Our Artists in Residence for 2017 look back on their projects, how they developed, and what has happened since.
The initial pitch I gave to the Wales Arts Review when I applied to be their artist in residence ended up being pretty different from the work I finally produced. Having started out by aiming to use the time to complete a poetry pamphlet based on colours and travel, I instead decided to write about the refugee crisis, alongside work exploring wider themes of home and migration.
Thankfully, the editorial team agreed with my change of heart! As a result, the residency provided me with a month to share poems, flash fiction, interviews and sections from a longer work-in-progress reflecting and reporting on this key political issue of our time.
When I applied to do the residency, Brexit had happened but Trump hadn’t. By the time July 2017 rolled around, issues around migration and refuge had become even more pressing. Political and media attacks on immigrants and asylum seekers had ratcheted up — from ugly tabloid headlines to Trump’s attempted ‘Muslim ban’. At the same time, hate crime stats had rocketed since the Brexit vote in June 2016.
I’ve thought a lot about my responsibility to use the space and platform I have to write about political and social issues. I don’t think it is incumbent on every writer to do this and not everything we write has to be political. But for me, it is really important that my writing at least attempts to provide a counter-narrative to the hateful representations of marginalised groups — be they women (as in my first novel), or refugees and migrants in my residency work.
Fiction and poetry are spaces where we can create empathy. Where we can invite readers to explore and reflect on lives and experiences that are not their own. If the right-wing media and politicians are intent on destroying empathy for those who differ from us, then as a writer it’s my job to try and build it.
You can explore all of the work Sian did for her residency here.