragement to share their personal perspectives in paint. Whilst awaiting documents, Make Art Not Walls helps refugees in the community of Trevi cope and heal through art as well as find community and purpose in their new surroundings. As the past decade has seen massive upheaval in many regions of the world, countless people fleeing state and interpersonal violence, poverty, and changing climates have been forced to leave their homes and move in search of a more stable life. Since 2014, more than 500,000 refugees have arrived in Italy, with the majority of migrants coming from sub-Saharan Africa. Each artist involved in Make Art Not Walls has been one of the many migrants caught in this global crisis.

RECIPROCUS at Italian Cultural Institute in Edinburgh,Scotland opening 19th October 2017; then at British Institute in Florence in February 2018 as part of Black History Month

As part of the Art of Migration two exhibitions will run concurrently

‘Reciprocus’ Mixed media works on paper by Virginia Ryan and participant image-makers from ‘Make Art Not Walls/Italia’ and  ‘Phantome’ Photographic Essay from the migrant centre in Trevi, Umbria by Matteo Fiorucci 2016/2017


Reciprocus is a recent, on-going collaborative art work between artist/art therapist Ryan and resident asylum-seekers living in Trevi, Italy.

These young men from West Africa are also participant image-makers in the Make Art Not Walls/ Italia project and open studio, founded in late 2016. Most of the members who frequent the voluntary open studio have been attending from a period up to one year; the most recent arrived two months ago. Virginia Ryan is grateful for the invaluable and ongoing support of resident American fine-art restorer and teacher Julia Perry in the ongoing workshop.

Conceived and initiated by the artist in August 2017, Reciprocus layers Italian newsprint and partially ‘whited-out’ local stories from the central Italian newspaper ‘Corriere dell’Umbria’ with subsequent interacting hand-painted images responding to the news/text . Worlds collide, interact and juxtapose in this set of twenty-five mixed-media works on paper and card.

The series presents a universe in which intersections of figures, patterning, hand-written testimonies and Italian newspaper type suggests individual and collective ‘what-if’ imaginings, whilst recording memories of the journey across the Sahara and the Mediterranean.

The process of interaction with local news, discussions in the workshop and re-actions with paint and pencil mirror or suggest moments of integration within the wider community.

Included in this collaboration with Virginia Ryan are interventions by Raphael Benjamin (Nigeria) Alex Johnson (Nigeria) Abubacar Diallo (Guinea) Jacob Camara (Guinea-Conakry) Omogoigui Felix (Nigeria) Blessing Osaigei (Nigeria) and others.

IMG_9487IMG_9483Reciprocus 12 Ryan/Alex JohnsonIMG_9489IMG_9490IMG_9499IMG_9498

Continua a leggere “RECIPROCUS at Italian Cultural Institute in Edinburgh,Scotland opening 19th October 2017; then at British Institute in Florence in February 2018 as part of Black History Month”

La prima lettera/Our first letter. January 2017

Nel 2016 il Comune di Trevi ha ospitato per la prima volta nel suo territorio un gruppo di richiedenti asilo presso la struttura Hotel Calafuria. Questa accoglienza  si è concretizzata attraverso una convenzione tra l’ente comunale e l’Associazione Arci della sede di Perugia (nell’ambito del progetto Emergenza sbarchi- Arcisolidarietà Ora d’Aria). Il progetto “emergenza sbarchi” offre, tra le altre cose, servizi di prima accoglienza dei cittadini stranieri, servizi amministravi e servizi per l’integrazione come assistenza linguistica e culturale.
Nel settembre del 2016 ho invitato il gruppo di richiedenti asilo a visitare la mia mostra dal titolo ‘I Will Shield You’  presso il Complesso Museale di San Francesco (sezione Pinacoteca Civica). Le mie opere contemporanee, sculture in forma di scudi che simboleggiano una protezione verso le paure, si fondono con opere di straordinario interesse storico-artistico del periodo medievale e rinascimentale ospitate nella Pinacoteca.
Il gruppo di richiedenti asilo provengono dall’Africa occidentale (nazioni francofone e anglofone) e dal Pakistan. Nonostante, quindi, non vi fosse una lingua che accomunava il gruppo e nonostante la mancanza della conoscenza della lingua italiana, la visita alla mostra è stata un’esperienza significativa. I ragazzi del gruppo, durante la visita alla mostra, si sono immediatamente riconosciuti in quelle immagini ed hanno  provato forti emozioni manifestando un forte turbamento nel vedere uomini e donne di colore in un contesto così distante dal loro sia in termini di lontananza geografica che di diversità culturale.

