Siân Norris looks back on and shares what she experienced during her residency at Wales Arts Review as part of the new series, Artists in Residency which surrounded the refugee crisis. throughout 2017 these artists, including Siân Norris will take a leading creative role in what Wales Arts Review publishes, centring their skills on a challenging project over the course of a month. We were inundated with applications, receiving hundreds of emails about the positions, and it was no easy task whittling down all that talent to this final eleven. Our team of six editors debated long into the night, and in the end, we decided on a collection of people who we most want to work with, and whose work excites us. We think you will be excited by them too.
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.