The plight, privations and bags of asylum seekers in Britain are the controversial themes of a bold ceramic show that opened at the Royal College of Art SHOW ONE last next week. ‘Displacement’, features the MA graduation work of Matthew Raw and draws on the first-hand stories of asylum seekers from Zimbabwe. Central to the work are large-scale representations of the bags in which those forced to flee have hurriedly packed their possessions. Grayson Perry, the Turner prize winning ceramic artist, spotted Matthew’s work when visiting the college and has interviewed him for a forthcoming edition of the BBC’s ‘The Culture Show’. “Grayson particularly liked the use of text on my pieces,”’ says Matthew. “I explained to him that these confusing layers of text mirror the experiences of many currently seeking asylum in the UK.”
Seeking to get behind the bald statistics on asylum, Matthew conducted interviews with asylum seekers to explore what it is like to be forced to leave your country, what possessions you take, and what kind of welcome you get at the end of your journey. “I wanted more than just second-hand accounts in newspaper articles,” says Matthew, 25. “So instead I listened to the amazing stories of how these people are constantly on the move.” One asylum seeker told him that her eight-year long experience of shifting from place to place around Britain was one of ‘everlasting exile’.
His idea of casting ceramic bags to explore these themes came when he and other students from the RCA were working towards a show at the Sigmund Freud Museum in London in September of last year. Freud, an asylum seeker from Nazi occupied Vienna in 1938, was given sanctuary in London. Susie Orbach of ‘Fat is a Feminist Issue’ fame bought Matthew’s casting of a laundry bag in the show and it is now installed in her Hampstead home. “I was really encouraged by Susie,” says Matthew, who went on to develop these ideas further for this exhibition which shows three of his bags. “My work explores and confronts the movement of people, and I cannot accept the plight of asylum seekers as merely a fact of life,”