Giving voice to perhaps the city’s least heard demographic, Settled in Glasgow – an Oral History Archive, SIGOHA, is an online archive sharing stories of people who’ve settled close to the River Clyde.
With recorded interviews from the experiences of over 23 Glaswegians born outside the UK, the stories reveal humorous, honest and often poignant transitional tales between another home and the Dear Green Place.
Founded by Jessie Lawson, the archive last month developed into Glasgow Anew: Untold Stories and Transnational Perspectives. Co-curated by Jessie and Alasdair Campbell a two-week exhibition hosted at the Pipe Factory, on the edge of the Barras Market, as part of Refugee Festival Scotland.
Having started the archive nine months ago following her graduation from the University of Glasgow, Jessie shares her motivation to re-examine Glasgow’s modern demographic. She says, “It’s all about getting history from normal people and letting them speak for themselves about immigration. While democratising how we record stories, I also wanted to celebrate a side of Glasgow and an alternative social history that often isn’t heard.”
“My mum should be a Scot in many ways because she has that kind of ‘get on with it’ attitude” – Reel, Dennistoun, originally Sudan
Following a call out to people already represented in the archive, the exhibition allowed stories to be shared in a public space via audio interviews, photographs and donated objects.
From sand collected on Robben Island—the location where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years of his political imprisonment—donated by Carol, originally from Cape Town, to a hand-stitched felt cushion made in Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre by Pinar, born in a tiny village in South-East Turkey, each item is an arousing symbol of a past journey with Glasgow the final destination.
Intimate in its sharing, yet having reached many Glaswegians in its exposition, Jessie believes the exhibition bridged positive experiences between the participants’ sense of belonging and local responses. Ranging in origins from Poland to Zimbabwe, Greece to the USA, Ghana to India, a positive consensus was generated among those involved. In a specific instance, Jessie reveals one lady from the Roma community who took part in one of the exhibition events started to cry and said, “this is amazing because no one gives us a voice.”
During the exhibition, almost all of the participants visited the space, with many achieving ambitions of creating and presenting their own topics for discussion, including a presentation on Roma history and a talk on detention centres.
Co-curator, Alasdair Campbell, says of the unforeseen empowerment achieved, “We had eight events within the space which have been run by the participants themselves. Each has given them further autonomy and space to do some of their own projects.”
One such participant now living in Milngavie is Indian-born Leela Soma, who shares her insight and purpose of being involved in the exhibit. She says, “I’ve always felt strongly that I should contribute whatever I can to Scotland, my home now, whether in mainstream literature or as a positive role model to future immigrants who arrive here.
“Interviews for the website are a wonderful window into lives of all people who form the mosaic that enriches Scotland now. My birth city is Madras where two young Scots landed in1639. This was the start of the British East India Company. Our histories are enmeshed. We should respect this unique history, warts and all, and forge a special relationship.
“I live a neighbourhood that there is a lot of poverty, and for me this is strange to see in one of the wealthiest countries.” -Juliana, Govanhill, originally Brazil
As a result of their co-production methods, Alasdair admits a ripple effect has forged from the ideas shared during the exhibition. He says, “It’s forming a bit of a wider community in a way, by bringing quite a few different people together. People who’ve attended the exhibition now want to be involved in the archive.”
With a budget of £1,150 raised from an online crowdfunding campaign, Jessie and Alasdair also received donations of headphones, plinths and a perspex screen, which acted as a feedback wall, from small galleries and educational facilities in Glasgow.
Jessie admits the impact of self-reliance was an important feature in the preparation for the exhibition. “It was great to have people believe in us,” she says, “but not being necessarily tied to another organisation having to fulfill certain targets.”
With Scotland, and notably Glasgow, having a historical affinity with immigration, coinciding with recent UK political and cultural events, the timing of the exhibition and growth of the archive seems all the more relevant in its capturing of immigrant voices.
Jessie says, ”It’s a really particular time in Glasgow at the moment because even though the city does have a strong relationship with migration, it has risen and it’s becoming a more and more diverse city that it wasn’t maybe 50 years ago.
“That’s something that the participants say,” Jessie adds, “that they see themselves represented in the population more and more. The exhibition represented how much Glasgow is growing.”
“Glasgow for me is like anchovies. First you might not like it, but as you taste more it grows on you.” – Fuad, Woodside, originally Azerbaijan
Of some of the recurring comments, Jessie says, “I think what you hear is the same themes coming out again and again. Bus drivers are friendly, people are welcoming and talk to them on the streets. The stereotypes about Glasgow are kind of true.”
Looking to the future, Jessie and Alasdair aim to release a publication of the archive and exhibition in print form, documenting each of the existing voices as well as those which become captured in the future.
A final word goes to participant, Leela, who says of the future engagement and impact, “Exhibitions like SIGOHA will ensure that the younger generations in Scotland will have a greater understanding of their past and build a strong future.”