Photo: Makhbuls project at Sanctuary, GOMA. Courtesy of Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow.
Sanctuary – Contemporary Art and Human Rights was a massive and ambitious project by Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) consisting of a major contemporary art exhibition and a 15-month programme of outreach workshops with asylum seekers and refugees across the city.
The aim of the project was to engage the power of contemporary art to explore and address issues relating to human rights and the plight of asylum seekers.
Developed in partnership with Amnesty International and the Scottish Refugee Council, the main exhibition featured work by some of the biggest names in art alongside work by asylum seeker and refugee artists resident in Britain.
"Their work was treated in the same way, had the same presence and opened on the same night," says Museum Manager Victoria Hollows who project-managed Sanctuary.
The exhibits explored concerns such as forced migration, displacement, torture, oppression, identity and concepts of 'home'.
"These are huge things to be talking about," says Victoria. They are also politically, quite timely.
Following the government’s dispersal programme the issue of asylum seekers caused a lot of unrest and attracted a lot of bad press in Glasgow. What GoMA wanted to achieve with Sanctuary was to publicly promote understanding of the issues, especially amongst the indigenous population, and encourage integration for the newcomers.
Victoria insists, "We are not just ticking a box for the council. We didn’t do it to be worthy, we did it to make a difference."
And if the results of the visitor surveys are anything to go by it sounds like they have certainly done that.
The exhibition attracted more than 200,000 visitors, many of whom took part in a visitor survey. When asked if the exhibitions had changed their attitudes towards asylum seekers 80% said yes. One of the typical comments made by respondents was 'the exhibition has given me a chance to stop and think'.
As well as the exhibition, 16 artists worked with over 1000 participants, of all ages, nationalities and artistic abilities, at workshops in community centres across Glasgow and in the education studio at GoMA. Work from these outreach projects was exhibited at GoMA, The Glasgow Film Theatre café and local community venues.
To support the workshop programme Sanctuary was part of a series of citywide multi-arts events, including film, dance, music, visual and performance arts.
Photo: The Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA), Glasgow is the second of two Scottish shortlisted institutions
When asked why she thinks that Sanctuary was shortlisted Victoria replies, "Hopefully they felt we hit so many of the criteria – an innovative project, that reached a lot of people whilst tackling difficult issues head on."
"It was a critical year for GoMA last year. Historically the gallery has always been well attended but we haven’t hit the nail on the head with the art community locally or nationally."
By exhibiting work by artists like Louise Bourgeois, Antony Gormley, Ross Sinclair and Bill Viola they have certainly increased their profile within the art world.
"We wanted to raise the gallery’s profile and to show some damn good artwork," says Victoria. "It is great for the people of Glasgow," she adds, "in previous years such artists would never have exhibited with us."
However she is quick to point out that raising the gallery’s profile is merely incidental to the project. What she wanted to deliver was a project that was "meaningful and moving" and one that dealt with the issues in an "intelligent and sensitive way".
"We wanted to make a difference," she says, "and I genuinely feel we did".
So why should they win?
"Everyone thinks they deserve to win and probably all the projects do," says Victoria. "Even just the shortlisting has been a superb boost to us. We knew we’d done a superb project but this was the icing on the cake."
Sanctuary is the first of what GoMA hopes will be a programme of two yearly projects integrating a major international exhibition with a 15 to 18-month outreach programme. In 2005 they are planning Violence Against Women in partnership with Amnesty, again, Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland.
Victoria explains that funding is always hard to come by so what would it mean to GoMA to clinch the £100,000 prize money? "It would mean that the Violence Against Women project could definitely go ahead," she says. "And being able to feed the success of one project into the next would be incredibly satisfying to everyone concerned."
The 24 Hour Museum is conducting a poll to find out who our readers want to win this year's Gulbenkian Prize.
To vote for The Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow click here.
If you haven’t decided yet which museum you want to win there will be another chance to vote in March when we will feature the full shortlist.
To find out more about the Gulbenkian Prize, click on this link to visit the website.