Olive Branch has been creatively engaging with the Sahrawi Community on the Refugee Camps in Algeria since 2010. We deliver annual creative arts training programmes, work creatively and therapeutically with elders in the Land Mine Centre and offer training and support to staff in the Special Needs Schools on the camps. Part of our focus is promoting and nurturing artists both here in the UK & on the camps to raise awareness of the Sahrawi plight through their chosen art form.
2018 – Sand and Vision
In 2018 a team of five Olive Branch Artists returned for the second installment of the ‘Sand & Vision’ Photographic & Music Project.
Photographer Emma Brown, supported by Becky Finlay Hall, ran a higher level PhotoVoice-based participatory photography training program, focusing on the theme of ‘Freedom’. This theme emerged during our 2017 project when a young Sahrawi photography asked, “How do you photograph freedom?”.
Our current exhibition is touring with a mix of photos from our 2017 and 2018 projects. This includes sounds and songs from Sahrawi musicians and London-based musicians Matt King Smith and Jessica Wilde who ran a parallel music project, supported by David Stothard, in response to the question “What does freedom sound like?”.
If you’re interested in hosting our exhibition, get in touch.
2017 – Sand & Vision
October 2017 saw a team of four Olive Branch Artists return to the Sahrawi Refugee Camps to run ‘Sand & Vision’ our first Photographic & Music Project.
Photographer Emma Brown supported by Becky Finlay Hall & Sahrawi Artist Mohamed Sulaiman ran the Participatory, Photographic Training with nine budding Sahrawi photographers. The group came together over 10days to learn new skills & develop confidence around visual storytelling. The project culminated in an exhibition at Samara Refugee Camps Cultural Centre.
Musician Matt Smith ran workshops at Stave House in the Sahara & produced a soundtrack with Sahrawi musicians for the photography exhibition and performed with Sam Berkson at the first Sahrawi Hip-Hop festival.
Work continued on our next Photographic Publication with poet Sam Berkson writing poems to accompany our photos.
2016 – Take Flight
October 2016 saw a team of three Olive Branch Artists return to the Sahrawi Refugee Camps for our sixth theatre residency.
Focusing on the Greek Myth of Icarus & Daedalus members of the team worked alongside a group of young women aged 16-30 to devise ‘Take Flight’. Using Theatre, Music & Dance the group reimagined the tale of youth and wisdom, freedom and desire from a Sahrawi perspective.
Work also began on our next Photographic publication.
2014 – 2015 – ‘TABA: There (and Back Again)’
Arts Council Funded ‘There (and Back Again)’ is our first theatrical exchange between Young People & Elders from Enfield London and the Sahrawi Youth Theatre & Land Mine centre on the Refugee Camps.
In October 2014 we partnered with TigerMonkey UK and began work with a group of young people from Chase Community School. Responding to the images, poems and proverbs from our publication ‘Sahrawi Spirit’ and a number of images and world myths our youth group created an original and thrilling piece of promenade theatre. Working with the same material we also engaged with a number of elders from a local residential care home Spring View and led by artist Magda the elders created a number of sculptures.
In February 2015 we shared themes and stories created by the London groups with our Sahrawi Youth Theatre and in response they created a moving piece of theatre exploring the love story of Bashiri & Mariam, a couple who are separated by a strong wind and their long arduous journey back to each other. This performance was taken out of the camps into the Sahara Desert Dunes and performed to an international audience of marathon runners. We also worked alongside elders from the Land Mine Centre who shared tales of the nomadic times, poetry and created a sculpture alongside Alyan a local Sahrawi artist.
Below is a video of our 2015 project in partnership with TigerMonkey, shot by Frena Kidane.
October 2014 saw the publication and launch of our crowd-funded book ‘Sahrawi Spirit’. Olive Branch Associate Artist Emma Brown a London based Portrait and Humanitarian Photographer has been documenting our work in the Sahara since 2012 and ‘Sahrawi Spirit’ is a culmination of all of this work.
