Wednesday, 26 April 2017

The Homeless Library: a homecoming

The Booth Centre and arthur+martha would like to invite you to the opening celebration of three projects, The Homeless Library, Sing me to Sleep and Mosaics made at The Booth.

Join us on the 8th May at 1pm at The Booth Centre Manchester, for a sharing of the artwork, refreshments, and readings. All are welcome.

'A Perfect Vacuum'. From the Homeless Library Collection

The project The Homeless Library is nearly at its official finish point, but in truth this feels like the beginning, not the end.

There are so many stories that Phil and I didn't capture, so many strands of the history of homelessness that we only touched on. And like any history, it's happening right now; since completing the interviews and poems for the project, new people have become homeless for new reasons, we have seen people find accommodation, take steps forward in their personal battles with alcohol, substance abuse, mental health issues, relationships, tragically we have also seen others not make it.

The Homeless Library has fed directly into our new project Armour, sharing the stories of the homeless people who've served in the armed forces. Threads from it are teased out in Phil's Berlin-based project Heaven-Proof House, which asks refugees about the nature of home.

The Library has had a profound effect on us personally. In many ways it has been the hardest project we've ever done, because it was so emotionally intense and because we had so much to learn. The situation of some people we met was heartbreaking. But hope was also present in each day, each session - and humour and imagination, even delight. We were on a steep learning curve too: this was the first time we had attempted a formal "history". In fact, our Library is the first-ever history of British homelessness thats ever been attempted. The voices of homeless people are finally being heard and accepted, as a valuable, fascinating part of all our stories. 

'Hamlet' from The Homeless Library collection.

We have also been approached by other organisations, to share our experience. The Museum of Homelessness have liaised with us and are doing excellent work. Recently, Lois met Karl Hyde from Underworld whose Street Poem project for MIF will soon start. A few days ago we were asked if another organisation could pick up our idea and start a Homeless Library in London...

The Homeless Library will continue to grow and develop, sending its message to the world. We would like to thank the many, generous-hearted Homeless Librarians who contributed and who led the way.

My name is hello thank you and goodbye 
My name is many, legion
Woke up this morning not in my own bed
Half a bed it was I fell out of

Fell out across fields, over and out
Over and out to continue
Made my way here, my name is many
My name is hello thank you and goodbye.


To download your free ebook from The Homeless Library visit blurb.
For more information and links to films and artwork please visit /the-homeless-library/
And for more interviews and project diaries look on this site at arthur-and-martha.blogspot

Monday, 24 April 2017

We came with no names, but we leave as kings. Pt 2

Princess, by Fatima. Berlin 2017

On the invitation of Kunstasyl arts organisation, Phil visited one of the largest refugee hostels in Berlin. In the second of this two-part blog he speaks with members of Kunstasyl, artists Barbara Caveng and Charlotte Danoy-Kent.


I'm in a vast room, the core of an asylum seekers’ centre at Mertensstrasse, in Berlin. In the midst of this colossal space is a small stage and on the stage, a tent is being made by the Kunstasyl arts organisation. It's the beginning of their new project Kings. It's the early stages and the possibilities are as big as this room and the many human beings within it. 

I see the unmistakable flame-red hair of Barbara, the artist who devised Kunstasyl, and walk over to greet her. She has given me advice and introductions at crucial stages in my project in Berlin. At moments when she’s most needed, Barbara seems to appear. Her work with people who've had to flee from war began with the escalating violence in the Middle East, but she’s been making collaborative art projects for a much longer time.

Barbara: "Since 2003, I have worked with individuals making projects that ask a question. Not necessarily about a problem, just a question. Asking a good question, that is the art! I’d been doing a residency in Syria, talking to people, asking questions. When war started in Syria one and a half years later, suddenly people I'd been talking to over there were standing here in Berlin. So I started asking questions again.” 

The result was the remarkable exhibition Da Heim: Glimpses into Fugitive Lives, at the Europaischer Museum in Berlin. One of the most emotionally affecting exhibitions I've ever witnessed, a beautiful gesture of communal making which contradicts the fear, judgement, aggression that often meet the word “refugee”.

“A society is not just something we live inside, but something we can change. That is a big question, right there. I don't know if European society can make a change. If you see the project at Spandau, which created the exhibition, as an experiment with 100 people, then you can say it was successful. But how much energy and skill was focussed in that small space! What would happen if we did the same thing with a million people? Thats what needs to happen. But I don't have answers, just questions. Take my work as an experiment, not a recipe.”

I talk awhile with Charlotte who is helping to develop Kings, the next phase of the project. Kings will be a performance that uses the exhibition as a backdrop. Charlotte is busying on the plans for a group structure based on the pyramid of human needs. As we talk about the piece, people come and go, asking her for guidance, or simply what's going on. She answers them all with good humour and infectious enthusiasm for the work. Her intense focus on the process of making draws people to her, they're intrigued. She explains: the tent structure will become a metaphor for survival - and for what is needed in our lives beyond survival. 

I help for a little while, asking residents for their thoughts on the nature of kingship. One man discusses this with his group of friends, in Arabic. "We have decided," he says at last to me in English. The others nod at him, and he tells me: "Every king is only a poor servant of god." 