Inoltre la visita è stata il presupposto per condividere con l’amministrazione comunale di Trevi e l’Arci l’idea di attivare un laboratorio di arte/arteterapia per esplorare il potenziale espressivo di questi ragazzi e
 tentare così un approccio comunicativo ed inclusivo di integrazione.
Inizia così la storia del progetto MakeArtNotWalls/Italia con la partecipazione di circa 20 ragazzi.

La sala di un Hotel lungo la statale Flaminia ha fatto da sfondo al nostro secondo incontro. La vecchia Flaminia, un luogo simbolico che per due millenni è stata una rotta per viaggiatori, mercanti, pellegrini e dignitari, un luogo di trasporto, di transito, di incontro e di rinnovamento spirituale.
Con un gomitolo di filo rosso, qualche foglio di carta e matite donate da una 
amica mi sono trovata a dialogare con loro.
La mia conoscenza della lingua inglese, della lingua francese e dell’italiano è stata fondamentale in questa prima fase di comunicazione, condivisione e racconto.

In quel preciso istante in un giorno d’autunno,  abbiamo intrecciato e collegato le nostre storie: racconti contraddistinti dal coraggio in una fase di transizione e cambiamento. Transizione da non percepire come una non-posizione ma piuttosto come un momento dinamico e animato nella vita di un individuo.
L’intreccio con il gomitolo di filo rosso tra le dita e i polsi è stato il tramite che ha portato ad unire persone di età e paesi differenti creando un contatto visivo tangibile. Nello stesso pomeriggio, alcuni membri del gruppo hanno preso carta e matita ed hanno iniziato a raffigurare la loro esperienza di viaggio-odissea
 verso l’Italia.
Quando non c’è nessun linguaggio verbale comune condiviso dal gruppo l’immagine serve per attraversare i confini e aprire un canale per la comprensione reciproca.

Da quel giorno, spontaneamente e con entusiasmo, abbiamo deciso di 
incontrarci un paio di volte alla settimana, con carta e matita, alcuni tubi di pittura acrilica e la nostra ‘scorta’ di materiali riciclati in un locale in disuso adiacente l’hotel. Successivamente il proprietario ci ha concesso di usarlo come  spazio riservato al gruppo per l’esplorazione del
sé attraverso un processo creativo.
 Gli incontri sono diventati una “fabbricazione” di creazione a diversi livelli, una 
sorta di laboratorio di arte/arteterapia in cui esprimere e dare corpo ai sogni, ai desideri e alle speranze, e voce alla brutale esperienza del loro viaggio.Un viaggio disperato, in fuga per la libertà fatto con quelli che vengono chiamati “barconi della speranza” nelle fredde e profonde acque del mediterraneo e iniziato ancor prima con la permanenza nei campi di detenzione della Libia.
“Negli ultimi sessant’anni abbiamo assistito all’aumento nella produzione di rifugiati economici, politici e climatici. Spesso considerati rifiuti importati, vengono infatti trattati come spazzatura” scrive il sociologo recentemente scomparso Zygmunt Bauman in “Wasted Lives: Modernity’s Collateral Casualties”. Aggiunge: “Il rifugiato è il caso estremo di individuo che ha perso la propria identità e che è respinto ovunque: i rifugiati sono rifiuti umani, senza nessuna funzione utile da svolgere nella terra e nessuna intenzione o prospettiva realistica di assimilazione e inserimento nel nuovo corpo sociale”.
Oltretutto, poiché non è fisicamente possibile rimuovere tutti i rifiuti – oppure non è possibile tenerli lontani in modo che noi non li vediamo, ecco che si fa in modo che vengano sigillati in “contenitori a tenuta stagna”: campi profughi o ghetti.”

Lo scarto , allora, è vissuto come un risultato sgradevole al punto da essere nascosto dalla società.
Nel laboratorio nelle settimane successive non a caso abbiamo anche usato i prodotti di scarto e abbandonati. E’stata una precisa intenzione quella di incoraggiare i ragazzi a ridare nuova vita a questi materiali -quindi
 sono stati trasformati in nuovi oggetti con nuovi significati  dando voce e rispecchiando la propria esperienza, il proprio percorso e la propria memoria.