“Sahrawi Spirit, like no other book before it, captures the essence of this fascinating desert people and their rich cultural traditions.”
Stephen Zunes Professor of politics and Coordinator of Middle Eastern Studies – University of San Francisco
This publication is one of the ways we can raise awareness of the Sahrawi cause and is also an important fundraising tool to support the Sahrawi Community Artist Fund. This fund enables us to employ local Sahrawi artists during our projects on the camps. To date we have employed a number of musicians, filmmakers and artists who have all worked alongside our team creating original exciting work to enhance & enrich the youth theatres productions. Supporting the emerging economy on the camps and paying local artists for their skills is our way of supporting Sahrawi artists from within the refugee community.
Over a week in the Camden Collective Pop Up Gallery London we exhibited photographs from the book and received in excess of 500 people supporting our work.
To buy a copy of our book, please visit the Shop.
To buy Emma’s prints, please visit www.emmabrownphotography.com
2013 – ‘The Spider King’
October 2013 saw a team of five Olive Branch Arts practitioners return to the Sahrawi Refugee Camps for our fourth youth-theatre residency & second special needs school training program.
Responding to the Greek myth ‘Theseus & the Minotaur’ members of the team collaborated with a group of young women between the ages of 16-24 to devise ‘The Spider King’. This original piece of theatre told the story of a young boy and his fight against a cruel and despotic king, this was a compelling and evocative piece exploring the trials and challenges people face living under an oppressive rule.
Following an initial therapeutic research project carried out in early 2012 and a bringing together of all the special needs teachers from across the camps in late 2012, two dramatherapists delivered a therapeutic/creative training program in a number of the camps
2012 – ‘Within the Heart of the Waves’
October 2012 saw a team of seven Olive Branch Arts practitioners return to the Sahrawi Refugee Camps for our third youth-theatre residency.
Responding to the themes of ‘shipwreck’, members of the team collaborated with a group of young women between the ages of 16-24 to devise ‘Within the Heart of the Waves’. Telling the story of Aisha, a young girl who sets sail on a voyage of discovery only to find herself marooned on a desert island, this was an exciting and original piece of theatre that celebrates the strength of the human spirit and its ability to triumph even in the face of great adversity.
Following an initial therapeutic research project carried out in early 2012, a team of dramatherapists was also able to work with patients from the Landmine Victim Centre, exploring personal responses to the material and creatively engaging with the devising process. Ideas were communicated across the desert via messages in bottles, with many responses printed on fabric and sewn together to create a sail that was used in the final performance.
The photographs, by Emma Brown, in the gallery below offer a fascinating insight into this developing relationship with the Sahrawi community.
2011 – ‘Still in the Clothes’
In September 2011 we delivered our second youth theatre-training program on the Sahrawi Refugee Camps in South West Algeria.
Taking the theme of ‘childhood’ as a starting point, two elders were invited to share some local myths and tales with the group. These stories formed the basis for ‘Still in the Clothes’, a moving and celebratory theatre piece that was performed for an audience of school children and their families.
Documented by Olive Branch practitioner Becky Warnock, the photographs in the gallery below provide an evocative and illuminating snapshot into the lives of these forgotten people.
2010 – ‘The Long Journey Home’
In September 2010, Olive Branch Arts visited the Sahrawi Refugee Camps in South West Algeria.
Working with twenty young people between the ages of 16 to 24, the aim of this project was to give participants an opportunity to devise and perform an original piece of theatre. By empowering the participants to tell their stories and celebrate their culture, the long-term objective of the work is to facilitate the establishment of a permanent youth-theatre on the camps.
‘Sahara Libre’ – a documentary film by award-winning Director Greg Hall – follows the Olive Branch team as they create ‘The Long Journey Home’ with the young Sahrawis.
Play the ‘Sahara Libre’ trailer below.