The Silent University: Giving a voice to asylum seekers

silent universituy 300x225 The Silent University: Giving a voice to asylum seekers

(c) Ahmet Ögüt

The idea of The Silent University started at the beginning of 2012. It was inspired by the urgent need for a common voice for asylum seekers, refugees and migrants, who although from a professional background, could not practice their profession due to the limitations of residency permits, language barriers and other bureaucratic restrictions.

The Silent University challenges the idea of silence as a passive state and investigates how to use it as an active method. We aim to reactivate the knowledge that is lost during the years of the process of seeking asylum.

There will be a series of Silent courses taking place on 26, 28 November and 3 December at the Tate Modern’s East Room and Starr Auditorium. Courses are free and open to everyone.

The first course, on different types of Arabic calligraphy, will be lead by Behnam Al Agzeer, a calligrapher from Mosul, Iraq. Then B.N. a nurse from the Democratic Republic of Congo, will perform her course on a consultation process before surgery. On the second day Mulugeta Fikadu, from Eritrea, will perform his course on sexually transmitted diseases & the history of HIV, as well as Geraldine Takundwa, a Human Rights Activist from Zimbabwe, who will perform her course on outside of asylum. Lastly, we will have Dr. Nazar Pola, a doctor from Mosul, Iraq, performing his course on what is health?, and B. K., an accountant from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who will perform her course on cashbook for good accounting.

Silent courses will be a moment for visitors to explicitly witness the physical presence of the Silent University’s lecturers, all of whom are asylum seekers or refugees. During this series of live events the actual content of the lectures will not be given away immediately, and no words will be exchanged. Each course will be performed in silence in different ways, depending on the topic of the course, and will be delivered in two formats: the first will be in the form of the silent performances; and the second will be online. After submitting a registration request via The Silent University’s website, the ‘participant’ will be given a password that will provide access to online course contents.

As the first step towards a long-term collaboration we are already working with Dr. Amit S. Rai, Senior Lecturer at the New Media and Communication department at the School of Business and Management Queen Mary, University of London. Dr. Amit is making the school’s Media Lab available periodically for The Silent University participants. We are also planning to continue working closely with community centres such as Migrant Resourse Center, Southwark Refugee Communities Forum and United Migrant Education Project.

In 2013 the Silent University will be extended beyond the UK. Tensta Konsthall will host the Silent University in Stockholm, which will give an opportunity for the Silent University to have support at least for one more year. With this support we will be able to expand the resource room, to have new lecturers and consultants from Stockholm to join in, and to bring some of the lecturers and consultants from London to Stockholm. We are planning to work closely with FARR, The Swedish Network of Refugee Support Groups and other community centres.

The Silent University has already started to create its own knowledge bank. Our Resource Room is already open to the visitors at the Welcome Room at Tate Modern until end of November and it will move to the Delfina Foundation for another two weeks after that.

Together with the Resource Room we have a Screening Programme, which include Katarina Zdjelar’s Shoum (2009), in which two Belgrade musicians interpret the pop hit Shout by Tears for Fears without knowledge of the English language. And Antonio Vega Macotela’s A Platoon (2011), a video which recorded Mexican soldiers talking about their dreams, but because of fear they silently mouthed the descriptions.

The Silent University’s first Reader, the project’s accompanying publication, is also available. Anyone can bring a relevant book for the resource room to get one copy of the Reader in return. The Reader features contributions by the Silent University and external consultants including; Carlos Cruz, who is a Learning Organizer at the United Migrant Education Project, London; Dr. Ali Kaviani, who is an independent choreographer, performer, astrophysicist and cook; and Uvindu Kurukulasuriya, a Sri Lankan journalist living in exile.

On 1 of December we are organising a conference at the Starr Auditorium at Tate Modern, which will be an opportunity for participants and the public to discuss what would be the ideal ‘alternative education’ model. We will have speakers from several alternative platforms including the Centre for Possible Studies, The Public School, University of Local Knowledge, and United Migrant Education Project.

The Silent University will constantly extend itself to other cities wherever the same urgency exists, collaborating with art institutions, academies, and community centers.

The Silent University at Tate Modern is in partnership with Delfina Foundation.

For more information

The Silent University opens at the Tate on Monday 26 November

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  • VicTheBrit

    Completely right! We should be spending our cash on really useful things like more CCTV surveillance, trigger-happy armed responce teams, crappy subs, G4S security and UKBA seat-warmers…

  • Angus McKay

    Thank you very much, I know I’m right, however I don’t agree with spending our cash on some of your really not-so-useful useful things.

  • Angus McKay

    Is that the best I can do? – no, but it’s more than good enough for you.

    “wonderful initiative” – mundane, but at least you managed spell your mundane offering correctly – well done!

    You’re correct, I should not waste my lessons on you – you would probably benefit more from silent lessons – y’know, hand and facial expressions – why not try a silent course at the Silent University.


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