Fiona Green has recently exhibited her work in Kingsbridge and Dartington Arts Lab, under the name ‘Art Without Borders’. The purpose of the exhibition has been to help raise funds for the refugee charity Integr8, featured in another 2016 article here. Some originals and all prints are still available, see below. She shared some thoughts, feelings and a few memories.
I’ve been working supporting Saif Ali’s charity Integr8 that I’m so hugely impressed with. This project inspired me to paint on a refugee theme. I thought: “I’m going to paint and raise some money for him because I really do believe in him and I’m going to put my money where my mouth is”.
Just months before I met Saif, I went to work at Calais camp, and I saw this Eritrean called Yonas, who was sitting in the mud, with no hope of going anywhere, and he was painting that picture there of the Virgin and Child, and I was so moved by this man’s plight and what he was doing, it sort of fired me up. I thought: “if he can do it sitting in the mud with no hope, I can do it too to help people like him. And then months later I met Saif for the first time here in town at the town hall where Beyond Borders Totnes held a public meeting about refugees coming into the town, and we connected. I went on his very first training weekend, in a beautiful barn that a local person allowed Integr8 to use.
So Yonas was my starting point and then I met Saif Ali.
My Background Colours All That I Do
I was born in India, to socialist parents, where I lived until I was 4. My father was absent because he was in the Indian army before he retired. My mother came from a military family, but she was a peacenik and brought us up to always stand up against war and what we see as injustice. We moved to Australia and lived happily there till I was 11. She wanted us to go to Summerhill School, well-known for its progressive ethos, and so we came to England.
I didn’t take to Summerhill, it was too different to the stricter, religiously-based schooling I’d had in Australia, so my mother, who was influenced by Tagore and always encouraged me with my art, sent us all to Dartington school – where I learnt democracy in action. I then went to the Hall and on to Bath Academy, where I was during a crucial time for British art: Gillian Ayres, Sir Howard Hodgkin and so on. I specialised in textiles and you will see as we walk round that the design element, which comes from that training, is very strong in my work.
On leaving college I married a man whose parents had fought in the Spanish Civil War and who had gone to Summerhill. He’d set up his own publishing house and I supported him by teaching. We used to have the African National Congress meet in our house because it was considered a safe house in London: his mother was a friend of Mandela. Me and the children used to leave the house, (Martin would be at work) and then we’d go back for the celebration of singing & dancing following the meetings, It was marvellous. Thabo Mbeki who stayed with us, went on to become President after Mandela.
I specialised in Art, and working with children with severe behavioural problems and ended up running a service of 50 teachers in Southwark. I found in 1990 that I was getting promoted further and further away from children, and I thought “I want to be hands on with people”, so I decided to train as a psychotherapist. I’m now a Gestalt psychotherapist, I’ve done that for about 10 years. That was the last job I had in London. I also worked as a trauma counsellor, for example I worked with young bankers returning from the twin Towers, the Kings Cross fire, and more recently with victims of the Grenfell Tower fire.
Integr8 is the most well-conceived project I’ve ever had the privilege to be a part of. Saif is positive and cheerful at all times and I’ve worked alongside him running Art workshops and helping in the kitchen, much the same as I did at Calais camp.
Recently I felt the most positive contribution I could make was to fundraise by selling my work, rather than running the workshops which can be shattering to organise at my age (I am 76 next year).
Artists have been at the forefront of political discourse on war for centuries. I’m thinking of people like Goya, Kathe Kolwitz,, Dali and more recently Picasso, Banksy. Political posters interest me and I saw some in the International Brigade archive in Barcelona. I love the powerful protest graffiti of Banksy.
As I was trained as a textile artist and worked as a teacher most of my life, it is good in my retirement to focus on a return to painting and to put that work to good use.
