Artist wants Calgarians to walk a mile in refugees’ shoes

Artist wants Calgarians to walk a mile in refugees’ shoesimage

27 Oct 2015

On Salima Stanley-Bhanji’s last day in Jordan, after spending weeks talking with Syrian refugees about their experiences, one of her translators opened up about his own life experience as a Syrian refugee. Rather than conduct the interview herself, Bhanji asked one of her other translators, also from Syria, to ask the questions.

“The dialogue we saw between these two Syrian refugees, who didn’t know each other prior to this, was just so remarkable,” she said. “Afterwards, we asked the interviewer how it felt for him to ask questions and to receive those answers from a position similar to him.

“He said, ‘You know, when I hear these stories, my skin begins to crawl and I feel like I’m going to lose control.’ And at that point he began to tear up. This is a 22-year-old, really cool guy, who excused himself. It’s a hard exchange to be able to convey, but it was really powerful to see how war emotionally impacts people.”

Beginning in September, Bhanji, the CEO of the Calgary Centre for Global Community, spent time in Bangladesh and Jordan, gathering people’s life experiences on camera with cinematographer Eduardo Bunster.

Bhanji plans to use the interviews to create a multimedia exhibit here in Calgary. She obtained a pair of shoes from a number of her subjects, and plans to create a space where someone can literally step into another person’s shoes, put on a pair of headphones and experience their story.

“As human beings, we tend to be more oriented towards out immediate environment,” she explained. “Sometimes it’s difficult to envision what it’s like in another place, what people are like, and really feel the challenges people have in different parts of the world.”

Bhanji hopes the project will help connect Calgarians to people on the other side of the world, and help dispel some myths and misconceptions about them.

“There is this massive cloak over the people in that region where people in the west have a level of fear and misunderstanding,” she said.

She hopes to open the exhibit next year, and is currently looking for a venue to host it.