As I say good bye, Barbara waves me over. “You know, the exhibition at the museum has been a big success. But we have to build on that. We mustn't just leave it, we need to add life to it, performance. We came with no names but we leave as kings…”

Heaven-Proof House is a poetry project based in Berlin, devised by Philip Davenport from arthur+martha CIC and supported by the British Council and Arts Council England. The project continues the arthur+martha strand of international work with marginalised communities, connecting people across economic, social and physical boundaries. 

Berliner Stadmission run the Mertensstrasse building described here. Many thanks to Kunstasyl, Carlo Schenk, Berliner Stadmission.

Friday, 21 April 2017

We came with no name, but we leave as kings. Pt 1

Das Boot, by Ivan. Berlin, 2017

On the invitation of Kunstasyl arts organisation, Phil visited one of the largest refugee hostels in Berlin. In this two-part blog he goes on a walk-through of the building, and speaks with members of Kunstasyl, artists Barbara Caveng and Charlotte Danoy-Kent.


I'm inside of one of the biggest rooms I've ever entered. The word "inside" feels inappropriate for this space, which is the size of a football pitch. A big football pitch. The walls are springtime colours, crisp yellow, greens, and some sky blue. Day filters through ceiling skylights. It's the ground floor of a repurposed factory, now home to a whole community of people who've had to flee from war and leave their homes, to find temporary refuge here in Spandau, in Berlin. 

My guide around the building is Carlo Schenk, an intern who is studying social sciences. I must look overwhelmed because Carlo smiles at my expression. "Huge isn't it? The first time I came here it looked unbelievable to me. Even now, after working two weeks here, it still looks too big. This open place is the shared area, over there are the tables and the kitchens, then there are smaller areas like the kindergarten and the workshops at the edge."

We walk around, and Carlo points out things of interest, but it's impossible to focus. Continual human voices roll across the space like waves. Children's voices, high pitched and excited as they play, men chatting at tables, or in the barber shop, a woman scolding her kid, all of them echoing together. Enough dining tables to serve hundreds of people. There's a big gleaming metal kitchen at one end of the room, a corner has been fenced off for a kindergarten, another space is a gym, another is a textile studio. At the far end, rows of planters containing palm trees and wooden benches, made by occupants of this "heim". People stroll back and forth, as if they're in a park. 

"The barber shop is great isn't it? People socialise there, it's a really important part of Middle Eastern culture and most here are from the Middle East. We wish we could get more people cooking in the kitchens because cooking is important as well, but right now it's just too difficult to organise more than three families at once."

Next to the big hall are the sleeping rooms, another vast space divided into a grid of high-walled rooms with no ceilings, each sleeping six people. Carlo knocks on the wall of one of the shared sleeping rooms, where he knows the occupant, but no one is in. I peep briefly into the room, a stark box of stacked bunk beds.

We go briefly upstairs to look at the offices and quiet area. At every entrance or exit point is a security guard. Why is that? "To keep everybody safe, from outside and from each other. People have to sleep here so they must feel safe. There's got to be rules and they've got to be kept to. People have to feel secure and respected."

Carlo is researching the experience of LGBT refugees at the moment. "People who are lesbian or gay are in danger of experiencing the same prejudice in some refugee communities as they did at home. The same pressures that meant they had to leave might be here as well..."

We return to the gigantic hall on the ground floor. It's a big, big, big gathering point, like an airport or a stadium, where people shrink to little miniatures on the horizon of the room. A place where you might suspend ordinary life, hoping to return to it in an unspecified future. A place where you might lose yourself for awhile.

Heaven-Proof House is a poetry project based in Berlin, devised by Philip Davenport from arthur+martha CIC and supported by the British Council and Arts Council England. The project continues the arthur+martha strand of international work with marginalised communities, connecting people across borders and boundaries. 

Berliner Stadmission is a social organisation with a Christian background, helping people in need. The Mertensstrasse building described here is currently being extended to take more people. Many thanks to Kunstasyl, Carlo Schenk, Berliner Stadmission.


Friday, 14 April 2017

A very important question

Blumen-Menschen by Marwa. Berlin 2016

Heaven-Proof House is a poetry project based in Berlin, devised by Philip Davenport from arthur+martha CIC and supported by the British Council and Arts Council England. The project continues the arthur+martha strand of international work with marginalised communities, connecting people across borders and boundaries. 

Phil writes:

I arrive at the asylum centre and a set of small obstacles defeat me. I want to meet someone to discuss an interview, but he isn't around. I need a table and chairs for making artwork with the kids, at my post in the corridor, by the security man. But Klaus the technical man is not around. Mohammed the security guy would normally help, but he also isn't around. He's translating a conversation for somebody who has a job centre interview. All of these small hiccups are made clumsier and bigger by my lack of language. I have no Arabic and am learning German, which refuses to stick in my head. 

So I go upstairs to see The Old Man, Karim. He's a frequent port of call and welcomes me into his room cheerily as he always does. He speaks good English and humours me by teaching me a few words in Arabic. We have talked about his journey from Iraq, paying human traffickers for the privilege of a grim boat journey. But we haven't talked about why he left. Once I've been settled into a chair and Karim has made sure I'm comfortable, he stares directly into my eyes and asks the uncomfortable question.