We’re in the midst of the most dangerous period of my lifetime where countries like America are testing our limits to the re-emergence of fascism, and we must all stand up and be counted. I think part of my plan is to ‘normalise’ the refugee, who is the same as you or me, but without his home & country. That’s why I’m opposed to events like Refugee Week because it’s focussing on ‘the other’ too much; on the difference rather than the similarities. So what I’d like to do more of, is make it feel more unifying. You know I really like talking to a friend next door who’s a really lovely guy but he’s so terrified of refugees. I said to him: “I’m going to Calais to help refugees” and he said “Christ! You be careful!”. Though I love it here in Totnes in so many ways, having discourse with local people on issues like this often concerns me, and I do miss the multiculturalism of London. I am also sometimes troubled by so much so-called spiritual growth here, that neglects real action to help others in need.
Art Without Borders: A Refugee Fundraiser for Integr8UK
This is a collage of photos. I call it ‘Tsunami of Grief’, and it’s women from Gaza and Afghanistan – very different peoples, but the same issues.
And this portrait of Saif Ali is because his programme is all about integrating people. I also asked him who his favourite poet was and he said Rumi, so I’ve done a Rumi poem – ‘Love is the Master’ – in Arabic and English, to show the integration of 2 languages, and in the top right is the Hand of Fatima. And we also see Saif has got a secret side, a hidden side which I have signified with a mask : there’s a depth to him that unfolds as you know him.
The lower half of the picture, I thought needed something – it was just a shirt. So I said to Saif, what would you automatically do with your hands, and he just went like that – (she gestures putting hands together, in a show of greeting – thanks – prayer) – which is a lovely unifying symbol, and it’s a greeting in many countries.
This gives an idea of the textile I’m talking about: rich design, and she’s just out of my head. African. Wearing a traditional headdress including the jewelled tiara
This is perhaps one that I’m proudest of. This picture here – it’s a refugee boat. I got it from watching the news on television and I did loads of drawings of a helicopter hovering over boats in the Med. It’s meant to make you do exactly what you’re doing – (I’m bending my head sideways while I look) – it’s meant to make you feel a bit awkward. Lots of people say “No Fiona, it should be this way, or that way. That’s exactly what I’m going for – a feeling of “ooh, no, not right”, it makes you feel uncomfortable. Something about all those people packed into a tiny space, sort of sums up the refugee dilemma to me, people just fleeing. It’s uncomfortable. It’s terrifying. It’s horrible. Trying to get that across.
This lady just came to me. I just wanted desert women. Very very simple. So that you look at their eyes and you see the anger and sadness at the dilemma they’re in.
This one is in honour of Saif: an Iraqi woman in traditional dress.
This one is a black Madonna, I don’t know where she came from. Design is what I’m really about. Placing a person in the context of design. A spiritual icon.
Here’s one that I sold ‘Drowning Man’. So many die that way, fleeing conflict and desperate poverty.
This one is about a man and a ghost, someone has died. I call it Communion. It’s sort of about – the missing people. So many have died trying to get safe passage, and not making it, just dying.
This one is of an African dancer called Tshediso who came to Dartington last year on a programme about refugees. He was wonderful!
This is Julia Katerina who comes to play the Oud to us at our refugee gatherings. I’ve done several of her, different incarnations. She’s an extraordinary woman: my muse.
No one could seem to understand this one, then one person came in and got it straight away. This one I call “Rules of Border Engagement’. There’s the border, the refugees are the black pieces, the hostile forces are white, this is a tank and they’ve got the king, the control.
This one is a photo I took of Romanian refugee in London.The mural behind her is of Equiano, the first black slave freed in England in 1760; and Simon Bolivar who freed the South Americans from colonial rule. And she’s saying “I’m as good as these people”, and she is. She’s an amazing woman.
And from this I did a painting, which is probably my best one. I think probably I’ve been influenced here by the colours by Matisse, and the cubism of Picasso.
I was really young and at art school, I met a marvellous Scottish painter Robert MacBryde in London. These three artists are some of my guiding lights.
If you would like to support Integr8 in its work, enabling refugees and asylum seekers to integrate into their new communities and lead a purposeful life, by buying some of Fiona’s wonderful work – originals from £200, prints from £60 – (Postage extra) please contact Fiona at email@example.com