Nel laboratorio abbiamo visto così nascere delle storyboard di vita personale che parlano di paesi lontani come il Gambia, la Nigeria e la Guinea, e del desiderio di felicità e accoglienza da parte del nostro paese, l’Italia.
Matteo Fiorucci e Bernardo Angeletti a partire dal mese di ottobre 2016 hanno documentato il progetto attraverso videoriprese e fotografie, hanno saputo introdurre, nello spazio lavorativo, la fotocamera e la videocamera con rispetto e sensibilità così da rendere la loro presenza condivisa dal gruppo e compartecipativa.
Una testimonianza 
costante dello sviluppo di un percorso creativo volto all’integrazione, alla conoscenza e quindi
La presenza della videocamera e della macchina fotografica restituisce in modo puntuale e istantaneo tutto il processo di lavoro che si sta svolgendo con i ragazzi ed è una costante testimonianza delle tante storie delle traversate in cerca di terra, di futuro e di vita. Testimonianza di un forte coraggio necessario a contrastare la disperazione.
Il coraggio di ricominciare da zero su un foglio bianco, la carte blanche, su cui si può “scrivere” quello che si vuole. Il coraggio di ricominciare esponendosi agli altri, a tutti anche a chi non ha nessun desiderio di comprendere.
Dopo tutto, il coraggio è qualcosa che è stato già  dimostrato da questi uomini e da queste donne dopo la lunghissima traversata del Sahara, dopo aver trascorso una notte alla deriva nell’ oceano dove non vi è distinzione tra cielo e acqua, e l’orizzonte lontano non si riesce più a vedere.

Mentre scrivo il nostro laboratorio continua a crescere. Questo è possibile grazie all’aiuto prezioso e costante di Julia Perry, di vari artisti affermati come Jeffrey Isaac e Gary Jo Gardenshire che attraverso visite occasionali portano il loro personale contributo alimentando i processi creativi. Gary Jo Gardenshire ha prodotto un ciclo di ritratti dei partecipanti.
Pian piano gli input che hanno circolato durante gli incontri si trasformano in reali e tangibili e le storie, i desideri e le difficoltà di vita si intrecciano con espressioni artistiche: nascono così case e valigie di cartone, drammatiche storyboard rappresentate su tavolette di legno della vita in Nigeria, bandiere del Gambia e disegni  emotivamente ricchi e speranzosi di futuri happy endings  in Italia.

Un mix di speranze, esplorazione emotiva e ricostruzione per recuperare il proprio passato come ponte per il futuro.
Si tratta di un racconto collettivo  ancora non definito, con un finale aperto.
Cresce in sintonia con le lezioni di italiano fatte da Federica di Marco, con la quale si è instaurato un rapporto di stima reciproca.
Le loro vite che si possono percepire come sprecate si rianimano in sintonia con l’azione creativa in corso, mentre aspettano l’esito delle loro domande di asilo. Cerchiamo di dare forma all’attesa.
Nessuno sa cosa succederà ne’ con il laboratorio ne’ con  queste domande di asilo. Siamo tutti nella stessa barca, quella dell’attesa e del non sapere.
I mesi di attesa nella speranza di un cambiamento importante sono un momento di transizione tra il prima e il dopo, ma anche un punto fermo nel tempo, il qui e ora, pienamente e consapevolmente vissuto e trasformato in una testimonianza di speranza totale: radical hope.

Virginia Ryan
fondatrice, Gennaio 2017


We Refugees: upcoming publication

We Refugees: upcoming publication

Virginia Ryan, founder of Make Art Not Walls, and contributor to Pact Press anthology, We RefugeesYou have lived a fascinating and also a ‘peripatetic life’ – as you put it in your contribution to We Refugees. Were your parents or other people in your family also great travelers? Did you imagine, growing up, that you would live your adult life in so many different places?My great grandparents came from Ireland in the mid-eighteenth century and settled in Victoria. I can only imagine how distant Australia must have seemed, the sadness of leaving loved ones behind, mixed with excitement for making life anew. I think the key word here is ‘imagine’ – we carry the memories over generations, both through storytelling and body-memory.Growing up with my family I moved to Italy for two years at the age of ten. So I had an experience of a ‘big’ world, of a distance travelled but – like many of my contemporaries – we also moved locations within Australia: Bendigo, Echuca, Melbourne, then Canberra. I was always deeply fascinated with people and places afar – the desire to experience that, to immerse myself in diversity was exciting. My experiences with travel taught me how hospitable strangers could be, and thanks to my parents, we were encouraged to be respectful. So it was not unnatural for me to return to Italy for temporary study in 1981 at Florence University for Foreigners; to meet an Italian back in Canberra and decide to travel permanently  from Australia with him – there followed a diplomatic life in many countries, a new identity with an Italian passport, full of experiences but also of responsibility.

