Alternative Dialogues with Swansea Asylum Seeker Group and Mission Gallery 

A community take-over of a gallery partnered with Swansea Bay Asylum and Refugee Group (SBASG) and Mission Gallery, Swansea. In order to get to know the group and participants we started to explore the language of food and decided to create a daily lunch club at the gallery - feeding up to 40 -60 people a day. Everyday a different person from a different country would cook a meal and others would help. We worked together with groups for 4 years producing a cook book, posters, recipe cards, photo works, installations and public meals in the gallery and for public events. Since then cooking workshops have developed within SBASG and many people have continued to develop their interest in cooking and achieved food and hygiene certificates.

We worked predominantly with female participants from the asylum and refugee community who would not often participate in workshops. By using a language and skills familiar to the participants, we were able to create an atmosphere where cultures exchanged and talked about the practicalities of cooking, the different ways of cooking rice, or how to juice a lemon, which opened up a level of discussion between each other and the public that would not have otherwise happened. Within these simple conversations significant issues were brought up naturally.

Often cultural projects working with people who are identified as vulnerable or other by the ‘cultural’ world can get co-opted by narratives of art and community practice. I think what Alternative Dialogues was about was looking at a way where we could create an equality, an exchange based on respect and learning autonomous to the cultural surroundings, where we ate meals together and discussed ideas.