Exploring engagement with the arts as a way to destigmatize and prevent mental ill health, The Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival is returning for its 16th year, with a programme of performance, film, exhibitions and community events.
I caught up with broadcaster Halina Rifai to talk about Moving Minds, a multi-arts event at Glad Café which will bring together the refugee and asylum seeker community.
Hey, Halina! So, what was the thought process behind Moving Minds?
It’s always important to think about the celebration of communities and the great work and culture that they bring, because ultimately they are part of our community. Integration brings in a wealth of new knowledge. One interesting thing is that mental health might not even be defined as mental health within these communities. They might not even use those terms. So it’s about looking at the things that are on the periphery of that and addressing those: community, collaboration, love – storytelling as well. It’s a celebration of storytelling, and storytelling underpins pretty much so many things that we do. I think, particularly when you have to leave that family behind, those communities, those countries, the one thing you can take with you is your stories.
It’s important that we help to maintain and nurture that storytelling as well, because it can provide safety for people. So it’s about bringing all different creative practices together and telling the stories of these people.
OK, sounds great: what can we look forward to specifically?
So far we’ve got Hidden Rhythms, which is a collective of female poets, songwriters, and playwrights. Some of the women who are part of Hidden Rhythms are asylum seekers and refugees who have come to the UK. They work with people like Vox Liminis and other independent creative freelancers and musicians. So they come from all over the world, but Glasgow is their home. The work that they do questions the themes of belonging and safety, but also finds silliness in difficult times. They’ve performed at Tramway, at Barras Art and Design, St Luke’s, and they’ve kind of got this friendship at the core of it, which is just phenomenal. And the resilience of them all is just totally inspiring.
There is also a photo exhibition by 17- and 18-year-olds who have come through Edinburgh Council and social services. What they would do is take a camera for a couple of hours, go outside and connect with nature and so on, but then pull the themes that came out for them. They’ve each submitted one photo that they would like to represent them, and there’s a caption, like an exhibition. But we’re also going to get them to read their captions in their native language and then interpret it, so that people can actually sit on a couple of audio stations and listen to them.
The amazing thing about this project is they’re actually going to be using that as part of the Mental Health Foundation training going forward, to help those communities. So for me, that was just incredible.
And then the other thing is In Our Shoes, which is from Maryhill Integration Network. It’s a booklet of poetry that features voices of diverse women and writers. It explores the kind of happiness, the frustration, the dreams of everyday life. They come from a range of backgrounds, but they’ve all experienced a lot of pain leaving their homeland, so they all contributed to this.
Speaking about how different cultures experience and talk about mental health, what is the learning from that, for you?
Language is a big thing, isn’t it? Spoken language; but we all have our own dictionaries. We define things in different ways. For me, it’s listening, and I don’t think we do listen enough. Exposing ourselves to as many people as possible in a way that we are understanding a bit more. But also understanding the sheer pain that these people have been through; nine times out of ten, they don’t want to leave the place that they’ve had to leave. So it’s understandable sometimes that it is hard to integrate because you’re having to change or lose that inner part of yourself you’ve grown up with. I have a lot of respect for the resilience and the want to keep going for the next generation that comes after you. I just hope it gets easier as everything moves along.
I just want to touch on ‘Gather’ being the theme of the festival. Is that a reaction to the last couple of years?
Definitely. It was a great time for us to regroup. There’s going to be some touching things; there’s going to be some testing, challenging things. But like I said earlier, it’s a celebration as well. We’ve been through so much and some people have been through things that are unimaginable. But they got through it and, you know, it’s trying to remember how bad it was at times, but at the same time they’ve actually moved forward.
The brilliant thing about this Mental Health Arts Festival programme in particular is that it does cast your mind back and it may show you how tough it was. But again, it does amplify that resilience that we all have within us, and I suppose it even builds on that resilience by exposing us to that.
The Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival runs from 4th-24th May in venues across Scotland
Moving Minds is at Glad Café on the 21st May