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Faceless Arts and TLANG used creativity to research ‘What is the role of ‘welcome’ in contemporary utopia?’. Taking the starting point of ‘utopia’ as deriving from the Greek ‘ou topos’, meaning ‘no place’ or ‘no where’, this interdisciplinary, collaborative project combined language research methodologies with visual arts and performance. Visual arts, oral history and song sharing workshops were held with refugee and asylum seeker communities at local third sector organisations. If you would like to read more about it please read our blog here 

The Research


Using non-linear modes of creative expression, the project worked with host communities, refugees and asylum seekers in Leeds and Wakefield to examine how newcomers are welcomed into our societies, teasing out narratives which were translated into a cutting edge interactive performance called Driftwood.

This was possible with funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) for the Connected Communities 2016 Festival, for which the theme was Community Futures and Utopias. The development of elements of the Driftwood performance formed part of a collaborative project between Faceless Arts (Outdoor Community Engagement Experts) and the Leeds-based team for the AHRC-funded TLANG project (Translation and Translanguaging: Investigating Linguistic and Cultural Transformations in Superdiverse Wards in Four UK Cities). More information about this collaborative process can be found here.


This early version of Driftwood, along with further research findings into translanguaging practices in the arts, were showcased at the Utopia Fair as part of the AHRC Connected Communities Festival 2016 at Somerset House in London on 24, 25, 26 June 2016. The research collaboration thus formed a pilot for a larger Driftwood project developed by Faceless Arts, which, subject to further funding, will be toured nationally and internationally in 2016 and beyond.

The Performance

Driftwood is an emotive, positive, outdoor art performance which is available for touring. Where communities/audiences are welcomed to explore migration and newcomers to their society, which results in a professionally performed outdoor performance and a community engaged visual arts installation made of Driftwood. Growing from its first performance at the Utopia Fair Driftwood intends to work with communities, often hard to reach communities, to explore how they would welcome people into their midst.


The three-hour set begins with a 2-hour workshop where conversations around refuge and asylum ensue, and the community is encouraged to remain or return for the performance, to welcome the arrival of a Driftwood boat and its ‘cargo’, and collect a flag to keep after the performance.


In the 40 minute promenade performance a driftwood boat with driftwood puppets sets sail through a town, city or festival and seeks a place to dock. The Driftwood performance comprises a striking visual non-verbal performance using skilled and sensitive puppeteers, set to an original pre-recorded soundtrack and live score created by vocal world music composer Maria Jardardottir.


As the Driftwood boat nears the workshop venue, the performers facilitate the workshop participants to welcome the driftwood refugees and provide sanctuary for them, thus concluding the performance. Should the community not feel able to welcome the boat and its’ “people” at this time, the boat will continue to sail on until it is out of sight.




We hope that the Driftwood Project will:

  • Improve Community integration

  • Celebrate Diversity

  • Build better societies

  • Allow people to express  themselves creatively

  • Provide a voice for those rarely heard

  • Creatively capture migrant/refugee issues

  • Increase understanding of the migrant/refugee crisis

  • Enhance communication skills

  • Enable steps to settlement

  • Create a positive profile for marginalised communities


Faceless Arts and TLANG collaborated again in 2017, to 

co-deliver Migration and Settlement - Extending the Welcome.

Working again with RETAS (Refugee Education Training Advice Service, our plan was to work across the art forms of drama, visual arts and music to explore the nature of belonging with recently settled migrants in Leeds.  We worked at the Ark a community centre in the Hovingham area of Roundhay Leeds within walking distance of our project partner RETAS, where most of the participants were clients.

Our weekly sessions had a similar format:

VISUAL ARTS – Every participant created their own name badge on entering the space using acetate and sticky back vinyl.  We would wear these at each session.  We then worked together to create stained glass window effect panels of the streetscape of Leeds.  This was a way of rooting the project in the area and finding the common ground of belonging in this new area where settlement in UK was advanced through RETAS.  The visual art work, right at the beginning of the session, provided a gentle, informal start and a means of catching up/reconnecting with each other each week.  Also, it helped us integrate new members as the group changed from week to week.

SONG  - The sharing and making of songs of greetings and welcome, using a multitude of languages, formally started the session and joyfully brought us together as team.

DRAMA – Drama enabled us to explore culturally specific gestures, greetings and social etiquette from the UK and other cultures, recognising both differences and similarities, after which we were able to share stories of belonging and settlement.


We started with a blank sheet of paper. In the back or our minds, we thought we might use paper puppetry, shadow puppetry or live drama.  In the end, we opted for shadow puppetry as it utilised all the artwork and material we had generated in the workshops:-

The stained glass effect street scenes of Harehills became colourful backdrops on the shadow screen;

the songs we generated provided the “filmic” music and we cut shadow puppets for the stories; our name badges became the credits at the end of the shadow performance/film.

We voice recorded three of the most regular attendees' stories and then worked with them to re-enact these stories on the shadow screen.  Using the shadow screen also provided an easy frame for filming the performance, meaning it could be reserved and repeated at will.  We performed the shadow puppetry live for an audience with our participants at West Yorkshire Playhouse and at RETAS in Leeds.  We returned to West Yorkshire Playhouse during refugee week to present the film.

Besides creating memorable works of art and settling experiences for the refugees, the project became an interesting experiment in informal English language training.  We were conversing in English, socially and creatively, using visual, aural and gestural language throughout, which the participants noted improved their language skills and fostered their better understanding of some of the idiosyncrasies of English (and Yorkshire) culture.

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