Naohiko Omata encounters not ‘refugee artists’ but ‘artists who happened to become refugees’ in Uganda
- 23 June 2015
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Dr Omata writes for The Conversation about the creative people he met in Rwamwamja refugee camp
In the article 'The unexpected creativity that thrives in refugee camps' in The Conversation, Dr Naohiko Omata writes about his recent trip to the Ugandan refugee camp of Rwamwanja where he encountered people with a passion for art, music and dance. Here he met James, for whom sculpting is his 'lifework', and 16-year-old Francoise who is passionate about drums. Both had fled the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and both are now earning a living and enlivening camp life through their art.
As Dr Omata writes, ‘Conceptions of forced displacement are very often tied to the notion of “loss”. Once people are forcibly dislocated from their countries of origin, refugees are perceived to have lost their homes, land, jobs, family, friends, even identities. But certain things do remain. Skills and passions are brought along and liven life on the other side.’ And what's more, ‘their fellow refugees recognise the value of their art and willingly pay for their artistic skills and products. This indicates that despite the challenging environment, refugees in the camp are not reduced to “bare life”: they cherish art and music as an important part of their communal life in the camp.’
For refugees, being adaptive, creative and innovative is often necessary in order to meet basic needs, to develop income-generating activities, or to keep long-term aspirations alive. On 17 July, the Humanitarian Innovation Project will be launching a new report titled Refugee Innovation: Humanitarian Innovation that Starts with Communities, which focuses on examples and case studies of ‘bottom-up innovation’ among different refugee populations. The report, funded by the World Humanitarian Summit, highlights the need for the humanitarian system to recognise the capacities of affected populations as well as their vulnerabilities.