Artist and poet Nicky Arscott lays out the new collaborative project with Eric Ngalle Charles, drawing on a crowdfunder to create a new education resource for Wales.
Last September as part of my residency at Wales Arts Review I began a collaborative project with the Cardiff-based writer Eric Ngalle Charles. I took some of his poetry and turned it into a visual piece, exploring themes of migration, justice, and asylum. Ngalle has described his journey to Britain from Cameroon and through the immigration system as a process of “brutalisation and humiliation.” It is a story that needs to be told, yet ironically the re-telling and re-living of their experiences are part of what makes the process of claiming asylum so traumatic for many people.
Now, thanks to a chance meeting and a shared love of comics, we are being given the opportunity to turn Ngalle’s story into an educational poetry comic to be used as a teaching resource in schools.
I met Benjamin Dix when we both sat on a panel discussion about the role of art in publishing, at Jaipur Bookmark, a literary festival in India. He explained how his decision to start exploring comics as a means of communication came about as he was reading Art Spiegelman’s Maus whilst sheltering in a bunker in Sri Lanka during the civil war. At the time he was working for the UN, and he suddenly realised just how much more potentially powerful a comic strip could be, compared to a written report.
Ben has gone on to set up PositiveNegatives, which combines ethnographic research with illustration and photography, adapting personal testimonies into art, advocacy and education materials and has worked extensively with a range of organisations such as The Guardian, The Nobel Peace Centre, and the UN. Their sister charity, Why Comics? exists to inspire and engage young people on a range of humanitarian and social issues through innovative educational material. It’s completely free for schools and organisations to sign up and receive free downloadable multimedia resources. (here: http://whycomics.org/)
Why Comics? has agreed to publish the collaboration Ngalle and I will be creating once we have raised enough money through a crowdfunding campaign (you can find it here). We are also incredibly lucky to have the backing of Wales PEN Cymru, one of the 145 PEN centres from across the world affiliated to PEN International, which promotes literature and defends freedom of expression. It campaigns on behalf of writers around the world who are persecuted, imprisoned, harassed and attacked for what they have written.
We want to raise enough money to cover the translation of the poems into Welsh (this will be undertaken by Welsh Language Children’s Poet Laureate, Casia Wiliam); the illustration fees, and a professional audio recording of Ngalle performing the piece. Any money raised beyond our target will be donated to Wales PEN Cymru, and we plan for the finished illustrations to be exhibited further down the line, with any profit from their sale also going to Wales PEN Cymru.
Telling stories through the medium of comics makes them more accessible, encouraging dialogue, empathy, and a more inclusive classroom environment. The comic will be accompanied by a lesson plan tailored to fit the school curriculum, covering subjects such as literature, drama and geography. What fills me with excitement about our project is that it is rooted in Wales and yet has the potential to reach an international audience, taking poetry into the classroom through an engaging visual and metaphorical representation of one of the most important global issues of today, which also happens to be the story of my friend Ngalle.