You are a trained artist and also art therapist – what led you to pursue postgraduate studies in Art Therapy?We had lived in Belgrade, in Serbia, during the break-up of the former Yugoslavia. I had been immersed in studio work there, in exhibiting and meeting artists, but the situations was very tense and, obviously, violent and tragic. We experienced, for example, how easily language changed – linguistic taboos were broken – and violence followed. We lived through the sanctions and saw the deep stress, the unravelling of everyday life for citizens caught in the upheavals. On leaving Belgrade, we were posted to Edinburgh in Scotland. There I re-set up my studio but was aware of the ongoing reality in the Balkans, of Bosnian refugees arriving in UK, of the fragility of peace, of those we had left behind.I was aware of feeling, initially, so lonely – even though I had a family, support, and was in Scotland by choice. I felt that, if I was so lonely, what must it be alike for those who must flee, who have no choice, who leave families behind? What resilience must they have?I still remember the day I was in my Edinburgh studio (asking myself interminably, why am I here? What is the purpose?) and was listening to BBC Scotland when an interview with art therapist/course founder Peter Byrne was aired. I stopped working to listen, and immediately after, rang to make an appointment to apply. I felt that with experiences such as mine, and an understanding of studio practise and the power of images to help show us the way forward, the study would add another dimension to my work and that it might be useful in the future. I was accepted, and over the next two years met an extraordinary group of people who continue to inform my work.

In 2016 you established Make Art Not Walls with a group of asylum seekers in Umbria, Italy. The group has exhibited internationally and produced some wonderful, vibrant work – some of which we are delighted to be using as the cover art for We Refugees. Do you believe that every person has the capacity to be an artist?

I believe that every person has an inner necessity, overt or latent, to realise his or her true self – the ‘actualising tendency’, to paraphrase the psychologist Carl Rogers; an inherent tendency within ourselves to grow and reach our full potential. Exploring this through visual mark-making is a powerful tool. Whilst not all image-makers can be artists (which I see as a commitment, an identity, a long and hard road for most), we can all make images to tell our stories and to understand our lives, emotional states, and the times we live in. These images can be powerful testaments of our historical moment; of enormous visual importance. A small group within Make Art Not Walls Italia, two or three individuals, say they are now committed to growing their artistic experience long term. Here the title ‘artist’ is being earned.

What is it about the creative process that makes it – at least potentially – therapeutic?

The creative process leads us to ourselves. It connects us to our deep and collective ‘human-ness’ and aids us in understanding the beauty and tragedy of existence. The creative process heals us in times of trauma as implicit in ‘creating’ are active states of courage, connection, and hope. It connects us to the best part of our common humanity.Who are your artistic inspirations? I have met extraordinary artists, mostly unknown outside their city or national sphere, who continue to work, often in financial difficulty and with little recognition, in many different countries. These people are part of the ‘art-worlds’ that I know, so different from the ‘art-world’ of market forces, important thought that is for many artists, myself included. My artistic inspirations are these people – they are my community.

Do you have other people, places, or things in your life that represent important sources of inspiration?

Yes. Apart from my studio, gardening! Walking. Swimming. Deep conversation. My children. Artist friends. Listening to music – jazz and classical mainly – and endlessly strolling through art galleries.

Can you tell us a little about where you grew up, and where you live now?

I grew up in a family of five. I was lucky to grow up in a family where I felt loved. My foundation was solid. Obviously, it was not always clear sailing, but a childhood where one feels acknowledged is the greatest gift a child can have. Although we moved a number of times for my father’s work, our homes always felt safe. Living in Varese, in Northern Italy, as a child meant that I grew up with two languages and a sense of the world as a wonderful, big place.I now live in the ‘centro storico’ in Trevi, an ancient hill-town in central Italy; we are perched on the hill amongst an olive grove in a restored olive-mill. This is my base, my refuge.

Can you tell us about some of the projects you are working on currently?

Apart from ongoing studio work, presently I am involved in the publication of a book in Italian/English with prominent Europe/America-based arts writers, which considers my work in West Africa from 2001 until 2016. The book will be published by Fabbri Editore in Italy next month; plus a number of exhibitions are in progress.

With the organisation ‘Imagine’ – a collective who worked in Calais Jungle with asylum seekers – we have been invited to exhibit works from Make Art Not Walls in  Paris in October 2018, and we are also to set up a permanent exhibition of some of the organisations’ work here in Trevi, our town, in the next few months.

In early 2019 I will be in hosted by Chameleon Art Collective in Balmoral and at the art residence,  Off the Rails, in Dunkeld in Victoria, Australia, to continue developing my practise and be involved in a community cultural integration project: it will be interesting to travel back to Victoria, the state of my birth in 1956, and to see if I can begin to thread together the strands of this peripatetic life.*

September 2018