Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff
Sun 23 July
Nigel Pugh’s chosen subject for his latest exhibition could not be more prescient, or important. Focusing on six individual volunteers, all of whom work with refugees across Wales, Creating Sanctuary is a crucial project. Too often, it is easy to forget the myriad of people that are involved in supporting refugees, particularly given the ubiquitous negative media attention. Pugh’s work, a creation of a set of portraits, hopes to illuminate and identify commonalities and cohesion amongst humans, such as ‘work, security of home, family, and friends’.
It is notable that Pugh has chosen to focus on the volunteers, particularly as it is the volunteers that, on the surface, visitors are most likely to share the most in common with. By selecting volunteers, visitors can consider their position in relation to both the volunteer, and the refugees that their work impacts upon. Pugh has noted that he wanted to ‘shift the narrative away from the controlled national media’ in turn ‘aiming to localise the narrative back toward demonstrated compassion and humanity’. Using volunteers, rather than refugees, images of which many have become desensitized to, helps to remind visitors of the importance of basic kindness and empathy.
Pugh’s subjects were captured in various settings: home, work and in the community. These settings are well chosen, highlighting the changing impact of the selected environment upon the participant. Pugh, when spending time with each volunteer asked them various questions about what brought them to their role as a volunteer, as well as the importance of volunteering, alongside its benefits and difficulties. Each participant’s answers to the prescribed interview questions are partially transcribed next to the collection of images, helping to provide an insight into the volunteers’ motivations and their impetus to getting involved.
Creating Sanctuary is displayed to purposefully coincide with Volunteers’ Week and Refugee Week. Pugh’s work, and his intention, is admirable. Aware of the impact that his artwork can have, his chosen subject is entirely worthy, and Pugh has noted that he hopes the project will aid with the integration of refugees in Wales, as well as leading to increased voluntary action.
words SIOBHAN DENTON