There is another question you should ask about why I leave my country. This is a very important question. When anybody leaves their country there is a reason. Why? For me, I was arrested there in Iraq for more than 35 days. We have been kidnapped by militia which worked with government because we is Sunni person and you know the militia is Shia. 

I was officer in the Saddam regime. For this reason they take us to the prison, to the prison. In such vehicles as civilians use. They come near my place where I lived and open door by very bad manner. They hit me in my head and said: "Don't move, don't rise your head."

They take us to the places where they work, near the government, The Ministry of Internal Affairs. I very frighten when I remember the bad situation. They have ability to kill and maybe throw body garbage. Nothing do, just obey them.

35 days in a prison, in a room. Without ventilation, without cooler, electricity cutting more than 10 hours. In my opinion, someone wrote to them about me, the intelligence secret person. In Iraq it was famous for this manner. One person in room with me, a young man. What was he accused, I don't know. He was hitten. Them hitting his leg and his head. His leg had bleeding, I don't know why they did this. I don't why, but you cannot speak them. Cannot whisper them. "Don't speak, don't whisper," the guard said. That is right, silence.

They don't give medicine to me, I was afraid for my son bringing it. After I go out the bad jail.

After stay in prison they make report, total information, where we live where we work. In my opinion the informations don't reach for anything. Nobody speak about me, no guilty. In my opinion I am arrested because I was officer in Saddam regime and I am Sunni. In the last days, they spoke to me. They said, "Mister you will go to your family. You have done nothing and we are sorry." 

But what did they do? They have many cars there for police, civilian cars. They said, "OK, we shall arrive you to your home." I said I don't believe they let me go. Me and four guards go in the civilian car. They laugh. They say: "We shall not arrive in your house." They left me in the different place. They know my eyes not good. I cannot cross street, cannot see. I try to catch taxi, but they do not stop. No one stop for me, they are too scared. But at last, God's wish it was, somebody picked me up and returned me to my family.

If you stay in such country, maybe another time they not arrest you, they kill you.

Friday, 7 April 2017


Konig, by Anonymous. Berlin, 2017.

The arthur+martha international outreach project Heaven-Proof House is a collaboration with refugees in Berlin, devised by Phil. The project is based at an asylum seekers' centre, where residents have kindly granted interviews, made poems and artworks. The artwork above, like most artworks for this project, is by a child who is resident at the centre. 


The artwork for my project in Berlin has been made in a narrow corridor which is the entrance way to the Berlin refugee hostel in Spandau, where I'm based. Every week, I put out my stall, which is a rickety wooden table and two or three chairs. On the table are placed pens, pencils, ink and a heap of paper. 

Within a few minutes I have usually been joined by seven or eight kids who launched themselves at the art materials with formidable energy. Technically, they are children, but their life experience has taken them far beyond the worldliness of many adults. They have come out of the war zones of the world. 

This is a quiet afternoon. Most of the kids have gone on a trip. But M, one regular member of the art gang, has been left behind so she sits down and lords it over the table. She splashes some ink around and experiments with a geometry compass. As she works, we talk. I have rudimentary German, which she mocks gleefully. "Dumkopf!" She also has a tiny amount of Arabic, she names a few of the creatures she's drawing in amusing combinations of the two languages. 

Although she's full of jokiness, M has a dark cloud hanging around her, like a familiar. If anyone crosses her for any reason, real or imagined, she summons a ferocious glare. And follows it with a stream of abuse. She can be disruptive to an impressive degree, or delightful. But it is only ever her who decides which.

Today after 20 minutes or so, just as she is running out of energy, two new arrivals join us. They are new to the art group and new to the hostel as well. They look very tiny and very frightened, like shy animals. They are intrigued by the paper and the pens and by the possibility that they also could play. They are a brother and sister, perhaps four or five years old. I hope M won't be too vigorous with them.

The girl very quietly and uncertainly begins to draw. Her little brother stares at the white page. M jumps in with ruthless enthusiasm, she points to the picture and gives it a thumbs up. "Ja! Das ist gut!" And then hoots with manic laughter. The two new arrivals don't know what to make of her, but sense she is friendly. M makes an "accidental" ink spillage to amuse them, smirking as I mop it away. The little boy tentatively reaches out towards the paper and draws a single line. M larks about a bit more, stamping up and down the corridor and making fun of the security guard. 

The boy looks at his paper awhile and adds another line. As I watch him slowly constructing this drawing, I realise that his hands are shaking. The drawing grows, the progress somehow fuelled by M's antics. Her boldness gives the two new kids a bit of shared bravery. The little boy with shaking hands is slowly becoming lost in his artwork, a picture of a king. Perhaps this is the first drawing he has made since his arrival here, since reaching safety. His expression is faraway, distracted. His sister smiles at him. 

M nods with satisfaction, as if she knew this would happen all along. 

Heaven-Proof House is funded by Arts Council England and the British Council. Advice and support has been given by the Kunstasyl arts organisation.