Talk of the Town Art: Celebrated Artist Sara Shamma

An artist has partnered with a university to create an exhibition which plans to raise awareness about modern day slavery.

Sara Shamma, a celebrated Syrian artist, who now lives in Dulwich, has partnered with King’s College London and the Helen Bamber Foundation for her exhibition entitled Sara Shamma: Modern Slavery.

The project has been inspired by Ms Shamma’s first-hand experience of hearing the traumatic stories of women and girls who have been kidnapped by ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

According to Ms Shamma, these women and girls were displayed in real slave markets, exhibited on platforms in front of hundreds of men and sold to the highest bidder.

Ms Shamma said: “As an artist I draw inspiration from the immediate world around me. At certain points in my life that immediate world has been confused, angry and frightening.

“Those personal, close encounters have motivated me to engage with the issues and to use my medium, painting, to comment and challenge the status quo.

“Over time, we have frequently turned to artists to make sense of difficult or complex issues.

“Very much in this tradition, I hope that my responses to, and engagement with survivors, through this residency at King’s College London, will help raise awareness and understanding of this very live issue.”

Sara Shamma, Artist

Ms Shamma’s residency will explore the psychological impact of modern slavery, the meaning of survival and recovery from the perspectives of survivors, the thoughts of those who work to support their recovery as well as those who campaign for better support.

With consent, Ms Shamma will audio record interviews with women survivors of modern slavery who are receiving support from the Helen Bamber Foundation.

These interviews will inform Ms Shamma’s creation of large-scale portraits of the women which will be exhibited in a major exhibition from October 1 to November 22 curated by art historian, Kathleen Soriano, at Bush House, King’s College London.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a book of essays and insights into the project by Ms Shamma.

Alison Duthie, director of programming at King’s College London, said: “King’s Artists exists to provide academics and artists with a platform through which to interrogate and examine some of the most challenging
questions for contemporary society.

“In drawing together the experiences of women who have suffered the physical and psychological impact of modern slavery, Sara Shamma and Dr Sian Oram will provide both a means through which survivors can process their painful experiences, while also raising the public consciousness of the plight of the millions of women entrapped as modern slaves around the world.”

Sara has been working with Dr Sian Oram, lecturer in women’s mental health at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience.

Findings from Ms Shamma’s residency will build on their project, which describe the health needs of trafficked people in England and help existing projects aimed at reducing the risk of violence against women.

Dr Sian Oram said: “It is by now well-documented that trafficked women report a high prevalence of mental distress many months, and even years, after regaining their freedom.

“Escape from situations of human trafficking cannot be equated with recovery from its harms.

“Through this project we hope to gain a better understanding of what helps women in their recovery and to communicate this to the widest possible audience.”

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